Left-center unity: Key to victory in November elections
Cartoon by Jacob Burck, 1934. | Daily Worker-People's World Archives

My friend, neighbor, comrade, and mentor, George Meyers lived and breathed the credo of “Solidarity Forever.”

Son of a western Maryland UMW coal miner, he was an organizer of the 10,000-member Textile Workers Local 1874 in Cumberland, Md., and a leader in the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Many readers of People’s World will also remember him for his 30 years of service as the Communist Party USA’s Labor Secretary.

George fought racist job discrimination, a battle he waged with his best friend, fellow Communist, Joe Henderson, an African American steelworker at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point mill near Baltimore. Such work didn’t go unnoticed by the government.

He was thrown in a federal penitentiary for 38 months in the 1950s on charges that he “conspired to teach or advocate the overthrow of the government by force and violence.” It was a brazen Cold War anti-communist lie put forward by people whose real agenda was to smash the CIO.

I’ve just completed a new book on his life, No Power Greater: The Life and Times of George A. Meyers. It’s out soon from International Publishers and is already available for pre-order. Reduce the theme of my book to a few choice words and they would be these:

“The secret of CIO success in organizing six million workers in the 1930s and ’40s was the unity of the left and center forces in the working class. The left does not have the strength to win on its own. It can only win if it is united with the center. It is a mutual need. The center too is incapable of winning on its own. It must have the left. But when the left and center are united, nothing can stop us.”

Of course, this was a strategy to organize workers into unions. But the concept of left-center unity applied to all struggles to organize the working class and its allies, not just unions.

United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis tapped George to be one of the key organizers of the CIO in the ’30s, along with Steelworker Gus Hall, Longshore leader Harry Bridges, and other convinced left-wingers. This was the unity of left and center in action.

Lewis, George said, is a “perfect example of a center force,” with many strengths and also weaknesses. But his main strength was that he was an anti-fascist who believed workers need unions to defend themselves from mad Wall Street wolves.

In those years, George A. Meyers was guided by an equally powerful idea—the United Front against fascism. He had read the pamphlet distributed by the Communist Party, Against War and Fascism, that contained the report delivered by Georgi Dimitrov to the 7th World Congress of the Communist International in 1935.

In it, Dimitrov defined fascism as the “open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital.”

Like left-center unity, the United Front—and later the Popular Front—was a strategy of building a broad coalition of millions of people who disagree on many issues. But they agree on the overriding issues: defense of democracy, racial and gender equality, and the rejection of corporate tyranny.

George returned to the Celanese mill after serving in the Army Air Corps in the war that defeated Hitler fascism at a cost of 50 million dead, a majority of them citizens of the Soviet Union and many millions of them Communists.

The giant banks and corporations and their government agents, like stool pigeon Ronald Reagan, understood perfectly the power of left-center unity and the United Front. They unleashed a full-scale war at home to smash the CIO. They targeted the left with nonstop witch-hunt hearings and the passage of Taft Hartley and other union-busting laws. They charged that Communist Party members were scheming to surrender the U.S. to Russia.

The center forces wavered, retreated, and then surrendered in the face of this offensive. The unity of left and center had been smashed by Wall Street’s targeting of the left, which had the intended aim of intimidating and forcing into retreat the center forces.

Corporate America then turned the AFL-CIO over to labor traitors like George Meany, whose ideology was racism, anti-communism, and servile “partnership” with Big Business.

The smashing of the CIO set the stage for the plague of plant closings that turned the industrial heartland of America into a rustbelt, with millions of jobs exported to lands of cheap labor. The density of union membership plummeted from nearly 30% when the CIO was at its height to about 6% today. All the gains won by the CIO, like Social Security, the minimum wage, and the 40-hour workweek, have been attacked, cut back, and undermined.

Think of the minimum wage, a pitiful $7.25 an hour, starvation pay. The Republican majority in the House blocks every effort to increase it. Medicare, a victory won in 1965, faces privatization by profit-greedy insurance companies who have tricked 51% of Medicare recipients into shifting to Medicare Advantage—a scheme that is neither Medicare nor an advantage.

When George got out of prison, he spent the rest of his life working to rebuild the left-center coalition in the labor movement.

He often visited Washington, where I was then serving as Bureau Chief of the Daily World. Together, we visited the D.C. offices of the United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers, Teamsters, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, the United Mine Workers, and the AFL-CIO.

He befriended many leaders, especially Machinists Union President William Winpisinger. Wimpy, a “seat of the pants socialist,” a Cleveland auto mechanic who led a near-million-member union, told me he deeply admired George and his lifelong dedication to building the labor movement.

George’s outreached hand of friendship for women and men he considered “center forces” was not a tactical gesture. He respected them, knew that he could learn from them and they could learn from him. George knew that the “center forces” disagreed with him on many issues. Yet he was always searching for “common ground,” for shared values of the left and center that served as the basis of unity.

What are those shared values? That workers need strong unions to win living wages, tolerable hours, workplace health and safety, and health care. That racial and gender unity is imperative. That the Constitution and the Bill of Rights must be defended. The same goes for the freedom to vote and to have those votes counted. And for women’s right to safe, legal abortions.

In those days, “common ground” was opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam. Today, it is opposing U.S. connivance with Israel in genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Some of these freedoms are subject to debate, but the left and center can be won to fight for these rights as the bedrock of saving democracy.

George made another point about left-center unity: When people are locked in sharp struggle, they awaken and begin to see clearly the nature of capitalism, a system driven by profit greed, racism, sexism, and imperialist war. They see from their own experience that the system is rigged against them. The “center” moves to the left. Some of them, like George A. Meyers himself, join the Communist Party and devote themselves to building the base for “Bill of Rights Socialism.” The left-center coalition is dynamic, not static.

Left-center unity is a winning strategy in the class struggle. It also expresses the deepest value of Communists: The unity of humanity in the quest for a world fit for human beings and all life.

George argued persuasively against ultra-left notions that reject left-center unity. It is a fatal sectarian error for the left to embrace “go-it-alone” illusions, George said. He argued that the politics of coalition, the science of building unity among masses of people with widely different views is the key to social change.

Set aside differences. Search for the points of agreement and organize majority support for those demands. Plunge into these struggles, whether it is the resurgent labor movement, the women’s equality movement, the “Black Lives Matter” movement, the “Blue-Green” alliance against global warming, or the movement to end the U.S.-Israeli war on the Palestinian people.

The Republicans and their corporate backers scheme to polarize the American people along lines of race, nationality, gender, urban-vs-rural, and region.

The Republicans and their Wall Street masters see the direction the U.S. and the world are heading: Growing diversity, millions demanding an end to the rule of the oil and gas billionaires, and young workers, members of “Gen Z” determined not to kneel and accept the starvation wages offered by the billionaires. At the end of this process of radicalization, the ideologues of capitalism see doom! The end of capitalist rule, the advent of socialism.

The Republicans today stand for racism, hate, ignorance, and division. We stand for unity, science, and hope! Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., called it the “Beloved Community.”

I attended a luncheon in Seattle a little while ago for Rep. Pramila Jayapal. The woman labor union leader who was introducing Jayapal mentioned that she is one of 70 lawmakers who have signed Rep. Cori Bush’s “Ceasefire in Gaza NOW” bill. The crowd of 500 people cheered Jayapal for her courage and foresight.

A wise leader of the labor movement said the other day, “Defense of Democracy flows through the ballot box.”

George A. Meyers would agree: The only way to break the grip of the fascist danger is to defeat them at the polls on November 5.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the views of its author.

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Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.