Saturday, August 2, 1924.
Labor's Non-Partisan Political Campaign
Conclusions and Recommendations.
The Executive Committee of the American Federation of Labor National Non-Partisan Political Campaign Committee presented Labor's proposals to the Republican convention.
The Republican convention gave labor's representatives a brief and curt hearing. The Republican platform ignores entirely the injunction issue. It fails to deal with Labor's right to organize or the right of the workers even in self defense, collectively to cease work. That platform sustains the Railroad Labor Board, with all that it means in the direction of governmental coercion of wage earners. It fails to recommend the ratification by the States of the Child Labor constitutional amendment.
The Republican convention nominated candidates
unacceptable to labor.
Its candidate for vice-president is one of the most outspoken enemies of Labor and is the founder of an organization dedicated to the task of writing into all political platforms planks calling for the anti-union shop--an organization which also encouraged and supported the Daugherty injunction against the railroad shopmen.
Labor's representatives submitted to the Democratic convention identical proposals to those submitted to the Republican convention. At this convention an extended hearing was granted. The Democratic platform pledges that party to legislation to regulate hours and conditions of all labor a proposal against which the American Federation of Labor has struggled throughout its whole history. It is silent as to the injunction. It does not meet the Railroad Labor Board issue. On that point it is so equivocal that the enemies of Labor may well feel that their desires will be met. It, too, fails to recommend the ratification by the States of the Child Labor constitutional amendment.
The Democratic convention nominated candidates
unacceptable to Labor.
As to the candidates and platforms, both the Republican and the Democratic National Party conventions flaunted the desires of Labor, the Republican convention in an arrogant manner; the Democratic convention by that evasiveness which is the customary mark of insincerity.
There remains the candidacy of Robert M. La Follette
and Burton K. Wheeler
, the first an Independent Republican; the second an Independent Democrat, running as such.
These candidates have proffered a platform in which the economic issues of the day are met in a manner more nearly conforming to Labor's proposals than any other platform.
This platform pledges a remedy for the injunction evil.
It pledges the right to organize and collectively to cease work.
It pledges protection of the rights of free speech, free press and free assemblage.
It pledges abolishment of the Railroad Labor Board.
It pledges a measure to annul the power of the Supreme Court to declare laws permanently unconstitutional.
It declares for direct election of president and vice-president and election of federal judges.
It recommends prompt ratification by the States of the Child Labor constitutional amendment.
It pledges subsequent federal legislation to protect child life.
On international issues this platform does not conform to Labor's proposals but it does more fully than any other political platform meet Labor's views in relation to domestic economic issues.
We cannot do other than point out this fact, together with the further and perhaps more important fact that the candidates Mr. La Follette and Mr. Wheeler, have throughout their whole political careers, stood steadfast in defense of the rights and interests of the wage earners and the farmers.
We cannot fail to observe that both Republican and Democratic Parties through manipulated control are in a condition of moral bankruptcy which constitutes a menace and a peril to our country and its institutions. Machine politicians have brought upon our country moral obliquity and unashamed betrayal. We are judging on the basis of the condition which exists and this judgment will be reversed only when the conditions upon which it is based are changed.
Service to the people is a noble cause which demands consecration and the American labor movement demands that there be that consecration in candidates to whom it gives support.
Our course is clear. In pointing to the platform and records of the Independent candidates, we do so with the confidence that no other course can be pursued if we are to remain true to our convictions and our traditions. Those who are hostile to Labor and to the people generally and who devoted their energies to the service of re-action and special interests, must be opposed.
We call upon the wage earners and the great masses of the people everywhere who stand for freedom, justice, democracy and human progress, to rally in this campaign to the end that the representatives of reaction and special interests may be defeated and the faithful friends and servants of the masses elected.
Cooperation hereby urged is not a pledge of identification with an independent party movement or a third party, nor can it be construed as support for such a party, group or movement except as such action accords with our non-partisan political policy. We do not accept government as the solution of the problems of life. Major problems of life and labor must be dealt with by voluntary groups and organizations, of which trade unions are an essential and integral part. Neither can this co-operation imply our support, acceptance or endorsement of policies or principles advocated by any minority groups or organizations that may see fit to support the candidacies of Senator La Follette and Senator Wheeler.
In the campaign to elect men to Congress, regardless of their political group or party affiliation and deserving of Labor's support, there must be unity of purpose and method, therefore leadership must lie with the only organization having the right to speak for the entire labor movement. In this the American Federation of Labor yields to none but will maintain steadfast its leadership, guidance and direction.
In the selection and election of men to pubic office within the several states leadership must lie with our State Federations of Labor and in city or county elections this right must rest with central labor bodies.
Organized labor owes allegiance to no political party or group. It is not partisan to any political party or group. It is partisan to principles--the principles of freedom, of justice, of democracy.
It is the duty of trade unionists, their friends and sympathizers, and all lovers of freedom, justice and democratic ideals and institutions to unite in defeating those seeking public office who are indifferent or hostile to the people's rights and interests. It is the duty of all to support such candidates to public office who have been fair, just and outspoken in behalf of the welfare of the common people.
We shall analyze the record and attitude of every aspirant to public office and shall give our findings the widest possible publicity. Labor's enemies and friends must be clearly known and be definitely indicated.
In calling upon all affiliated and recognized national and international and brotherhood organizations, state federations of labor, central labor bodies, local unions, labor's friends and sympathizers, to give united, unrestricted, loyal and active support to the non-partisan campaign now set in motion, we emphasize the imperative need of an intensive educational campaign to enable all to act with discrimination and wisdom in this election, and to stand faithfully by our friends and elect them and to oppose our enemies and to defeat them.
Executive Committee, American Federation of Labor National Non-Partisan Political Campaign Committee.
It was moved and seconded that the report be adopted.
moved as an amendment to the report to add in the last paragraph to the effect that we believe in the interests of our great movement and the principles we are striving for, that it is in the interests of the masses of the workers to support the candidacy of La Follette and Wheeler.
The proposal relative to naming candidates for whom the workers should vote and the relation of such a proposition to the non-partisan political policy of the American Federation of Labor was discussed by Treasurer Tobin and Vice-Presidents Duncan
and was under discussion at the time of adjournment.
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President Gompers:--One of the reasons I ask to be heard now is I am taking a great risk in sitting in this Council meeting participating in discussions, even hearing discussions that I made up my mind if it is the last thing I do that I would be at this Council meeting. There are other great questions coming before this Council but this is the most critical and I can not be neutral in a critical situation. I have been very seriously ill, critically ill and I am not out of the woods. I have been working some in the work, I cannot be idle, I cannot have my brain a vacuum. Some of the work came to me in which I was glad to indulge myself.
This document, a rough draft of it was prepared after discussion, I went over it line for line and word for word. It expresses in it what I think is the best thing to do, the right thing to do.
I have declined to discuss for publication anything of a political nature and the press has placed me in a wrong position. I have refused to correct or deny, reserving my statement for the Executive Council.
At one time I was a member of the Republican Party and left it and never joined any other political party. I owe allegiance to no political party. I am a trade unionist and try to be loyal to the American Federation of Labor. To me a Democrat does not look any better than a Republican, a Republican any better than a Democrat, or a C.P.P.A.
does not look any better to me than either of the others. I judge organizations, I judge men by their deeds, by their acts, by the principles they espouse.
It may not be uninteresting to relate to you an incident that has great significance. You have not seen in the last few weeks much Communist propaganda, but from what I shall bring to your attention you will understand their activity.
Over a year ago in Chicago, I called a meeting of the representatives of the labor movement of that city and predicated my request upon a resolution adopted by the Chicago Federation of Labor calling upon the Executive Council to call a special convention for the purpose of amalgamation. At that meeting Foster
was present and there was a long discussion and he called upon me for reference for his character and record. I gave him some reference and the result was that a change of sentiment set in. I put Fitzpatrick
on their guard as to what was up by Foster and his gang. When they held the convention of the so-called Farmer Labor Party Foster and Ruthenberg stole the party and made it a Communist party
, calling it the Federated Farmer Labor Party with Communism the avowed principle. It had a great influence with Fitzpatrick and the other men in repudiating the Fosterites and throwing them out and dissolving the Farmer Labor Party as such.
About three months ago a call was sent out for the St. Paul meeting by the Fosterites, getting some unions and union men in Minnesota to underwrite and subscribe to the whole thing. Thereupon I invited the representative labor men in Washington, officers of the American Federation of labor who were in the city were present, Secretary Morrison among them, Brother O'Connell, President Johnston of the Machinists, representative men of the Metal Trades organizations in Washington, the progressive Senators and Members of the House of Representatives of both political parties. We had about thirty men there. I related and disclosed the situation in their own states in regard to the Farmer Labor Party and that the progressive movement in these states would be undermined. The meeting to be held at St. Paul was for nothing more nor less than to capture the entire political effort of labor, farmer and progressives, for the Communist movement. There was only one Senator present who did not see it. I will not mention his name. His secretary was a member who issued the call with Foster and the others. He had been duped and did not know a thing that was going on. Senator Johnston
, Representative Nelson
and the others said --"That is a revelation, it has astounded me, if it is true!" My purpose was that those men should save themselves and that further Senator La Follette, who was to be the leader of the Progressive movement, if there is to be any Progressive movement, should not be crucified by the Communists.
After the discussion which lasted the whole evening I said: "The Senator must be made acquainted with this situation and save himself and save whatever there is of a Progressive movement, political, economic, industrial or agricultural. I will issue a circular letter to organized labor of the country. I will assume the responsibility of advising them of the trap that has been laid for them by this St. Paul meeting. I will withhold the issuance of that circular if Senator La Follette will take a stand in repudiating this gang." I wanted him to have the opportunity to disentangle himself from that gang whoever they might be. That famous letter he wrote
, you remember. I had Secretary Morrison give him the information, go to him to save him,--not only his political career but the country and the movement of labor and the farmers.
They have put me in the class of opposing La Follette since the conventions. I say to you here and now that when those platforms were adopted by those two conventions and they nominated the men they did, I was against them and made up my mind if it takes the last bit of energy I have to put it in the La Follette campaign and for La Follette. The situation is entirely different from the previous campaigns. Here we have practically no choice, one is no nearer to us than the other. You look at the platforms of 1908, 1912, and 1916 and you will find nothing in either of them
in the platforms of 1924. The Republican Convention, they have got hold of the boodle and where they cannot make excuses they have not said a thing. The Democrats say they want honesty. There must be something more than honesty--more than an indictment against crooks. Here is something where we may help. It is at least a protest and perhaps something better. . . .
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If I thought the amendment offered by Treasurer Tobin would help our cause I would say yes let's do it. I think though that it would not. It is quite evident that the amendment offered would not receive the unanimous approval of this Executive Council. There is not anything that could hurt our cause so much as if there were division in the Executive Council upon such an endorsement.
We have worked together so long, we talk among ourselves pretty frankly--Vice-presidents Duncan and Green
would not feel that they could abide by any such decision as the endorsement of La Follette and Wheeler by name. Such a thing can not remain secret. It is not a matter that people can keep to themselves. This document follows the exact policy as we always carried it into effect. Quite apart from the first consideration I mentioned of the differences of the men upon the Executive Council on this subject--the newspapers. When we gave a bill of health to the Republican candidate the Democratic papers raised hell with us, the Republican papers were with us; when we gave a bill of health to the Democratic candidate the Republican papers raised hell with us and the Democratic papers were with us, but here we shall have none of that if we do not put the names in the document. There is no other construction that can be placed on that document than the feeling that La Follette and Wheeler deserve the support of the masses as between the others--Davis and Coolidge. Dawes and Bryan. There is no other construction can be placed upon that document than as against the other four candidates and that we are with these two.
I favor the adoption of this document not because I had a hand in its preparation and its revision, that has been a matter now of nearly three weeks and the final word was on last night to perfect it to do the right thing, and my opinion is its adoption in its form will bring about good results, open us less to attack and have unanimity in our course.
Treasurer Tobin spoke in support of the amendment which he offered at this morning's session.
A general discussion ensued in which the members stated their respective interpretations of the non-partisan political policy of the American Federation of Labor.
Treasurer Tobin asked President Gompers to answer the following question:
"If I received a letter from San Francisco, and I will be asked this question, asking if this Executive Council endorsed La Follette, would I be correct in answering yes?"
President Gompers: "Yes, that is what I would say."
It was argued that the Council is without any authority to name candidates.
Secretary Morrison made the statement in which he cited the fact that the Labor Representation Committee of the American Federation of Labor in the 1916 campaign
had recommended the election of Mr. Wilson as against Mr. Hughes. As far as he knew there was no criticism of that recommendation.
President Gompers stated that he was going to do something that he did not often do and that was ask Treasurer Tobin to withdraw the amendment to name La Follette and Wheeler. He stated his reason was that if an amendment was adopted with a division as was evidenced it would be from the discussion, it is going to hurt. If it is defeated it is a blow against La Follette and Wheeler, that either way it would hurt.
Vice-President Green made a statement in opposition to the proposition to name La Follette and Wheeler. He stated also that the demands would be challenged with reference to the statement of the candidates who are unacceptable and referred to the favorable record of Governor Bryan of Nebraska, the nominee of the Democratic party. Vice-President Green said if we name the men we should go all the way and form a third party and tell the workers all the men they should vote for.
stated that he had received a long distance 'phone call from Mr. Keegan
at Washington, in which he stated that former Secretary of Labor Wilson
, said he would like to have action on this subject delayed until he could get a statement here.
President Gompers again made his appeal that Treasurer Tobin withdraw his amendment.
Vice-President Duncan stated that in opposing the amendment to name La Follette and Wheeler, that it was not because of any opposition to La Follette. He knows of no man living who he considers better qualified to fill the office of President of the United States. His purpose in opposing the amendment is to preserve the history and tradition of the American Federation of Labor in its political activities.
Upon the request of Treasure Tobin a recess was granted at five o'clock for fifteen or twenty minutes.
The meeting reconvened at 5:15.
Upon reconvening Treasurer Tobin stated that he had considered the statements made, particularly those of President Gompers and that no one could make the situation more clear than he had made it. One statement that impressed himself and those who supported the amendment more than any other is, that if this amendment is defeated it might be considered as a slap at the men we are trying to help. President Gompers' interpretation that the document is an endorsement of La Follette confirmed them in their understanding of the declaration and in order to go along and do the best we can, it is the consensus of opinion of the seconder of the amendment and myself and those supporting it that the amendment be withdrawn.
stated that he consented to the withdrawal of the amendment. When the document was read he considered it a very clear and satisfactory statement and that if he is asked the conclusions of the Executive Council he would state that the Council has endorsed La Follette.
President Gompers then put the question for the withdrawal of the amendment. There being no objection the amendment was withdrawn.
The question was then put for the adoption of the report of the Executive Committee of the American Federation of Labor National Non-Partisan Political Campaign Committee as read at this morning's session.
Upon a viva voce vote, the report was adopted with one dissenting vote.
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Executive Council Records, Minutes, reel 7, frames 1498, 1500-1506, AFL Records.