Congress of Industrial Organisations

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Interest ofClinton Golden

The Committee for Industrial Organisation is an American labor union best known as the CIO in the merged AFL-CIO.


In 1935 several union leaders were dissatisfied with the policies of American Federation of Labor (AFL). Led by John L. Lewis, the leader of the United Mine Workers of America, seven unions formed the Committee for Industrial Organisation (CIO). Three years later they changed the name of the organisation to the Congress for Industrial Organisation.

John L. Lewis became president of the CIO and over the next few years attempted to organize workers in the new mass production industries. This strategy was successful and by 1937 the CIO had more members than the American Federation of Labor.

Purging the communists

Robert R. McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, who with some reluctance supported Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York and the 1944 Republican presidential nominee, claimed that the CIO had become the dominant faction in the national Democratic Party:

 They call it the Democratic national convention but obviously it is the CIO convention. Franklin D. Roosevelt is the candidate of the CIO and the Communists because they know if elected, he will continue to put the government of the United States at their service, at home and abroad. ... The CIO is in the saddle and the Democrat donkey, under whip and spur, is meekly taking the road to communism and atheism. ... Everybody knows that Roosevelt is the Communist candidate, but even the Communists cannot be sure where their place will be  if he wins. His purpose is to overthrow the Republic for his own selfish ambitions [but] it is the duty of every American to oppose The Great Deceiver [Roosevelt].[1]

The Taft–Hartley Act of 1947 penalized unions whose officers failed to sign statements that they were not members of the Communist Party. Many Communists held power in the CIO unions (few did so in the AFL). The most affected unions were the ILWU, UE, TWU, United Public Workers, and Fur and Leather Workers. Other Communists held senior staff positions in a number of other unions.

The leftists had an uneasy relationship with Murray while he headed the CIO. He mistrusted the radicalism of some of their positions and was innately far more sympathetic to anti-Communist organizations such as the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists. He also believed, however, that making anti-Communism a crusade would only strengthen labor's enemies and the rival AFL at a time when labor unity was most important.

Murray might have let the status quo continue, even while Walter Reuther and others within the CIO attacked Communists in their unions, if the CPUSA had not chosen to back Henry A. Wallace's Progressive Party campaign for President in 1948. That, and an increasingly bitter division over whether the CIO should support the Marshall Plan, brought Murray to the conclusion that peaceful co-existence with Communists within the CIO was impossible.

Murray began by removing Bridges from his position as the California Regional Director for the CIO and firing Lee Pressman as General Counsel of both the Steelworkers and the CIO. Anti-communist unionists then took the battle to the City and State Councils where they ousted Communist leaders who did not support the CIO's position favoring the Marshall Plan and opposing Wallace.

After the 1948 election, the CIO took the fight one step further, expelling the International Longshore and Warehouse Union; International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers; Farm Equipment Union (FE); Food and Tobacco Workers; and the International Fur and Leather Workers Union after a series of internal trials in the first few months of 1950, while creating a new union, the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (which later merged with the Communications Workers of America), to replace the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), which left the CIO.

Merger with the AFL

Walter Reuther succeeded Murray, who died in 1952, as head of the CIO. William Green, who had headed the AFL since the 1920s, died the same month. Reuther began discussing merger of the two organizations with George Meany, Green's successor as head of the AFL, the next year.[2]

In 1955 the CIO merged with the American Federation of Labor. Walter Reuther, the president of the CIO became vice-president of the AFL-CIO. George Meany became president of this new organization that now had a membership of 15,000,000.

Most of the critical differences that once separated the two organizations had faded since the 1930s. The AFL had not only embraced industrial organizing, but included industrial unions, such as the International Association of Machinists, that had become as large as the UAW or the Steelworkers.

The AFL had a number of advantages in those negotiations. It was, for one thing, twice as large as the CIO. The CIO was, for its part, once again facing internal rivalries that threatened to seriously weaken it.

Reuther was spurred toward merger by the threats from David J. McDonald, Murray's successor as President of the Steelworkers, who disliked Reuther intensely, insulted him publicly and flirted with disaffiliation from the CIO. While Reuther set out a number of conditions for merger with the AFL, such as constitutional provisions supporting industrial unionism, guarantees against racial discrimination, and internal procedures to clean up corrupt unions, his weak bargaining position forced him to compromise most of these demands. Although the unions that made up the CIO survived, and in some cases thrived, as members of the newly created AFL-CIO, the CIO as an organization was folded into the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department.

Walter Reuther found George Meany conservative and dictatorial and in 1968 led the United Auto Workers out of the AFL-CIO federation. The following year he joined with the Teamsters Union to form Alliance for Labor Action.