The Only Losers Were the Workers

3 Feb

The Only Losers Were the Workers – presented at the joint conference of the Labor and Working Class History Association and the Working Class Studies Association on “Fighting Inequality” at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., May 31, 2015
James A. Young

My long-time mentor Marty Morand asked me not long ago, “What do you think is the main problem of the American labor movement?” I replied quickly and
confidently.
“It’s American,” I said.
I’ve since thought that over quite a bit, concerned that my response was both too hasty and a bit too fuzzy. But, I’ve come to suspect that I may not have been far
off target, at least insofar as my research into and around the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE) has informed me. Just as corporate America
emerged from World War II stronger and wealthier than ever and determined to reclaim their pre-Depression dominance of society from shop floor to White House,
intra-union and inter-union relations reverted to the dog-eat-dog, self-destructive behaviors that major corporations had left behind in the 1920s. In pursuit of personal
and organizational aggrandizement, labor leaders – aided by religious, corporate, journalistic, and political forces – created and seized opportunities to attack other
leaders and unions, and in doing so undermined themselves their own organizations, and the entire labor movement. At the same time, the predominant union
leadership and much of their membership willfully subordinated themselves to the constraints imposed by the U. S. government and its underlying corporate elite, within
the framework of a resurgent Red Scare, which they themselves broadened and deepened. This trend precipitated the long decline of labor union strength generally and
in electrical manufacturing in particular, about which David Fitzmaurice of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (IUE) said “The only losers
were the workers.” This result should not have surprised many, even at the outset of the open struggle.
James Carey understood the risks created by his dissident activities within the UE and later as head of the IUE. Carey, the former UE president defeated for re-
election in 1941, knew the likely costs of the union’s factional strife. At the 1948 UE convention, Carey said that the impact of internal union struggles “. . . means a
reduction in wages, it means longer hours, it means worse working conditions, and above all it means less security for the families of workers” – “. . . poor housing, less
health care and less education for children.” Yet, the Carey-Block (after Harry Block of Philadelphia) group persevered in their disruption of the UE and, having failed
over several years to transform that into a takeover of the union, solicited aid from outside – including corporate and clerical sources – in destroying the UE and
establishing their own organization, the IUE. The role of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists (ACTU) in this struggle is rather well-known. But, in addition,
General Electric’s Lemuel Boulware later recalled that very early on “Carey was sending us telegrams that he was starting a new union and that he wanted us to start
dealing with him at once . . . .” Concern for workers and their families was set aside as hyper-individualism took to the saddle in yet another contrived crusade against
communism. What could be more American?
The Carey-Block faction did not enlist in the Red Scare in the early going. In fact, Carey supported and affiliated with leftist groups and causes with sufficient
enthusiasm to provoke ACTU’s executive director, George R. Donahue, to complain to CIO president John L. Lewis about Carey’s having spoken before “such a patently
Communist Front organization as the League for Peace and Democracy.” And a UE business agent in Erie, Pennsylvania, recounted in later years that “When Jimmy
‘Wonder Boy’ Carey was president of UE, we in Local 506 got used to being blasted as Communists because of Carey’s connections with the Civil Rights League,
American Youth for Peace and Democracy, and the American Youth Congress.” Carey did serve for a time as vice president of the American Youth Congress and on the
national board of Americans for Peace and Democracy and – along with Harry Block – was identified as a Communist by the Dies Committee of the U. S. House in 1940
and was so suspected by the FBI. Finally, following his defeat for re-election as UE president in 1941 – an election in which Communist convention delegates were
actually split – Carey made no claim that he was ousted by the Communists; and, he then nominated Julius Emspak for re-election as UE’s secretary-treasurer, in order “.
. . to assure the good continuity of the splendid organization we have all played a part in building.” For, Jim Carey at that time saw his defeat as merely a temporary
setback. Yet, as anti-Communist alarms continued to ring, especially after the end of World War II, the Carey-Block faction moved to take advantage of them.
Jim Carey’s use of the Communist issue seems to have been largely, maybe entirely, opportunistic. The young man – he’d just turned thirty – had shown signs of
megalomania and/or narcissism in his behavior as UE president, a factor in other leaders’ determination to be rid of him, and a continuing cause of troubles in his future
union, the IUE. In addition, Carey had become influenced strongly by Catholic activists, notably the Rev. Charles Owen Rice of the Pittsburgh region, a leader of the
ACTU. Rice, a fervid anti-Communist “labor priest,” played a major role in Carey and Block’s dissident UE group, Members for Democratic Action.

Yet, Rice also understood some of Carey’s limitations. UE’s General Electric Conference Board had officially withdrawn Carey from negotiations with the
company because his “popping off” had provoked GE to suspend the first set of contract talks. Moreover, Carey had displayed a rather dictatorial sense of entitlement
about UE affairs, despite his infrequent attention to UE matters because of his activities as CIO secretary-treasurer and his frequent speaking and other engagements.
Consequently, when the indefatigable Rice returned to the anti-Communist front after the war, he (Rice) approached UE president Albert Fitzgerald, who’d defeated
Carey in 1941 and had won very handily again in 1946 and 1947. According to Fitzgerald, Rice said he didn’t have too much confidence in Carey and that his group
(ACTU) would support Fitz as president of the union, if he’d turn against the other two major UE officers – Julius Emspak and James Matles – alleged Communists. Rice
also made a public plea in the Pittsburgh Catholic that Fitzgerald make such a move. But Fitzgerald didn’t bite, because he didn’t see the Communists as a threat.
Rather, he said, sensibly, “. . . they were in such a minority in every organization” that they could easily be blocked on any specific issue.
Meanwhile, the MDA faction got off the ground, with significant help from Rice and ACTU. His fierce anti-Communism fueled by accounts of the priests and nuns
gunned down by Spanish Communists during that country’s civil war in the 1930s, Rice led the way, accompanied by John Duffy and others who were bankrolled by CIO
president Philip Murray, convinced of the real danger of a Communist takeover of the CIO. So, he and his Catholic activists campaigned for Carey and the MDA, so
openly that Carey lost the support of Harry Phelps, a Protestant vice president of Local 506 sent by Jim Kennedy to support Carey at the national convention. Phelps saw
so many Catholic priests working for Carey that he voted to retain the incumbents. And, Phelps did not stand alone in his concern. David Fitzmaurice and other Carey
supporters worried that ACTU aimed to control the MDA caucus, a charge that Rice later dismissed. Meanwhile, Philip Murray watched and waited.
By 1947, “shy, sad-eyed” Philip Murray, as James Wechsler described him, told UE leaders that he’d become embarrassed by Carey’s use of his CIO office for
MDA purposes; but, he said, he just couldn’t control his secretary-treasurer. Over Emspak’s misgivings, UE had supported Carey’s continuation as full-time CIO officer
following his loss of the UE presidency. But this only provided an irreconcilable Carey with a bully pulpit from which to attack and undermine his former colleagues.
Murray now committed to speak with Carey once again about such behaviors. Yet, it appears that crucial CIO leaders already had decided a decade earlier to move into
“. . . an elite relationship with the Democratic Party,” as Rosemary Feurer phrases it. So, Murray reneged on his commitment after UE leaders broke with CIO directives
that all member unions reject minor-party presidential candidates and support the Democratic Party nominee of 1948 — whoever that might be – and that they support
the Marshall Plan for Western Europe’s economic recovery, as well. That these measures would require some unions to violate their own constitutional requirements
concerning endorsements of political candidates and major policy measures apparently mattered little to Murray, who’d risen through the red-baiting and dictatorial
ranks of John L. Lewis’s United Mine Workers (UMW) bureaucracy and who’d created in the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) a top-down-driven entity that
freely employed Communist and other radical organizers and then dumped them when convenient. The mentality of Murray, in the end, scarcely differed from that of
Carey, and they soon operated openly as allies.
The broad-brush events of the UE’s disaffiliation/expulsion from the CIO are well known. But the effects upon the UE and the CIO at the local level are less
familiar. While my examination of this factor is still a work in progress, the case of Erie County, Pennsylvania, offers a case study that may well relate to other areas
such as Schenectady, New York and elsewhere in which the UE constituted a large percentage of the CIO’s local Industrial Union Council (IUC). In Erie, the UE accounted
for 65.4% of the EIUC’s per capita dues payments for the last quarter of 1947, over 50% from UE locals 506 and 618 at the General Electric plant.
Erie labor first felt the effect of the split over political issues in March 1948. As the CIO political directives reached the local level, amid rumors that UE would be
expelled from the CIO, resistance arose against Murray’s demands. A large segment of the Erie IUC officers, including president Dan Honard of UE Local 616, resigned.
Other resignations included those of the president of United Rubber Workers (URW) Local 61, Joe Luciano; Steel Worker Sharkey Carl, who doubled as chair of the
Political Action Committee (PAC), and secretary Dan Carbone of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, as well as others. These protesters issued a joint statement criticizing
the CIO policy:
We do not believe that the policy set by the national CIO Executive Board in opposing a third-party movement – as decided at the January meeting – was a democratic policy.
Further, the group stated, labor leaders should not tell their rank-and-file how to vote. “My resignation was forced upon me by National CIO,” Honard added; “It
was not my choice.”
New York City’s IUC also refused to adhere to the line of the CIO’s Executive Board, forcing president Michael Quill of the Transit Workers to resign, but Honard
and company found little sympathy locally. Local CIO official Paul Nunes of the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) accused them of having broken their word in
refusing to carry out CIO policies; and, CIO sub-regional director Ralph Tillotson charged them with “a careless distortion of the actual facts.” Beyond that, Tillotson
showed reporters a letter from CIO executive director John Brophy, who insisted that “all local industrial union councils have an obligation to take a forthright stand in
support of national CIO policy against a third party in 1948 and in support of the Marshall Plan.” Clearly, the issue would not go away.
The subsequent struggle within the EIUC continued through early December, during which time a slate led by UE’s Roy Christoph won election to replace Dan
Honard and the other officials. Also, Local 506/618 business agent Jim Kennedy won the Democratic primary for Congress and cut the Republican incumbent’s previous
margin of victory in half; and, UE 506 president John Nelson headed the county’s Henry Wallace campaign and then lost the next election for EIUC president under voting
rules altered by the CIO. This last election occurred after John Brophy agreed that officer elections need not be determined by per capita votes cast; rather, delegate
voting – which severely handicapped UE and its allies – would suffice. Predictably, perhaps, three UE locals and their URW ally then decided to withhold per capita
payments to the IUC, months before the international union took the same action against the CIO, a response that Tillotson had anticipated, noting that “If they pull out
of the Council it will cripple us, but we will be able to carry on in spite of them.”
The EIUC did carry on, but as a fragment of its former self. The council lost not only the fifty percent (plus) that UE 506 and 618 (GE office workers) had paid, but
those UE locals that later went over to the IUE following the nation-wide split between UE and the CIO showed little enthusiasm for sustaining dues payments to the IUC.
Allan Haywood, the CIO’s executive vice president, complained to Jim Carey several years after the break that two IUE locals still paid no dues to the EIUC and that three
others were unreliable. The situation now described by Tillotson, who possibly regretted his brave words of three years earlier, cited the low level of non-USWA
participation in the council and, conversely, the question arising from USWA locals as to why the others – UAW, IUE, URW – held back. “This problem,“ Tillotson
admitted, “has been bothering us mostly ever since the UE expulsion.” Given the $800,000 dollars – 1950s dollars — plus staff time and legal assistance, that Murray had
provided to IUE by the mid-‘50s, it’s little wonder that morale and strength waned in local CIO circles.
Within the national electrical manufacturing industry the factional fallout reached significant proportions. Beginning with the CIO cleavage in 1950, the dozens
of unions – principally the UE, IUE, UAW, Machinists, and IBEW – began to fare poorly while striving on behalf of workers carved out of the previous membership of the
original UE – in the face of Jim Carey’s repeated rejections of UE proposals for combining the unions’ efforts in negotiations. The UE, then, generally held onto contract
language that they had had, including the right to strike over unresolved grievances during the life of a contract; but, as Steve Babson has noted, the weakly led IUE was
“. . . far more accepting of concessionary agreements, signing contracts that weakened seniority rights and granted management wider discretion in [work] timing
jobs.” Further, given the success of take-it-or-leave-it Boulwarist negotiation tactics, first by GE and then other employers in the industry, the divided unions of the
industry’s chains fell behind the wage and benefit gains made by unions in other major industries. In the wake of Jim Carey’s disastrous dictated strike against GE in
1960, workers also lost their cost-of-living (COLA) clause and the principle of annual wage increases. Women also made little progress via the IUE, whose leaders
continued to back protective legislation for women and to support sex-segregated jobs, seniority lists, and wages, while opposing the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII ban
against gender discrimination well into the 1960s, long after the UE and – somewhat later – the UAW had taken forward positions on such issues. The fate of union
democracy fared no better.
Both in battle and in power, the MDA/IUE faction’s concept of democracy differed little from that of that of John L. Lewis, Philip Murray, and many other leaders.
Local 601 in Westinghouse’s East Pittsburgh plant’s previous elections had been so fiercely contested that the procedure agreed upon in 1948 demanded that when a
ballot box was filled with ballots one UE supporter of the Left and one of the Right would jointly accompany the box to a walk-in safe and there deposit the box until the
time for counting. The vote was expected to be very close, and the (MDA) Rightists feared that they would lose their current majority. So they took no chances: After
the boxes were deposited in the safe, Tommy Byrnes emerged from his hiding place in the safe to “take care” of the ballots. Later, Jim Carey’s sense of entitlement
operated during his tenure at IUE as it had earlier at UE, and led Mike Fitzpatrick – leader of the Right in Local 601 – to announce publicly in 1952 his refusal to seek
another term as IUE’s chair of the Westinghouse Conference Board because of “labor czar” Jim Carey’s having met alone with Westinghouse management and
concluded an unsatisfactory contract agreement. Democratic elections did return several shops to UE, including the Elmira, NY, GE plant in 1959, but more trouble
followed. General Electric’s IUE members received their costly taste of Carey’s ineffective but despotic behavior in 1960 when he declared a strike against the company
that had not been approved by the membership – or anyone else – and which led to a disastrous three-week strike that incurred the wage losses noted earlier and was
characterized by labor reporter Abe Raskin of the New York Times as the most devastating defeat of a major American union in the postwar era. But Carey’s and IUE’s troubles were not over.
Carey’s failure in 1960 led secretary-treasurer Al Hartnett to criticize the president in the pages of the IUE News which led in turn to a recall campaign and firing of Hartnett, spearheaded by Harry Block and others. Still another faction arose for the 1964 presidential elections, in which Carey was opposed by former supporter Paul Jennings. Irregularities in the election led to the declaration in 1965 of Jennings’ victory and Carey’s resignation, marking him as the sole American ever to have lost the presidencies of two major labor unions. Only then did IUE embark on a program of coalition that included thirteen unions that now represented some segment of the electrical manufacturing work force at GE. After a false start in 1966, UE and IUE – the only unions with a national contract with GE – engaged in a joint bargaining front against General Electric that included members of the UAW and the Teamsters on UE and IUE negotiating committees. GE continued its Boulwarist negotiating tactics and provoked a strike by the coalition that business commentators include among the most expensive strikes in American history and which won significant benefits for electrical workers, especially UE women. One can only wonder how different the world of those workers might have been had the pursuit of power via Cold War political correctness been less influential among the American people, their leaders, and their institutions.
Endnotes
1 Telephonic interview with David Fitzmaurice by Author, December 29, 1979. Hereafter: Fitzmaurice Interview. Notes in author’s possession.
2 United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Convention, 1948, Box 29ff, 11, IUE President’s Office Papers, ca. 1938-1965, Special Collections, IUE Archives, Rutgers University. Hereafter: IUE Archives.
3 Boulware’s twelve-page reminder of events for the purpose of later writing a book are found in the Herbert R. Northrup Papers, Collection 532, Box 1, Folder 24, University of Pennsylvania Archives. Hereafter: Northrup Papers, Penn Archives. + Also, “GE to Lose Leftist Group, Official Says, Pittsburgh Press, April 14, 1949, citing Boulware.
4 George R. Donahue to John L. Lewis, February 1, 1949, Box 74, Research Files of L. Finnegan, UE Historical Files, 1934-1939, IUE Archives, Also, James Kennedy, “Kennedy Komments,” UE506 Union News, December 8, 1949, and Harry Block interview by Ron Filippelli, September 25, 1967, Special Collections, Microfilm Section, Patee-Paterno Library, Pennsylvania State University. Hereafter: Block Interview, PSU Archives. Also, James J. Matles and Jimmy Higgins, Them and Us (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974), 134. On the Communists’ split over Carey (the CP wanted him re-elected), see The Reminiscences of Julius Emspak, II, interviewed by James N. Perlstein (Oral History Section, Butler Library, Columbia University), 272. Hereafter: Emspak Interview. And, The Reminiscences of James Carey, Interview by John A. Toomey, July 24, 1960, Ibid, 237, 242. Hereafter: Carey Interview.
5 Carey said that he became interested in the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI around 1929: Carey Interview, 12. Albert Fitzgerald Interview by Ron Filippelli, October 10, 1968, Microfilm Section, PSU Archives. Hereafter: Fitzgerald Interview. Block had lost his District 1 (Philadelphia area) presidency in 1946.
6 Fitzgerald Interview. Charles Owen Rice, “Tale of Two Cities,” Pittsburgh Catholic, September 16, 1948, Fighter with a Heart: Writings of Charles Owen Rice, ed. Charles J. McCollester (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), 83-4. Hereafter: Rice, Fighter.
7 Fitzmaurice Interview. Also, Msgr. Charles Owen Rice Interview by James A. Young, April 17, 1982, in which Rice noted that Fitzmaurice – then an MDA leader from Cleveland, Ohio – was “unfriendly” at the time. Notes in the author’s possession. On Phelps, see Elizabeth Kennedy-Mary Kennedy Haglund Interview by James A. Young, May 21, 1982. Hereafter: Kennedy-Haglund Interview.
8 James Wechsler, Labor Baron (New York: William Morrow, 1944), 129-30. Emspak Interview, 357; Fitzgerald Interview. Rosemary Feurer, Radical Unionism in the Midwest, 1900-1950 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 101.
9 Pennsylvania CIO – Industrial Union Councils Papers, 1935-1955, Gentrac/A/14, 17, Microfilm Section, reel1 of 1, PSU Archives. Hereafter: PAIUC Papers, PSU.
10 “Electrical Workers Not Being Ousted by CIO,” Erie Daily Times, February 28, 1948. Also, “6 CIO Members Quit in 3rd Party Protest, Ibid., March 26, 1948, and “Honard, 6 CIO Aides Quit in Dispute Over Third Party,” Erie Dispatch, March 26, 1948.
11 Erie Dispatch, March 27-28, 1948.
12 Erie Daily Times, April 9, 1948. Also, The Reminiscences of John Brophy (Oral History Section, Butler Library, Columbia University, 1955), 946, interviewed by Dean Albertson. Hereafter: Brophy Interview.
13 On the UE, the Kennedy and Wallace campaigns and supporters, see James A. Young, “The Cold War Comes to Erie: Repression and Resistance, 1946-1954,” Fear Itself: Enemies Real and Imagined in American Culture, ed. Nancy L. Schultz (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1999), 267-84; Erie Daily Times, April 22, 24, 27, May 1, September 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 28, 29, October 1, 2, 11, 13, 29, November 1 and 3, 1948; Erie Dispatch. November 6, 1948; Patrick Rafferty, “When UE 506 Ran a Candidate for Congress,” UE 506 Union News, May 15, 1980. Also, Ralph Tillotson and Paul Nunes to John Brophy, April 18, 1948; John Brophy to Wavil See, ed. of People’s Press (Erie County), June 18, 1948; Ralph Tillotson to Allan S. Haywood, CIO vice president, December 14, 1948; and, Ralph Tillotson to John Brophy, August 1, 1949: PAIUC Papers, PSU. Brophy, while supportive of the expulsions, acknowledged it as “a pretty drastic operation,” in Brophy Interview, 949.
14 Ralph Tillotson to Allan S. Haywood, July 10, 1952; Allan Haywood to James B. Carey, July 24, 1952PAIUC Papers, PSU. H. Levenstein and C. Donato Sereseres, Communism, anti-Communism and the CIO (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981), 142.
15 Steve Babson, The Unfinished Struggle: Turning Points in American Labor, 1877 – Present (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 1999), 136. Stephen Tormey, Seventy Years of Struggle: A Brief History of UE Bargaining with GE (Pittsburgh, PA: UERMWA, 2007), 8-9. Judith Stepan-Norris and Maurice Zeitlin, Left Out: Reds and America’s Industrial Unions (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), Ch. 5.
16 Dennis A. DeSlippe, Unions and the Rise of Working Class Feminism, 1945-1980 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 112. Also, http://www.UAW.org/page/uaw-union-america%E2%80%99s-auto-workers .
17 “Inter-CIO-IUE Squabble May Have Wide Effect,” Erie Daily Times, February 28, 1952; “Westinghouse Union Board Defends Carey,” Pittsburgh Press, February 27, 1952.
18 “Elmira GE Workers Vote to Return to UE,” UE 506 Union News, April 24, 1959, which notes the continued IUE red-baiting even after UE had been “cleared” by the federal government. On the 1960 strike and settlement: Boulware Papers, Box 7, Folder 145, Penn Archives.
19 The Committee for the Recall of Al Hartnett, “The Conspiracy Against IUE: Its Rise and Fall” pamphlet (Philadelphia: IUE, 1963) in Harry Block Papers, Box 1, PSU Archives. Also, President’s Office Records, MC 690, IUE 1964 Election/Carey-Jennings Elections Dispute Files, IUE Archives.
20 Dan Berman, “6 Strikes That Cost Companies Millions,” http://www.thinkadvisor.com/2012/09/28 and Melanie Hicker, “The Most Expensive Strikes in History,” Business Insider: War Room Long-time UE staffer Stephen Tormey sees the biggest benefit having been the ability to have negotiated several subsequent contracts without the likelihood of having to confront the need to strike GE again. The “UE nickel” – a portion of the overall first-year wage increase added to the lowest rates – served women well.

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