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George Marshall at the 1947 CIO Convention: 1947 | by Washington Area Spark
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George Marshall at the 1947 CIO Convention: 1947

Secretary of State George Marshall III is shown with Congress of Industrial Organization leaders in Boston in October 1949 after giving a speech outline his financial plan for stimulating the war-torn European economies.

 

From left to right CIO secretary-treasurer James Carey; auto workers chief Walter Reuther, Secretary of State George Marshall; clothing workers union president Jacob Potofsky, and CIO and steelworkers’ union chief Phillip Murray.

 

The 1947 Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) convention papered over severe differences in how the organization was to confront a changing world situation. The convention passed a resolution condemning the anti-labor Taft Hartley Act, but did not prescribe how the labor federation was going to fight it.

 

Particularly the convention did not address by resolution whether union officers should comply or not comply with the non-communist affidavit section of the Taft. Instead Murray personally gave a speech saying he would not sign, but left the decision to individual unions.

 

Likewise it passed a resolution that endorsed the Marshall Plan in all but name as a compromise between communist-allied unions and those seeking an alliance with U.S. President Harry S. Truman.

 

The Marshall plan was initially politically controversial, with right-wing isolationists opposing it as an ineffective giveaway while left-wing opponents saw it as the end U.S.-Soviet cooperation that defined World War II.

 

Non-negotiable conditions for receipt of Marshall Plan aid included specific capitalist mechanisms for how an economy must be organized and were in direct opposition to the Soviet Union and allied countries that had varying forms of socialist systems.

 

The Marshall Plan was one of three issues that split the CIO the following year.

 

The larger issue was the support by communist led or allied unions of the third party bid of Henry Wallace in the 1948 election. The other was the increasing isolation of communists in U.S. society as the burgeoning Red Scare enveloped the U.S.

 

By 1950, communists had lost support in three of the national unions they formerly carried influence and 11 others were either expelled or quit the CIO. Communists and other left wing forces were driven out of positions in other unions, state federations and local labor councils during that period also.

 

Following the expulsion of the communists, the CIO and AFL unions then generally turned away from activism and new organizing. Leaders consolidated power within their own unions and effectively stamped out democracy in most and adopted a business unionism model of focusing on negotiating contracts and grievance representation.

 

While the decline of the labor movement in the U.S. has a number of causes, one was unions that ceased effective organizing and adopting structures that left them unprepared to meet the challenges of changing conditions.

 

For more information and related images, see flic.kr/s/aHsm1ZnVra

 

For a blog post on how an individual union navigated these differences, see washingtonspark.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/against-the-cold...

 

The photographer is unknown. The image is reproduced from The CIO 1935-55 by Robert Ziegler.

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Taken in October 1949