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Bill Hutcheson's Convention
By Edward Levinson
January 2, 1937
Vol. 144, No. 1, P. 11.
The Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, pillar of craft-union opposition to the industrial organization of the mass-production industries, epitomizes in its structure and policies all that is worst in craft unionism. The recent convention of the brotherhood at the Carpenters' Home in Lakeland, Florida, where General President William Hutcheson permits good carpenters to idle away their old age, brought these traits into clear focus.
Craft Imperialism. The brotherhood has absorbed, with or without the consent of the workers concerned, members of the machinists', coopers', bridge and structural iron workers', brewers', longshoremen's, metal lathers', and loggers' unions. "God made the forests," as one man put it, "and gave them to Bill Hutcheson." While the brotherhood inveighs against John L. Lewis as an invader of jurisdictions, it accords itself a jurisdiction as wide as the nation. The general president says the constitution, "may issue charters to auxiliary unions composed of persons working at an industry where organization would be a benefit to the brotherhood." While denouncing industrial unionism, the brotherhood takes the per capita dues of 74,000 wood workers in the Northwest organized in industrial unions. It virtually sells its union label to any locals which will pay the full per capita tax, and insists that no branch of the diverse industry may have its own label. It exacts what General Secretary Frank P. Duffy called a "service charge" for "non-beneficial" members who wish to enjoy the privilege of a card in the union.
Craft Autocracy. Among its 300,000 members are 130,000 "non-beneficial" members who enjoy neither voice nor vote in the affairs of the brotherhood. As Mr. Duffy told these members at Lakeland, they are in the family only "on probation," and if they do not like it they can get out of the American Federation of Labor. Mr. Hutcheson is a potentate. He may revoke local charters, grant "dispensations," decide points of law, appoint organizers, suspend officers, and expel or fine duly elected Convention delegates.
Social Backwardness. Mr. Hutcheson repeatedly heads the labor committee of the Republican National Committee; he opposes social legislation--including the demand for a thirty-hour week; he kept the executive council of the A. F. of L. from carrying out the command of the 1935 convention to work for a constitutional amendment. Mr. Duffy at the Lakeland convention, calling the role of great Presidents, found good words only for Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft.
The bugaboo of communism was paraded as though it were not a discredited scarecrow. It served to silence all opposition to the reelection of Mr. Hutcheson. It was used as an excuse for the tabling of resolutions aimed at depriving Mr. Hutcheson of some of his many prerogatives. It was decided that any members who signed "Communist" resolutions were to be expelled. And all critical resolutions were declared to be "communism." "All in favor of the motion rise; all opposed give their names to the secretary," Chairman Hutcheson said in taking the vote. When Delegate Stewart suggested that the constitution of the union grants the members the right to their political views, President Hutcheson announced that he had ruled that communism was not a political theory and that therefore Delegate Stewart was out of order. Delegate Dunn then opined that "every dog that comes out of a litter is a dog, no matter what its breed," and that, logically, every man who "went to a meeting and sang the International" was a Communist. This closed the argument. For the rest, the convention raised dues to $1 a month, denounced the C. I. O. as a "wild dream," and amended the ritual so that those who are tainted with belief in revolution might be expelled from membership forever.
The disturbing moments to the stand-patters were furnished by the "fraternal" non-voting delegates representing 74,000 woodworkers in the Northwest. The men are members of the vigorous locals of loggers, sawmill, shook, and veneer workers, furniture makers, and cooperage workers which dealt a deathblow to the company union, the Loyal Legion of Lumbermen and Loggers, in National Labor Board elections. Until the summer of 1935 they were organized in federal locals of the A. F. of L. Mr. Hutcheson suddenly decided that their per capita dues belonged to him, and they were duly turned over by the executive council. The special dispensation granted them by Mr. Hutcheson did not include the right to share in the financial benefits of the brotherhood. The local were willing to accept this provision since their per capita tax of 25 cents was lower than the usual 75 cents, but they were greatly pained to find that they would have, neither voice nor vote even in those affairs of the union in which they were concerned. Last September they met in Portland, Oregon, and formed the Federation of Woodworkers. They indorsed the C. I. O., demanded democratic rights within the carpenters' brotherhood, asked to be allowed to use the carpenters' label, and insisted on the right to choose their paid organizers. The only response came from a spokesman for the lumbermen who said that be had heard that Mr. Hutcheson was planning to invite in such craft unions as the teamsters, the machinists, and others in order to dismember the Northwest locals.
The demands of the Northwesterners were presented to the Lakeland convention through Duncan Campbell, a beneficial delegate from Longview, Washington. Mr. Daffy at first railed against "these fellows" who were looking Mr. Hutcheson's gift horse in the mouth. He accused them of ingratitude and of permitting a United Mine Workers' leader to address the Portland convention. He challenged them to carry out their threat to secede from the brotherhood and join the C. I. O., promised them "the sweetest fight you ever had," and indicated what the mechanics of this fight would be. Carpenters' locals would be instructed to give the Northwest locals no assistance; and the brotherhood would "notify firms with which we have contracts for the timberworkers that if they want to continue employing you outside of the brotherhood we will put them on the unfair list and your manufactured stuff won't be handled anywhere."
Mr. Campbell, refusing to be intimidated, reminded the convention that the rebellious locals expected to pay $150,000 in per capita dues during the next year. At that point discretion seemed to overcome Messrs. Hutcheson and Duffy. They appointed a committee which bargained with Mr. Campbell and the others for more than three days. No complete agreement was reached. Finally the committee reported without the approval of the second party to the negotiations. The convention sanctioned the report, which promised an investigation of the timber industry, ordered that a label be issued to designate "fair lumber," placed several notably anti-union lumber firms on an unfair list, promised an organization drive among the non-union lumbermen, and permitted six fraternal delegates to address the convention. The demands for democratic rights--for some autonomy for the locals and for the privilege of selecting their own organizers--were rejected.
The atmosphere of conciliation and conviviality induced by Florida sunshine and good-fellowship served to mollify some of the fraternal delegates, but it was noticed that the entire delegation departed for Washington to seek council there with Mr. Lewis. Talk of secession has been revived. It will come up again at a special convention which is scheduled for February but which may now be advanced.