1950: report from Cleveland metalworkers union calling on the IWW to comply with Taft-Hartley

A 1950 report from a metalworkers union based in Cleveland affiliated with the IWW, advocating that the organization comply with the anti-Communist provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act. The union eventually left the IWW over this issue.

1950 Report from I. U. 440, Cleveland, Ohio to the Delegates of Metal and Machinery Workers, I. U. 440, of the I. W. W. , at Convention Assembled

There are some problems of importance that this Convention should consider and, if possible, find a solution. But before mentioning them we would like to briefly review Cleveland's activities for the past year and one-half.

ORGANIZING

In March of 1949 we put on a drive at the Electric-Motors Corporation, a plant then recently taken over by General Motors. The UAW-CIO and the AF of L were also competing in trying to organize the plant. To the best of our limited resources, especially manpower, we covered the plant, distributing many leaflets, some of them later published in the Industrial Worker. This was our first experience at trying to organize workers on a program that called for their voting NO UNION if they wanted us as their union. We were forced to use this approach because we were unable to use the NLRB since we had not complied with the Taft-Hartley Law by signing the non-Communist affidavit.

Threats against the secretary were made by people calling in on the telephone and for a while during April we had someone staying constantly in the hall, twenty-four hours a day, to guard against any attempted raids or rough stuff on our office.

The election was pushed ahead by 30 days and in the voting the UAW-CIO won out by a narrow margin over the AF of L. There were 11% who voted NO UNION but whether these votes, or any part of them, were for us we had no way of determining.

One lesson we did draw from this was that it is almost impossible to try and organize a large plant without having access to the NLRB ballot so that we could compete on a more equal basis with the other so-called unions.

In October we established some worthwhile contacts in the then UE-CIO. This was during the that the right wing and the left wing were then battling it out for control of the union. It was our opinion then--and still is yet--that we missed a valuable opportunity to build up a middle force between the two extremes. This observation it 'need on countless numbers of talks and informal meetings with rank and filers who were interested only in building a good union.

We published a leaflet setting forth our viewpoint and urging the rank and file to forget the battle of the wings and begin to build a real union by organizing into the I. W. W. These leaflets were not only distributed in Cleveland but through our contacts were distributed in other parts of the country. As the intra-union struggle in UE developed we found ourselves again squeezed out because even where it seemed that we stood a good chance of getting a shop there was nothing we could do since we could not challenge UE or IUE to an NLRB election.

In September of last year our General Organization Committee drafted a resolution setting forth the need and the circumstances under which the I. W. W. and particularly IU 440 should comply with the NLRB. This resolution was later approved by the G. E. B.

In the latter part of last year and the early part of this year we were successful in organizing a wire fabricating plant, the Coleman-Patterson Corp. In organizing this plant we did no handbilling after we established our inside contacts. We were not going to give any other union the chance to disrupt us by their using NLRB. After about six weeks of careful work we were able to line-up 62% of the employees. They had not only signed authorization cards but were carrying a paid up union card. In February the Union and the Company held their own election and 75% of the employees voted for us. This convinced the Company that we had the shop and we signed an Agreement on February 22, retroactive to February 15.

There are shops in the same industry located in this area and it was our intention to try and organize all of them, if possible. However, the AF of L became active at some and rather than waste our time and money we withheld starting a drive until we received NLRB compliance which we were then expecting, It should be mentioned here that the shops are still not organized and our chances are still good.

While the AF of L was giving us trouble at the unorganized shops, the CIO and one scissorbill was giving us trouble at Coleman-Patterson. The scissorbill just pointedly refused to join the union while the CIO character tried to have the CIO raid us. We had a strike over these two people and after some difficulties such as NLRB filing an unfair labor practice charge against us, both fellows quit. NLRB informed us last month that they had dropped their charges too.

Anticipating that we would receive NLRB compliance we continued our agitation and making contacts. However, when our G. E. B. refused to comply we were literally left high and dry, and as a result some of our contacts lost their jobs, and to others we were placed in the embarrassing position of telling them we are a union but we can't organize you. A peculiar position to say the least.

Taft-Hartley Difficulties

Under the section on organizing we have made several references to the NLRB and indicated that our, i. e. the I. W. W. in general, refusal to comply with the Taft-Hartley Law has hampered our organizing efforts.
In May of this year Cleveland withheld its per capita tax from Headquarters when the General Executive Board refused not only to comply with NLRB but even declined to issue a national referendum on the question.

The Shop Branches, with the exception of J & L, went on record favoring that our G. E. B. comply with the requirements and sign the non-Communist affidavit.

After a meeting in Chicago last month, and considering that the G. E. B. had in effect stymied us from consummating our organizing efforts, it was recommended to the July Central Branch meeting that we remit our per capita tax and attend the General Convention.

Our G. O. C. requested that the delegates to the General Convention be sent uninstructed on this question of the compliance; however, according to the minutes of the California Central Conference they are sending their delegates instructed to vote against complying.

And so the question of complying or not complying remains with us and is one of the problems this convention should consider and take some definite action on.

Internal Organization in Cleveland

At present work in our shops is picking up and we can expect an increase in membership. The American Stove Shop Branch recently concluded negotiations which resulted in their improving their pension, hospitalization and insurance plan the equivalent of an eight-cents (. 08) an hour increase.

Our J & L Shop Branch accepted the steel pattern on pension and health insurance plan this year.
Coleman-Patterson Shop Branch has, under the wage reopening clause in their agreement, reopened negotiations for a twenty-five cent (. 25) across the board increase. One meeting has been with the Company, and another is scheduled soon.

Future Prospects and Problems

The question of our being the first and as yet only union to be placed on the so-called subversive list is one matter that we must take action on in order to counteract its far reaching effects in the future. We have already felt some effects from the listing in that the Internal Revenue Department has now taken the position that we should pay income taxes. Under the law unions are exempt from paying income taxes, but the Internal Revenue Department, basing its ruling on the ruling of the Attorney General of the United States, has now taken the position that the I. W. W. is not a union; and consequently must pay income tax. Our G. E. B. ruled that the ' various industrial unions should pay the tax. However, Cleveland has not paid any tax because we contend that we are a union since we hold agreements with employers and represent workers in collective bargaining, and in other respects function as a union.

It might be well to consider that when the G. E. B. decided that the I. W. W. should pay income taxes they in effect said that the I. W. W. was not a union. This question should have been fought out when it was first raised, and Cleveland even went so far as to make inquiry as to the approximate cost of such a case. I believe that the price quoted was $3500 but the Board decided not to fight the ruling. In fighting the ruling of the Internal Revenue Department we might have at the same time been able to get to the bottom of the subversive ruling.

As said before, the convention should decide something on this question.

While we have undoubtedly lost some ground because of our being denied use of NLRB by our organization there is still the possibility that we can organize workers under our banner. The question is: do we want to function as a union or not?

At this convention we recommend that in considering proposals we view them with an eye to the future. The G. E. B. coined the slogan of 2, 000 new members in 1950. Unless we straighten ourselves out organizationally this slogan will mean less than the paper it is written on.

Posted By

Juan Conatz
May 6 2016 03:51

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syndicalist
May 6 2016 12:26

Thanks for posting this last stand document
Tough situation of a tough reality and poses in stark reality
the vital question "revolutionary unionism or trade unionism"?
That is whether a union that aims for the "industrial cooperative commonwealth"
can and should soley rely on the organs of government machinery in building
a union movement from below and with lofty aims and goals
I'm not a wobbly but I hat tip this wobs who recognize the need for thier union
to be more than a service agency for collective bargaining. And the Cleveland crisis
really is a reminder of the problems, difficulties and challenges faced by revolutionary unionists

OliverTwister
May 6 2016 12:32

Very, very interesting. I'm surprised to see that it has even more relevance for the present than I would have expected. Thanks for typing this up!

fnbrilll
May 6 2016 16:03

I've read the discussions in the internal bulletins, the PNW anarchist faction around IU120 Guy (Askew?Agnew?) - anti-Taft Hartley position boiled down to that's not how we did it in the Timber industry 30 years ago.

Instead of dealing with the tactical differences between high turn over/temp jobs vs permanent jobs, the discussion wound up be framed around purported class principles.

fnbrilll
May 6 2016 21:42

From May 1939 GOB:

CAN WE SAVE THE REVOLUTIONARY I.W.W.
The condition of the IWW at the present time is such that it is imperative something be done immediately to bring the organization out of the slump in which it finds itself. For some time, in fact ever since the time contract question became an issue, we have been following a course which has led us nowhere,
The old Wobbly spirit of aggressiveness seems to be lacking throughout the whole organization, and all because our members are so involved in the time contract question that they haven't any time to carry on organizational work among the unorganized workers. This condition can no longer be ignored or evaded. We are faced with an ugly situation that requires clear thinking and acting by every member, if we hope to save the revolutionary IVW from oblivion.
The big question before us is: Shall we or shall we not allow component parts of the IWW sign time contracts with the employers? Those who are vehemently opposed to this change of policy say that such a move is not only reactionary, but as long as even one such contract exists, regardless in what industry, that they cannot organize the workers in their industry. They start to prove their contention, not by giving the question a foir trial, but in hamstringing the general 'organization and press by withholding funds. I am of the opinion, although being strongly opposed to the IWW going into the contract business with the boss, that the agricultural workers, lumber workers, construction workers, etc. are not so much concerned as to what tactics IU 440 is using to organize the metal industry, but are mainly interested in how their industries should be organized to enable them to gain higher wages, shorter hours and better conditions.
And those members Who are extremely in favor of the IWW allowing component parts of the organization to sign time contracts put forth the argument that unless the IWW allows such contracts we cannot hope to organize and hold the Workers employed in basic industries, They too start to prove their theory by Withholding funds rightfully due the general organization. The fact remains that in Cleveland where we had one shop, the American Stove , under contract for two years the shop is still not one hundred percent organized. On the other hand the Draper shop, in which our members have no time contract, has been organized a hundred percent for several years, and mind you with closed shop conditions.
If we analyze the arguments put forth by both sides we find that neither with or without contracts can we hope to organize the working class as long as We are so hopelessly divided within our own ranks, but once WG solidify our forces and the members , delegates and organizers go into the industries with an educational campaign conducted forcefully enough to convince the workers that the IWW has what it takes to be the real and uncompromising labor movement, they will join up with us and stick.
Once we make up our minds to carry out such an educational program we will organize camp after camp; mine after mine and shop after shop; and we can be sure that it will not take any time contracts to hold the se proletarians in the organization. In fact, I am convinced that once workers are educated in real unionism as advocated by the IWW, they will not only shun time c contracts, but all contracts. Because they will know that such contracts are only entered into between the employers and the unions to shackle the workers and keep them from carrying on aggressive union activities against the boss or union policies.
There is one thing that We all must bear in mind if we expect the IWW to keep its place in the world as being the most aggressive revolutionary working class movement, that we must have unity of thought and action. We must all do our best to support the organization financially and actively in order that it may function effectively, publish and distribute among the industrial unions and branches up to date educational literature where the members and delegates can load up and spread the gospel of revolutionary industrial unionism among the workers. If we all do this the success of the IWW is assured and the contract issue, which has already done so much harm, Will take care of itself. The question is: What Will it be --unity of action and success, or controversial division and ultimate oblivion?
W.H. Westman, GST

laborbund
May 7 2016 00:24

Great doc, thanks for putting this up.

For what its worth, Cleveland 440 was independent for a few years after leaving the IWW and then affiliated with the Mechanics Educational Society of America, which itself was a far left wing union. Many individual members also stayed active in the local revolutionary left for years. To me that suggests that they didn't totally reject the idea of revolutionary unionism or embrace reformist trade unionism. The thing is the branch had been founded on the basis of contractualism which didn't do much to prohibit them from engaging in lots of direct action through the 30s and 40s, but having been founded on the basis of contractualism it was difficult for them to see how the union would survive without it when Taft-Hartley went into effect.

OliverTwister
May 7 2016 14:19

One thing that I've never heard mentioned before is that it looks like the union might have been able to fight the ruling of being a 'subversive' organization, which might have made this all moot. In any case it would have been worth fighting over.

Quote:
It might be well to consider that when the G. E. B. decided that the I. W. W. should pay income taxes they in effect said that the I. W. W. was not a union. This question should have been fought out when it was first raised, and Cleveland even went so far as to make inquiry as to the approximate cost of such a case. I believe that the price quoted was $3500 but the Board decided not to fight the ruling. In fighting the ruling of the Internal Revenue Department we might have at the same time been able to get to the bottom of the subversive ruling.