Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 5, 2010

A tale of two speeches

Filed under: trade unions,workers — louisproyect @ 3:38 pm

John L. Lewis

John L. Lewis, president of the CIO
Labor and the Nation
delivered 3 September 1937 in Washington D.C.

If there is to be peace in our industrial life let the employer recognize his obligation to his employees — at least to the degree set forth in existing statutes. Ordinary problems affecting wages, hours, and working conditions, in most instances, will quickly respond to negotiation in the council room.

The United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and similar groups representing industry and financial interests, are rendering a disservice to the American people in their attempts to frustrate the organization of labor and in their refusal to accept collective bargaining as one of our economic institutions.

These groups are encouraging a systematic organization of vigilante groups to fight unionization under the sham pretext of local interests. They equip these vigilantes with tin hats, wooden clubs, gas masks and lethal weapons and train them in the arts of brutality and oppression. They bring in snoops, finks, hatchet gangs and Chowderhead Cohens to infest their plants and disturb the communities.

Fascist organizations have been launched and financed under the shabby pretext that the C.I.O. movement is communistic. The real breeders of discontent and alien doctrines of government and philosophies subversive of good citizenship are such as these who take the law into their own hands.

No tin-hat brigade of goose-stepping vigilantes or bibble-babbling mob of blackguarding and corporation paid scoundrels will prevent the onward march of labor, or divert its purpose to play its natural and rational part in the development of the economic, political and social life of our nation.

full: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/johnlewisrightsoflabor.htm


Richard Trumka

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, at the Oct. 2nd rally:

Hello, America. You know, you look like one nation, one beautiful nation. And I’m so glad you got to hear from the hard-working men and women who have come up here from all across this beautiful nation. There is nothing—and I mean nothing—that we can’t do when we stand together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. You see, there is no power greater than what you see all around here today in our nation’s capital. You know, if you watch too much TV, you might think that we’re a nation full of hate, that we’ve turned against the values that made our country great. But no, that’s not America. America is here today. America is freedom of religion. America is Dr. King and President Lincoln and their spirit living in you and me today. America is one nation, and we signify that nation. But never forget, behind the voices of fear and hatred are the forces of greed, the moneyed powers that put us in the economic mess that we’re in today. So we have a lot of work to do to repair the damage that greed did to our country.

Brothers and sisters, we come together today because America needs jobs—good jobs—jobs that will support families, all families; jobs that will give our young people paths of opportunity, not obstacles; jobs that will allow people to retire with dignity; jobs that provide the means to support small businesses, like the one owned by Diana Ortiz, who came all the way from Pueblo, Colorado, to tell us that we need an economy that works for Main Street, so that small businesses can innovate and move America forward.

We’re gathered here to say that we believe in America, and it’s time for America to believe in each and every one of us. You see, it’s going to take something big to get America going again. And if we’re going to build our dreams, turn them into reality, then we have to be bold. We have to rebuild our schools, our roads, our bridges. We have to compete and win in the world economy with investments in world-class energy, high-speed rail and green technology, so that we can fight climate change and create good jobs. And we have to ensure that working men and women have the freedom to make every last job a good job, by joining together in a union to bargain for a better life. You see, that’s the American Dream—the promise that if you work hard, you can have a good life, earn a living wage and a future for your children. And that’s what we can do as one nation.

Brothers and sisters, I want you to make a promise today. Promise that you won’t let anybody divide us or turn us against each other. And promise that you’ll make your voices heard for good jobs and justice and education today and on Election Day. Because we believe in America, in this one nation, this great nation, our best days are ahead, not behind us. And we’re ready to fight for it. So it’s time for you to stand together, fight together. And we will win together, and we won’t let anyone—I mean anyone—stand in our way.

God bless you.


  1. […] Posted by Mike E on October 5, 2010 Speech at the October 2 One Nation rally — sharply criticizing Obama, the ongoing wars and injustice of U.S. society at an event otherwise packed with pablum. […]

    Pingback by Harry Belefonte: Tending to Burning Grievances « Kasama — October 5, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

  2. It’s tempting to be sectarian and say that Lewis and Trumpka represent two sides of the same coin of labor reformism; the former in the period of the deficit-spending New Deal and the latter in the period of the neo-liberal raw deal. Yet one can’t forget that Lewis, whatever his past and for whatever opportunist reasons he may have had, helped to launch the struggle for industrial unionism within the AFL hierarchy, allied himself with radicals to do so and sanctioned militant mass action, up to and including sit-down strikes to secure workers rights. The last guy to anything like that was the Teamsters’ Ron Carey, and the Democratic Clinton White House saw to it that he paid for it…while the rest of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy sat down…on their hands. Lewis also had the balls to defy the no-strike pledge during WWII (unlike the sub-reformist CP who denounced him as a “fifth columnist” in the pay of Hitler) and oppose the Taft-Hartley Act during the late 1940s, when he he made his famous “lions led by asses” speech. If, as my buddy “Rustbelt Radical” says, Martin Luther King makes Obama look like Goldwater, Lewis makes Trumpka, Sweeney, etc look like Big Bill Hutchinson, the guy he decked at the AFL convention for opposing industrial unionism.

    Comment by Roy Rollin — October 5, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

  3. In 1937 The AFL-CIO self organized with hundreds of spontaneous sit-down strikes that year.

    Compare that to today’s attempts to organize Wal-Mart in this short, sad video:


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 5, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

  4. They say the darkest hour is right before the storm.

    Comment by dave — October 5, 2010 @ 8:19 pm

  5. Unfortunately, we can also compare today’s pathetic efforts to organize Wal-Mart to the CIO’s attempt to organize the South after WWII (Operation Dixie) without radicals (i.e., Commies) and therefore, without confronting Jim Crow apartheid…in order to avoid confronting the Democratic Party which ruled the one-party segregated South.

    Comment by Roy Rollin — October 5, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

  6. John L. Lewis said: “Fascist organizations have been launched and financed under the shabby pretext that the C.I.O. movement is communistic.”

    Actually the fascists were right.

    No commies, no vigorous trade union organizing.

    Funny how liberals never got the fact that willy nilly, trade unions derived some vicarious strength just by the existence of the USSR.

    Like Dick Gregory used to say when he was called an Agitator.

    “You ever try removing the agitator from a washing machine? All you’re left with is dirty drawers.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 6, 2010 @ 12:19 am

  7. And where would we be without a ‘God Bless You’ ?

    Comment by purple — October 6, 2010 @ 7:32 am

  8. “Funny how liberals never got the fact that willy nilly, trade unions derived some vicarious strength just by the existence of the USSR.”

    Similarly, neither is it acknowledged that the existence of the SU had a significant effect on gains made by the civil rights movement, given the US vs USSR world war for image.

    Comment by jp — October 6, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

  9. It also needs to be acknowledged that the existence of the SU, whatever its positive side may have been, was responsible for the Pop-Front subordination of the left and the labor movement to the Democrats, a deadly embrace from which it has never escaped and which has outlasted even the SU itself. You can thank Uncle Joe and his heirs for there being no independent labor party in this country, for there’s no way that any sane American communist, raised on the class struggle traditions of Eugene V Debs, Daniel DeLeon, the IWW, etc., would have became super patriots in WWII and class collaborating reformists during the New Deal the way the CP did. And then there’s Uncle Joe’s Baby Boomer offspring, the Maoists, whose burned-out remnants joined the hated Soviet “revisionists” and “capitalist roaders” as “progressives” in the Democratic Party camp of the “lesser evil” capitalists.

    Comment by Roy Rollin — October 6, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

  10. Of course, Roy. The dual nature of a giant trade union that seized state power beseiged, blockaded & encircled by imperialism is still similar to the dual nature of a trade union that hasn’t seized state power in the belly of the beast. The point is the world was a helluva lot better with big unions around, not because of some of their terrible politics but despite it.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 6, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

  11. WWP was there as well:


    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 6, 2010 @ 11:56 pm

  12. Karl, I have no doubt that we both agree on the “dual nature” of the workers states and the trade unions as well as the circumstances that led to their degeneration. I also agree with you that we all were better off when the “SU” (and the rest of the workers states) were still in business in spite of that degeneration. Ditto with the trade unions. Unfortunately, the part of that degeneration that has adversely affected us the most, the subordination of the what was once the radical left to the Democrats (and capitalism), is not only one of the products of that degeneration, but one that probably would not have taken place, at least not to the extent that it did, if it weren’t for the subordination of the communist movement to the Kremlin. And the real tragedy of it is that the CP was an organization rooted in the most advanced layer of the working class, not some student-centered sect traveling with the trends of the times and reveling in the fashions of the day. We both know that since the Cold War purge of the CIO (during the Truman regime and carried out by liberals and social democrats like Walter Reuther) the left has never recovered its working class base and the audience that went with it.

    Comment by Roy Rollin — October 7, 2010 @ 2:14 am

  13. Of course, Roy. There’s no disagreements with me on any of those points whatsoever. It’s the ABC’s of a Trotskyist analysis of the way the world was then and is today.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 7, 2010 @ 4:40 am

  14. Purple,

    Hi hope you are well.

    The ‘God Bless You’ was the only part of the speech that made sense. All the rest was garbage.


    John Kaniecki

    Comment by john kaniecki — October 8, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

  15. […] Labour history: A tale of two speeches – John Lewis to the CIO, 1937, Richard Trumka to the AFL-CIO, 2010. […]

    Pingback by From the archive of struggle no.51 « Poumista — October 23, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

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