Notebook: An Assist to the Union Reformer

Notebook: An Assist to the Union Reformer

A little imagination can go a long way. Just when it seemed that the issue of trade union democracy was to be smothered by the fatuity of the CIO-AFL Ethical Practices Committee, and general indifference, Herman Benson came along with a creative idea that has done much to regenerate an interest in democracy in the labor movement. More precisely, what he has done is give heart to those rank and filers and local leaders—the “Jimmy Higgins’s” on whom the vitality of the unions must ultimately rest— who are committed union men, and who as committed union men believe that freedom cannot be sacrificed without sacrificing the union as well.

Assisted by a few friends like Jim Peck, one of CORE’s leaders, and an occasional dollar bill from others, Benson got the idea—so simple that its bigness is only now becoming apparent to more than a few—that local reformers could hang on and fight better if they were assured of moral, financial, and legal support. It started a couple of years ago when A. J. Hayes, president of the International Association of Machinists, and head of the AFL-CIO Ethical Practices Committee, ousted Marion Cieply and Irwin Rappoport who were opposing a corrupt local leadership in Lodge 113. Benson, who has for many years been an active socialist, wrote about the case, reprinted his article, and mailed it to two hundred people. He secured the intercession of Norman Thomas, Professor Clyde Summers, and the American Civil Liberties Union, and generally made unionists and friends of labor aware of the case. Hayes, chief Ethical Practicer, has spent huge sums (not his, the union’s) to defeat Cieply and Rappoport. But they continue to fight; that they do is tribute to their own convictions, and the quiet work of Benson’s labor “reprints.”


Lima