McCarthyism takes over the U.S. labor movement
The Feb. 16, 1950 front page of the Daily Worker. | People's World Archives

This article is part of the People’s World 100th Anniversary Series

On Feb. 15, 1950, McCarthyism took over the Congress of Industrial Organizations, as the federation’s right-wing leadership caved to pressure from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and initiated a wave of expulsion of left-led unions.

The expelled unions were all charged with being controlled by Communists, an offense unacceptable to employers, conservative politicians, and sell-out labor leaders alike.

Founded in 1935 as a means of organizing industrial workers long ignored by the craft-led American Federation of Labor, the CIO was committed from the start to organizing so-called “unskilled” workers in industries like auto, mining, steel, and more.

Many of the most effective organizers and leaders of CIO unions were indeed Communist Party members, but they rose to their positions through the democratic process of their unions and enjoyed the confidence of their members because of their abilities and commitment. The unions were never fronts for or under the direct control of the party, however.

After World War II, as worker militancy swept the country, the right-wing struck back with the Taft-Hartley Act, a measure designed to cripple the labor movement. The bill, passed in 1947, required all union leaders in the United States to swear that they were not Communists. The whole affair was a political scheme on behalf of the capitalist ruling class.

Several CIO leaders refused to comply with the requirements of Taft-Hartley and stuck by the principle that rank-and-file workers, not the U.S. Congress, had the power to decide who would lead them.

Right-wing figures within the labor movement, however, collaborated with the anti-communists in HUAC and engineered the expulsion of several left-led unions. Five years later, the CIO merged with the AFL to form the AFL-CIO, which for decades afterward was led by a number of pro-business figures.

It was only in the late 1990s that the AFL-CIO and many of its constituent unions began repealing anti-communist clauses from their constitutions.

In the article below, originally published in the Daily Worker on Feb. 16, 1950, labor reporter Mel Fiske details the very first round of anti-communist expulsions from the CIO that had just happened the day before.

CIO right wing expels Mine-Mill, UOPWA

By Mel Fiske

Daily Worker, Feb. 16, 1950

WASHINGTON— The CIO executive board today expelled two international unions after hearing trial reports that aped those of the House Un-American Committee. Two more unions were slated to be expelled, one later today and the other tomorrow.

The two unions expelled are the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers and the United Office and Professional Workers. The two other unions slated for expulsion are the Food, Tobacco, and Agricultural Workers and the United Public Workers.

The expulsion of Mine-Mill is effective immediately. UOPWA’s expulsion is effective March 1, because of a technicality in connection with the union’s court suit to halt the ouster. Mine-Mill is one of the unions which founded CIO 14 years ago.

In each case, the ground for expulsion was the charge that the unions had “consistently” directed their policies and activities “toward the achievement of the program and purposes of the Communist Party rather than the objectives and policies set forth in the CIO constitution.”

Based on reports paralleling those issued by the House Un-American Committee in its past attacks on the CIO, the board’s actions against the unions were the culmination of the rule-or-ruin policy undertaken by right-wing officials at the CIO’s convention last November.

Opposing Mine-Mill’s expulsion were six CIO board members, officers of unions under attack by the right wing. Voting for were 34 members. The CIO’s top officers and vice presidents did not vote.

The same six had opposed the revocation of the California CIO Council charter yesterday. They were Mine-Mill secretary-treasurer Maurice Travis; Marine Stewards president Hugh Bryson; American Communications Association president Joseph Selly; UOPWA president James Durkin; FTA administrative director Donald Henderson; and UPW president Abram Flaxer.

The ACA and MC&S are among the six other CIO unions next in line for the rigged trials established by the CIO’s top officials. CIO president Philip Murray said those trials will be undertaken soon.

First, Murray said, the CIO board will decide how the members and jurisdiction of the expelled unions will be split up among the remaining CIO unions. He indicated the decision may be made before the board adjourns Thursday.

Murray estimated that 44,000 Mine-Mill members and 12,000 UOPWA members would be involved in the CIO splitting moves.

Travis and Durkin, it was learned, argued heatedly against the reports and resolutions which recommended expulsion. The reports had been prepared by two committees which had conducted brief trials. But, though the committees differed in membership, the wording of their reports was almost identical.

The reports attempted to show the existence of a “parallel” between the policies of the Communist Party and the policies of Mine-Mill and UOPWA. A committee headed by Jacob Potofsky, Amalgamated Clothing Workers president, claimed such a parallel was found in Mine-Mill in a comparison of the Daily Worker and the Mine-Mill publication.

The committee which had judged UOPWA was headed by Emil Rieve, Textile Workers Union president. It claimed there was the same parallel, based on the same comparison.

Rieve’s committee also maintained that UOPWA was not following CIO policy because it was opposing the official plan to expel unions. “It is inconceivable to the committee that an organization loyal to the CIO” would support the United Electrical Workers “in its fight against the CIO unless that union were itself committed to the support of the Communist Party against the CIO,” it concluded.

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Mel Fiske
Mel Fiske

Mel Fiske was a labor reporter for Daily Worker from 1940 until 1956. He covered Congress, the Supreme Court, the White House and the Pentagon, focusing on the opposition to labor organizing, political dissent and the rise of McCarthyism. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943 and served in the South Pacific during World War II. An activist until the end, he always carrying a picket sign reading: "A Vet Against the War in Iraq."