GENERAL ARTICLES

The Commies Muscle In

"Control or destroy"—that’s the Communist labor line. Reds control nine unions, but foment trouble everywhere

BLAIR FRASER January 15 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

The Commies Muscle In

"Control or destroy"—that’s the Communist labor line. Reds control nine unions, but foment trouble everywhere

BLAIR FRASER January 15 1947

The Commies Muscle In

BLAIR FRASER

Maclean's Ottawa Editor "*

ONE EVENING last summer ex-Flying Officer Ed Hanratty was making a speech to his wife. They had to get out of their Ottawa flat, they couldn’t find another, and Hanratty was holding forth on the iniquity of the housing shortage.

Mrs. Hanratty had heard it before. “Why don’t you stop talking,” she said, “and do something? Do anything. Put an ad in the paper, get people together, and see what happens.”

Hanratty sat down and wrote a classified ad inviting all those interested in the housing crisis to come to a meeting.

Eight people came. Four were the Hanrattys and the couple who shared their flat, a Mr. and Mrs. Camm. The other four were Communists, led by Box Laxer, the Ottawa organizer of the Labor Progressive Party. All four Communists had places to live; they attended the meeting with purely “sympathetic” motives, but they supplied the organizing skill and experience that Hanratty and hisTriends lacked. That was the beginning of the Veterans’ Housing League, which led three of the most successful squatting sorties in Canada last 'fall. Hanratty was fined for his part in the seizure of Ottawa naval buildings. It was a perfect textbook example of how Communists take over direction of nonpartisan movements.

Of 28 people now on the executive of the Veterans’ Housing League, only two or three are Communists. Few if any are Communists among the several dozen families housed as squatters in yacant government buildings. Hanratty himself, a /dark-haired, fast-talking little man with some gift for demagogy, was and is no Communist.

He’s a practicing Catholic whose political ideas are rather vague, and he very much resents being called a “tool” of the Party. What sympathy he has for Communism (and it’s considerable, by now) is mostly friendship and admiration for his skilful, able colleagues in the Veterans’ Housing League.

* Yet the whole movement, in strategy, tactics and propaganda, was as unmistakably Communist in Ottawa as in Montreal, where it was openly led by the Labor Progressive organizer. Tiny minority as they were, they took and held leadership by the same method as they have used to dominate 10 Canadian labor unions: Hard work

and iron discipline.

Í During the Ford strike in Windsor last year, Communists led the agitation for a sympathy walkout by non-Ford workers in Local 195 of the United Auto Workers. Local 195 is a large composite group embracing workers in the Windsor auto industry outside Ford.

At a mass meeting one night I heard a woman behind me talking it over with her husband. She was very much against the sympathy strike, as were most of the auto workers.

Just then the Communist at the microphone came to one of his punch lines: “Call out Local

195!” Ahead of us a man looked around, raised his hands like an orchestra conductor, and began to applaud. It was the Party signal; the woman began to clap loudly for the strike she didn’t believe in.

Fustest With the Mostest

THAT was a trifling example of how Communist discipline works. Anti-Communists in Windsor tell of others:

Local 195, in which Communists at that time held all executive posts, had its members scattered

in about 25 plants, some of them five or six miles from downtown Windsor. Union voting took place at union headquarters. Every Communist made the long trip into town to vote, and brought with him each fellow member whose vote he could rely on. Many a non-Communist. was too lazy.

No hall in Windsor would hold all 9,000 members of Local 195. Often union meetings would be called in places that would hold only a few hundred. The meeting might be called for 8 p.m. Non-Communists would turn up at eight or a little before, find every seat taken and even the standing room scarce.

Tired of st anding on t he fringe of t he crowd, and bored with long Red speeches that seemed to have no point, the non-Communists would go home. Then the meeting would get down to business and lay down union policy.

Actually, the Communists rather overshot themselves in Windsor. Their sympathy strike was so unpopular that in the 194fi election the whole Communist slate in Local 195 was defeated. But in spite of this reverse they are still powerful. A CCF observer told me a month ago that the Communists still run the UAW almost as much as they ever did. Continued on pane, 40

Continued on pane, 40

"Control or destroy"—that’s the Communist labor line. Reds control nine unions, but foment trouble everywhere

Continued from page 13

Last September, out of 75 delegates United Auto Workers sent to the Canadian Congress of Labor convention, 50 voted the Party line. In four other CCL unions, Communist control was tighter; their delegations were an allRed bloc.

The four, in order of importance:

International Woodworkers of America, led by Harold Pritchett, claiming 25,000 of British Columbia’s 35,000 lumber workers. A year ago its membership was only about half that, but it has run a highly successful strike in the meantime.

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, led by Clarence “Red” Jackson. Pays dues to CCL on about 6,000 members, though it has occasionally claimed higher membership. This is the Communists’ pet and showpiece among Canadian unions.

International Fur and Leather Workers Union, a well-organized group of about 5,000, headed by Fred Collins. This union lately proved a haven for Bob Haddow, another well-known Communist, when he was purged out of the International Association of Machinists in Montreal.

Numbers Not Everything

Shipyard and General Workers’ Federation of British Columbia, an all-Canadian union in Vancouver which the Communists took over after a hot fight when the war boom suddenly swelled its ranks to 13,000. Postwar shutdowns have since shrunk it to an estimated 4,000, but it’s still a power in west coast labor politics.

A fifth union, the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, isn’t entirely under Communist control here in Canada but is more valuable to them than some others they do rule. It has about 12,000 members. Its president, Bob Carlin, is a CCF member of the Ontario Legislature. Of its 14 convention delegates only four voted as Communists.

But Carlin leaves a good deal of work, especially in the West, to Communist Harvey Murphy. More important still, the parent union in the U. S. is headed by Reid Robinson, a Party stalwart. A good deal of the union’s expansion work, notably among the hard-rock miners of northern Quebec, is in the hands of American organizers sent in by Robinson’s office.

These are the CIO Unions most of those that make up the Canadian Congress of Labor are affiliated to the Congress of Industrial Organizations, Phi! Murray’s group in the United States.

In the rival Trades and Labor Congress, affiliated with William Green’s American Federation of Labor, only

four unions are Communist led. They i are:

Canadian Seamen’s Union, memberj ship about 9,000, led by Pat Sullivan.

United Textile Workers of America, claims 9,000 members mostly in Quebec, led by Kent Rowley.

International Chemical Workers Union, maybe 3,500, led by William Edmiston.

United Garment Workers, 1,200, led by Sam La pedes.

That’s only about 20,000 of the TLC’s 312,000 members, or less than seven per cent compared to about 40% of CCL’s membership in Red unions. But Communist strength is not measured in cold figures. The CCL has the most Communists, but it also has the most anf¿-Communists — every Red move was voted down by crushing majorities at the CCL convention last November. The TLC has Pat Sullivan, of the Seamen’s Union, as its secretarytreasurer. With a Communist in that -key job, the TLC sometimes looks far more like a Party organism than its rival federation.

No union in Canada, not even United Electrical, has a Communist majority in its rank and file. But on the other hand, no union is wholly free from Communist infiltration. Militantly anti-Red outfits like the United Steel Í Workers, under Charlie Millard, or Fred Dowling’s Packinghouse Workers, have cleaned house with vigilance and vigor—yet eight or 10 of the steel uniorr’s 76 delegates voted Communist at the CCL convention, and the Montreal local of the Packinghouse Workers is regarded as a Red bastion.

Communists give a lot more trouble in unions they don’t control than in unions where their rule is secure. Their motto is: “Control or destroy.” They prefer the former, but they’re even more expert at the latter.

They know how to exploit grievances. Anybody with a sore head—the man who thinks he ought to have got more in sickness benefit; the man who thinks he ought to have got that job or promotion—-all these find a Communist taking their part at union meetings, against a non-Communist executive.

Anti-Red union leaders get the same smear treatment as bosses, capitalists and others the Communists don’t like. They ’re traitors, turncoats, labor fakers, bureaucrats; if they accept a compromise they’re selling out the workers, if they don’t they’re showing a suicidal obstinacy.

“Secret Weapon”

When the CCF was trying to organize in Ontario 12 years ago, Communists wrecked it so efficiently that J. S. Woodsworth, then leader of the party, had to dissolve the whole provincial organization and begin over again. The Reds became members of the new party, one or two to each club, and they paralyzed it at birth.

A meeting would hardly come to order before one of the comrades would be on his feet with a resolution, carefully designed to split the membership along the most embarrassing lines. Or if anyone else got a motion before the house, a comrade would amend it or obstruct it. Speeches would go on interminably. Night after night the club would find itself meeting until 11.30 or midnight, yet achieving nothing. Members would become disgusted and quit.

In trade-unions Communists’ aim is not, of course, actually to destroy or disband the organization, but it is to discredit anti-Communist leadership, and their basic technique Is the same. Patient, impervious alike to boredom and to argument, moving according to prearranged plans while their opponents stumble along ad lib., Communists can turn an amazingly tiny minority into a controlling faction.

Their main “secret weapon” is their willingness to work. If there’s a hard, obscure, thankless, unpaid job to be done, there’s a Communist willing to do it. That’s why you find so many Communist secretaries, treasurers and committee chairmen in voluntary organizations. They profit by the indolence of the average citizen.

Rut how do they do this?

Nobody but a Communist could answer that question fully, but it seems to be a matter of discipline. The Communist Party really works at discipline, takes it seriously at every level, and every member shares the responsibility for it. If two men in the same shop are Party members and one doesn’t show up at a meeting, it’s the other man’s job to find out why.

Everybody has a job, a task. Everybody is made to feel his services matter —that he may be only a cog in a great machine, but he’s a functioning cog. He’s held to strict account for every task; nothing is trivial and nothing is let go by.

This method is hard on shirkers and conversational pinks. It is probably the main reason why the Communists are not a mass partyafter 25 years of intensive effort they claim no more than 23,000 members in Canada, and outside observers say 16,000 would be a more solid figure. A Communist MPP told me the Party had an annual turnover in its membership of 20%— that is, one out of five who join the Party quit. Outsiders think this figure, too, may be an understatement.

But the 80% that stay in the Party include, naturally, a high percentage of those devoted, fanatical types who feel they must have a cause. It’s no coincidence that so many of these militantly godless people have a religious background. Joseph Salsberg, industrial director of the Party and Ontario MPP, is deeply learned in the Talmud;. his father hoped he’d be a rabbi. A. A. MacLeod, who heads their two-man delegation in the Ontario Legislature, was once a YMCA secretary; A. E. Smith, the Party’s Grand Old Man, was a Methodist minister.

Receipt Became Weapon

As the years go by the Party seems to become more and more a member’s whole life. His social existence, friendships, his personal security are "tied up with it, until it may well be thatihe feels life outside the Party would be unthinkable. Expulsion takes on some of the threat that excommunication holds for a Catholic.

But it has other, more tangible threats as well. I have before me a copy of the Party’s official statement on the expulsion of a B. C. labor organizer who had been one of their trusted agents. He, like a number of bthers out West,

couldn’t stomach the “no strike” pledge and the general company-union strategy of the Party’s Earl Browder era, between June, 1941, and June, 1945. He began to show a lack of Party discipline, so they threw him out.

The expulsion statement calls him an “unprincipled careerist,” a man whose “disreputable personal conduct” discredited the Party and whose election to union office was won by “political trickery.”

Nor did the Party stop at name calling. According to friends of the victim, they broke up his home by telling tales to his wife; they made his life so miserable that he finally moved East. He has now been working several years for an anti-Communist union which has no fault to find with his honesty, his efficiency or his general usefulness.

Another veteran Communist who slid off the Party line in recent years was so much afraid of Communist persecution that he not only wouldn’t talk about them for quotation, he didn’t want it known that he’d even been approached.

The Royal Commission’s report on the spy plot revealed how Soviet agents tried to persuade every new aide to accept money and give a receipt for it, so that they’d have a blackmail weapon against him in case of need. There Is some reason to suppose that the Party follows a similar technique to keep its members in line. People who know the movement well say that a dossier, amazingly detailed and complete, is kept on every Party member who rises above utter obscurity.

All these things go into the discipline the Communists maintain. The actual machinery through which it is exercised, and through which the Party line can he made known with efficiency and speed, is much simpler.

“Vote for Peace”

The Communist Party (or Labor Progressive Party, as it has been called in Canada since August, 1943) Is organized in small clubs of dues-paying members. But whereas in other political organizations policy may he largely shaped by members, whose discussions and resolutions are spontaneous, LPP policy is a matter not for discussion but for instruction. Members don’t argue, they learn. Argument on tactics is permissible, they say, although some doubt even this; argument on principles, or on directives from Party superiors, is definitely out. For all political purposes the Party’s thousands move as one man.

How dangerous are they?

On the record, the answer is “not very.” Communist history during the 25 years that the Party has been organized in Canada has been, without significant exception, a history of failure.

For some reason the Canadian temperament doesn’t appear to be suited to Communist discipline. Every time the Party Line has taken a U-turn (and it has taken four in the past 11 years) some of the Canadian faithful have fallen off the sled.

Through the early years of the depression the Party Line everywhere was the same as in Germany, where Communists teamed with the Nazis to beat the Social Democrats. Reform parties like the Social Democrats were “social fascists,” to be fought wherever met.

Then the Hitler victory changed Moscow’s mind—“anti-Fascist unity” became the new Party Line, and the Canadian wing swung around accordingly. One of their resolutions in 1935 is quaintly phrased:

“No longer must members of Workers Unity League (Communist) unions

be allowed to call members of AFL or ACCL unions ‘labor fakers’ or other names. We must approach these workers in a kindly, brotherly manner, so that we can gain their sympathy.”

But it was too late. The majority of Canadian unions, and particularly nonCommunist labor leaders, remembered the tactics of the previous period.

Next major shift came on Aug. 23, 1939, when Messrs. Molotov and Ribbentrop signed the Moscow-Berlin nonaggression pact. In Communist eyes the war that broke out a week later was “imperialist slaughter.”

“Withdraw Canada from the war!” cried the Party’s election manifesto of March, 1940. “Speed the end of the slaughter! To save Canada from catastrophe, vote Communist! Vote for peace!”

That was the kind of language that got the Party declared illegal, its publications suppressed, some 40 of its leaders interned and others made fugitives from the RCMP.

This party attitude lasted until the invasion of Soviet Russia on June 22, 1941. In a matter of hours the Canadian Communist Party, still illegal and still underground, had issued a new manifesto. A dim and faded copy of it is in front of me:

“Canadians! All Out for Soviet Victory Over Fascism!

“This is a just war,” the document went on. “The cause of the Red Army is the cause of all humanity, the cause of freedom, progress and peace.”

By 1943 the “Communist-Labor Committee for Total War” had acquired almost the respectability of a Chamber of Commerce. Communist union leaders headed campaigns for “no strike pledges.” In the U. S. Communist leader Earl Browder projected his logic from the Teheran Agreement so far as to promise capitalism a free hand in the postwar period, with a warm welcome for foreign investments and no limitation on interest, dividend or private income.

In Canada Party Leader Tim Buck took the same line.

Hepburn Hugs Buck

“1 am not suggesting that tradeunions should go out in a broad campaign for higher wages,” he told his national executive in May, 1944. “If national unity is to be maintained after the war, and higher standards of life are to be secured, it will be done only by the labor movement joining large sections of capitalist people. It will not be accomplished by strikes . . .

“The joint statement made at Teheran (by Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin) does not include any suggestion of the establishment of socialism or the confiscation of wealth. Nothing in it even hints at limitation of private income. On the contrary, under the policy we have advocated repeatedly in Canada, there is very little doubt of greater profits than in the past.”

It’s worth recalling that during thus period of cuddling up to the Right., some businessmen and Right-wing politicians turned out to be more gullible than most trade-unionists had been during the “Trade-Union Unity” period of 1935-39.

In May, 1945, an American Chamber of Commerce man told me “The Communist Party is the stabilizing force in the American labor movement today.” In Canada Premier Mitchell Hepburn was photographed hugging Tim Buck on a public platform; in the 1945 election his Ontario Liberals sawed off with the Communists in some constituencies to beat the CCF.

But within a month the Party Line had changed again. Jacques Duelos, the French Communist Leader, wrote

an article which the Daily Worker printed in full, denouncing Earl Browder and all his works as “Rightistopportunist deviationism.” After a few days of stunned hesitation the American Party turned on their leader and booted him out.

In Canada the leadership hung onto office by the device of leading the antiRrowder outcry and ousting, instead, the Canadian Communists who criticized them for having been duped by him in the first place. Fergus McKean, British Columbian chief of this dissident faction, made a two-hour speech to the Party’s 1945 convention, denouncing Tim Buck and all the Party professionals. He scarcely got a hearing.

“I was heckled constantly,” McKean says now. “The chairman had to halt the meeting four times to restore partial order. I was amazed at the vindictiveness of the opposition. There wasn’t the slightest tendency to admit that my motives were anything but personal and treacherous—a desire to gain power by ‘betraying’ the Party.”

Shut Up Or Get Out

McKean had been a Communist for 13 years and had held positions of leadership for seven. He had spent two years in internment camp for his political beliefs (this was during the “imperialist slaughter” period), and after his release had been named provincial leader of the Labor Progressive Party in British Columbia.

After the debate at the Party convention McKean was called before a “special review committee” and questioned for several hours. The committee made it clear that further opposition by him to the national executive would not be tolerated. “In other words, I had to keep my mouth shut or get out. So I got out.”

That kind of thing is very hard on the loyalty of the rank and file. Publicly no Communist ever betrays any distrust of his Party. But in the privacy of their own councils the conformity is not so smooth, as the following anecdote shows:

In one Ontario industrial town live two men of the same name; we might call them Jack Smith. One is a wellknown Communist, the other a devout Catholic to whom Communism is a doctrine of Satan, but both are very active trade-unionists.

During a strike not long ago, the Catholic Jack Smith was invited to speak on behalf of the strikers in a neighboring town. He accepted without a second thought, and duly went. The meeting hadn’t been going on long before he realized what had happened —this was a closed meeting of the local Labor Progressive group, and they’d invited not him but the other Jack Smith. He kept quiet, sat out the meeting, spoke his piece when the time came without giving any hint that a mistake had been made.

Smith says the meeting was very interesting. The comrades took their hair down, complained bitterly about membership falling off, Party treasury being low, Party tactics being stupid and feeble. Generally, Smith said, their morale looked as bad in private as it looks good in public, and he went back to his union very much encouraged.

For all these reasons, the Communist Party in Canada does not appear to be strong enough to cause major difficulties under ordinary circumstances. Politically, although it’s a thorn in the side of the CCF, it’s not a real threat— it polled a mere 115,000 votes in 1945, and has never had more than two members in Parliament. At the moment it has only one, Fred Rose, whose prison sentence for espionage is now under appeal.

In one way, though, it could become a threat of some magnitude. That’s in the event, God forbid, of Canada getting into a war with the Soviet Union. The Communists appear to have decided already that this conflict is probable if not inevitable. They are preparing to be an industrial and political Fifth Column.

For obvious reasons they are aiming at Quebec, where hatred of Communism is strong but hatred of foreign war is even stronger.

Of the 70,000 lumberjacks who cut pulpwood in Canadian forests, 50,000 work in Quebec. At the moment they are totally unorganized. Harold Pritchett’s International Woodworkers have announced their intention of cracking this big open-shop industry. If they succeed, all the lumberjacks in Canada would be under Communist leadership. In Ontario they’re in an AFL union, but Communist Bruce Magnussen is its chief.

Textile workers of Quebec are already lined up under Communist Kent Rowley. Aircraft workers, enrolled in Local 712 of the Machinists, were under Red leadership until the union authorities intervened to purge Robert Haddow, Irving Burman and Jean Pare, all Communists who had held key jobs in Local 712. Pare has since managed to transfer another local of the Machinists, en bloc, into “Red” Jackson’s United Electrical Workers. Probably a third of Montreal Trades and Labor Council members are Redled.

That’s still a trivial minority of Quebec workers, but in a time cf crisis it could be an effective one.

How can Communists be defeated in the movements they try to control?

Apparently there isn’t any cheap, easy way. Veterans among McGill University students found that out just lately.

In Campus Politics

Communists had got control of the veterans’ organization in McGill and were using it, among other things, as a vehicle of propaganda—the veterans’ mailing list was made available to Party publicity bureaus. Anti-Communist veterans got pretty indignant about this, and they organized a mass turnout to defeat the Communist slate at election time.

But the anti-Communist bloc itself was phony—it included a host of fraternity boys who had never come to a meeting before, had to pay their dues on the spot in order to vote, and quite obviously had no interest in the organization except to “purge” its leadership. The net effect, in some people’s opinion, was a boomerang. They think that among neutral students, veterans and otherwise, the residue of sympathy inclined to the Communist side.

In Britain the Communists have never made any headway—their membership is stuck at a meagre 60,000, and they have never made the slightest dent upon the British Labor Party or its trade-union movement—their last bid for affiliation was turned down by the widest margin yet. A month or so ago I asked Sam Watson, a British Labor M.P., how his party managed to keep the Communists down.

“Simple,” he said. “Because our members are just as loyal and just as willing to work for the Labor Party as Communists are for the Communist Party.

“Here in Canada, I think you spend too much of your energy being against the Labor Progressives. That’s no good, you’ve got to be for something. The way to lick a Communist is to think of something that he hasn’t thought of and work for it.” +