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Full text of "Speech at the A.F. of L. Convention, Portland, 1923."

Labor Herald Library 
No. 9 



Wm. F. Dunne's Speech 

At the A. F. of L. Convention 

Portland, 1923 



Price 5 Cents 



1923 



Published by 

The Trade Union Educational League 

106 No. La Salle Street Chicago, 111. 



99 







Uns. 



,fc 



FOREWORD 

WILLIAM F. DUNNE, a regularly elected delegate of the 
Silver Bow Trades and Labor Council, Butte, Mon- 
tana, a member of the International Brotherhood of 
Electrical Workers for almost 14 years, editor of the Butte 
Bulletin, a militant Labor Paper, official organ of the Butte 
Trades Council and Montana State Federation of Labor, was 
tin seated at the 43rd annual convention of the American Fed- 
i ration of Labor held in Portland, Oregon. 

No charges were preferred against him except that he was 
a member of the Workers (Communist) Party of America and 
that he had criticised officers and policies of the A. F. of L. 
As a matter of fact, the motion for his unseating made by Vice- 
President Phillip Murray of the United Mine Workers of 
America gives no reasons whatever for the action. 

This arbitrary unseating of a regularly elected delegate 
from an affiliated body by the officialdom of the A. F. of L. 
was in violation of every principle of free speech and expres- 
sion of opinion to which the A. F. of L. professed allegiance. 
It was carried out amid the applause of the employers' press 
and is shown to be a cowardly as well as a tyrannical act by 
reason of the long record of unswerving allegiance to the labor 
movement and uncompromising hostility to the oppression prac- 
ticed by the great employers of labor and their government 
possessed by William F. Dunne. His speech in reply to his 
prosecutors at the A. F. of L. convention is given herewith. 



576369 



Wm. F. Dunne's Speech at the 43rd 

Annual Convention of A.F.of L. 

Portland, Oregon, 1923 

Mr. Chairman: This is not the first time I have faced a 
white-collared mob aroused to frenzy by the press of its mas- 
ters and bent upon my destruction. It is not the first time 
that my head has been asked as the price of peace and har- 
mony, but in the capitalist courts I am not called an enemy 
of the trade union movement; rather do they say that I call 
upon the workers to resist the attack of the employers. 

I am glad that Delegate Green for the prosecution has 
succeeded in finding a Biblical precedent for the action you 
are about to take, — in the expulsion of Lucifer from Heaven. 
It not only aids what is a weak case, but it gives the proper 
religious atmosphere to a proceeding that is entirely consistent 
with the heresy-hunting proclivities of the officialdom of the 

rican Federation of Labor. The accusations themselves 
cite only criticisms of officials of the United Mine Workers 

the American Federation of Labor. The prosecution has 
had to stoop to interpretation, insinuation and misconstruction 
just as do the district attorneys of the employers; and with all 

labored effort the charge simmers down to the accusation 
that I do not worship at the shrine of John L. Lewis, Philip 
Murray, William Green and the rest of the hierarchy. 

This I do not deny, nor do I intend to defend myself. 

Before a capitalist court I would offer a defense and take ad- 
tage of every loophole, but before the lackeys of the em- 
ers, NO! Any statements I may make will be merely for 

the purpose of making my position clear. 

• officials of the United Mine Workers are very jealous 
unspotted reputations but they do not hesitate to tell 



6 WM. F. DUNNE'S SPEECH AT PORTLAND 

the truth about one another during election time — even at the 
risk of disrupting the organization. They are very much in- 
censed at me because I have quoted some of the accusations 
rmrled at each other during quarrels over the good jobs — 
family quarrels in which much truth is told as the thieves 
fall out. I have not gone as deep into these matters as I 
might. Accustomed as I am to the smell of corruption ema- 
nating from the headquarters of international unions the stink 
of some of this is too much even for my strong stomach. I 
could have, for instance, quoted from a spicy leaflet issued 
by one who has undergone recently a change of heart, John 
H. Walker, President of the Illinois State Federation of La- 
bor. The leaflet, unfortunately for John, is like the other stuff 
labelled "Johnny Walker"— it cannot be put back in the bottle 
after it has been poured out. It is still a matter of record and 
as I recall it was entitled "John L. Lewis, Liar, Coward and 
Thief." John began there and went up — so you can imagine 
about what the pamphlet was like. He has, however, been 
made to see these little matters in their proper perspective and 
doubtless now believes that these are just the kind of qualifica- 
tions and characteristics that the president of the United Mine 
Workers of America should posses. If he has arrived at this 
conclusion by what is known as the rule of the preponderance 
of evidence he is probably quite correct. 

I did not come into the trade union movement by the back 
door, as Mr. Frank Hodges inferred some of the reds do when 
he made his inspired speech. Neither did I come into the 
trade union movement by the back door as did Mr. Ellis Sear- 
les, editor of the Lmited Mine Workers' Journal, the individ- 
ual who is chiefly responsible for the attacks upon the radicals 
and who asks the cooperation of the employers in the witch- 
burning campaign. 

I have been a trade unionist for more than 14 years and 
for almost that length of time an active member of the Elec- 
trical Workers' Union. My record in the labor movement has 
no Haws in it; mv efforts have been devoted to building a 



WM. F. DUNNE'S SPEECH AT PORTLAND 

latter and a stronger movement and in no single place where 
I have been has the trade union movement not profited by my 
activities. I have in my pocket now a letter from one of the 
international officers of the Electrical Workers thanking me 
for my assistance at a critical time. 

The patched up story of my activities in the Pennsyl- 
vania coal fields during the 1922 strike of the miners is inter- 
esting, but incomplete. I made two speeches to miners in 
that district after the strike started and in both instances they 
came out on strike and stayed out. So far as I know there 
was not an organizer of the United Mine Workers then within 
15 miles. 

In Fayette county, Pa., where it is said, by the prosecu- 
tion, communists were active, it is a matter of record that the 
strike there was continued weeks after an agreement, which 
left them to the mercy of the coal operators, had been signed 
and they were left flat without relief by the organization whose 
strike they won, 

/ make a distinction, hozvever, between you, international 
officers, and the membership. When I said in a speech the 
other night that this w>as not a ivorkingclass gathering, I meant 
what I said. I told the truth, you know I told the" truth and 
none of you dare deny it. Workers! Drawing the same sala- 
ries as the employers, living in the same hotels, eating the 
same food, belonging to the same fraternal orders, hobnobbing 
with them in their clubs! What do you know or care about 
the eternal struggle of the wage-earners except that it forces 
you to apologise to the bosses from time to time and disavoiv 
any radical tendencies! 

You say that I have contempt for you and you are right. 

I have. . I know you all and I know your silly pretentions to 

leadership. So do the employers, and they laugh at you while 

* you. Even the men in the press box, upon whom von 

I, despise you while they cater to your petty vanities. 



8 WM. F. DUNNE'S SPEECH AT PORTLAND 

The numerical inferiority and theoretical weakness of the 
American labor movement constitutes a threat to the Amer- 
ican workingclass but is nothing compared with the servility 
and corruption of the officialdom of most national and inter- 
national unions. This condition has become so outrageous that 
it stinks to high heaven and makes the trade union movement 
at once the shame of the American workers and an object of 
contemptuous sneers on the part of the employers and their 
agents in government positions. 

In Butte, we have had our share of trouble with boss- 
fearing and boss-loving international officers. We witnessed, 
during the great strike of 1917, involving more than 12,000 
workers and tying up the biggest copper mining camp in the 
world, the spectacle of international presidents, vice-presidents 
and organizers, coming into a district where the wage-earners 
were engaged in a life and death struggle with the copper trust 
and going to the Sixth Floor of the Hennessy Building, the 
head offices of the Anaconda Mining Company, for consulta- 
tion with the corporation heads before they even reported to 
the strike committees of their unions. We know in Butte that 
in this strike during which Frank Little was murdered by 
thugs of the copper trust and every active unionist carried his 
life in his hands, when an army of company gunmen co-oper- 
ating with the militia patrolled the streets and manhandled 
men, women and children, that with one single exception, 
Taylor of the Machinists' Union, every international officer 
(and there were a dozen in Butte at the time), got his orders 
from the offices of the copper trust and became part of the 
machinery for breaking the strike. 

The president of the International Brotherhood of Elec- 
trical Workers, Frank J. McNulty, after trying with the aid 
of a conciliator from the Labor Department to break the strike 
of the electricians, after seeing them win all of their demands 
in spite of his sabotage, left Butte ostensibly to return to 
Springfield but was seen three weeks later at the Milwaukee 
depol returning from a hunting trip with Frank Kerr, Vice- 



WM. F. DUNNE'S SPEECH AT PORTLAND 9 

dent of the Montana Power Company, a subsidiary of the 
A. C. M., and Frank Connelly, warden of the state peniten- 
tiary — gunman and; political fixer for the copper trust. 

It is in this way that you officials build up your reputa- 
tions for militancy and integrity that you accuse the Com- 
munists of destroying. 

Another incident from life that illustrates the devotion 
with which you prosecute the struggles of the wage-earners 
who pay your bills. 

The strike of the miners was being conducted in 1917 
by an independent organization that had sprung into being 
thru sheer necessity— the Metal Mine Workers' Union. Inter- 
national officials of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers' Union 
were on the ground. The committee of the Metal Mine Work- 
ers' Union with representatives of the A. F. of L. unions held 
numerous conferences with Davidson, International Board 
Member of the Moyer organization, with the hope of effecting 
a permanent organization of the miners. I was present at 
these conferences and never have I seen officials less inter- 
ested in the prospect of securing 10,000 new members without 
effort on their part. An agreement was finally reached to the 
effect that the striking miners would take a referendum on 
the question of joining the International Union of Mine, Mill 
and Smelter Workers; if the vote was favorable they were 
to be admitted to membership. 

Due to the events of 1914 the feeling against the officials 
of the Smelter Workers was very bitter but I need not go 
into that here. I knew the extent of this feeling and the 
justification for it — nevertheless I appeared before a special 
meeting of the miners and advocated their joining the Moyer 
organization. The day before the vote was to be taken senti- 
ment was overwhelmingly for joining and the majority for 
it would have been four or five to one. That evening David- 
son issued a special manifesto stating that if the miners voted 
to join the Smelter Workers, they must join as individuals 



10 



WM. F. DUNNE'S SPEECH AT PORTLAND 



WM. F. DUNNE'S SPEECH AT PORTLAND 



11 



and not as a body ; that they must go back to work and allow 
thirty days to elapse while the executive board considered 
their grievances. 

The effect of this was to disgust the strikers and convince 
them of the treachery of the officials of the union they pro- 
posed to join. The matter of affiliation was voted down and 
from that time on the strike was lost altho it continued to 
be bitterly fought. 

Here is more unanswerable proof of the disruptive and 
subversive character of the activities of union officials whom 
you accuse me of defaming. I have a ready tongue but no 
words come to my mind that could constitute defamation of 
men who in such a brazen manner serve the corporations that 
oppress their memberships. 

I could spend the rest of the morning reciting similar 
incidents but to what purpose? You know your guilt better 
than I do and you know what I say is true. I submit that if 
the trade union movement is not respected and feared by the 
employers of this country it is not because of the acts or utter- 
ances of myself or any other communist. It is held in con- 
tempt because these employers have learned by experience 
that you are not fighters but traders and trucklers; that you 
are bluffers and when the corporations or their government 
cracks the whip you do their bidding and do it cheaper than 
the rest of their hired men. 

Why, during the war, the cheapest spies the imperialists 
had were the trade union officials who turned in their own 
members to the corporation-owned department of justice. 
Some of you are now ashamed of the role you played but the 
most of you are too ignorant or too callous to be ashamed. 

No, I have not defamed your characters ; I could not even 
tho I would. 






Sam Gompers, head and shoulders above 90 per cent of 
'•11 intellectually, also despises you, yet he is more to blame 
than any of you for the present pitiable situation in which 
American labor finds itself — forced to beg for favors and con- 
tinually excusing itself for being here at all. Gompers under- 
stands you; he knows your prejudices and your ignorance-, 
your preferences and your idiosyncracies, and he plays upon 
I hem as a violinist does upon his instrument. He wants no 
intelligent leadership and he. sees that none develops. 

Ignorance, I said. What do you men who shape the poli- 
cies of labor know of the great struggle of labor that made 
history ? What do you know of the composition of the cap- 
italist system and its contradictions? Men who would be 
leaders of the workers owe it as a duty to the workers to in- 
form themselves, but this duty you have neglected until it 
would be difficult to find a gathering in any capitalist nation 
zvhere the average of intelligence is so low. 

I have, since I have been in this convention, seen inter- 
national officers take the platform and boast of the revocation 
of charters, but I have heard no boasting of new unions organ- 
ized. Do you realize that only about one-seventh of the wage- 
earners of this great nation are members of organized labor 
and that the percentage of the organized to the total number 
of wage-earners is growing smaller all the time? Yet you 
call yourselves labor leaders and you strut and swank about 
the convention hall as though you had capitalism by the throat. 
The standard of living of the American workers is decreasing — 
as any economist worth his salt knows. It is decreasing 
spite the remarks of Mr. Hodges concerning the wonderful 
conditions enjoyed by the wage-earners and for which he gave 
\ mi credit. 

/ would like to inform Mr. Hodges that the standard of 
tiring of the American workers is not the standard of Jiving 
at the Vancouver and Multnomah Hotels, zvhere he has been 
slopping during the three weeks he has been on this continent. 



12 



WM. F. DUNNE'S SPEECH AT PORTLAND 



That is the standard of living of the officialdom of the Amer- 
ican labor movement, but it has no relation to the standard 
of the dues-paying membership' any more than the luxuries of 
the employing class have. 

Mr. Hodges was trained in the Marxian school and he 
should know that objective conditions have much more to do 
with determining living standards than have the efforts of any 
labor organisation, even though it be one with understanding 
and militancy which is lacking here. 

Speaking as a Communist since the issue has been 
raised although I came here as a trade unionist and 
not as a Communist, I understand the real reasons 
for the effort you are now making. You want to 
prove to the employers that you are more conservative than 
they are, that you love the wage system even more ardently 
than they do. You have succeeded already in gaining a good 
deal of immunity for yourselves, but this immunity does not 
extend to the organizations you are supposed to represent. In 
that the employers and we Communists think alike. They, 
too, make a distinction between a high-salaried officialdom and 
the working class. In six months time these same paoers that 
are now lauding you for your determined efforts to cast the 
Communist into the outer darkness will be denouncing your 
organization just as bitterly as you now denounce me. Seek- 
ing to placate the employers you have bored from within their 
organizations, but you have captured nothing but jewel-stud- 
ed lodge charms. You may save yourselves but you cannot 
save the unions unless you change your policies. 

Your attitude is well illustrated by an incident that oc- 
curred yesterday, and is a tribute to the success of the most 
studied attempt I have ever seen at a labor convention to elim- 
inate everything of a workingclass character. Two working- 
men were watching Mr. Gompers climb into his limousine in 
front of the auditorium. The slave who drives the car held 
them up and searched them because they looked like working- 






WM. F. DUNNE'S SPEECH AT PORTLAND 



13 



men, therefore were suspicious characters. 
into the setting. 



They did not fit 



There is another reason for your desire to unseat me. 
You want to intimidate the supporters of amalgamation and 
a labor party because these two proposals are a threat to your 
privileged positions. You hide your opposition to these meas- 
ures behind your alleged devotion to evolutionary progress. 
What you mean by evolutionary progress is that you fight all 
progressive measures with all your might, but when they are 
accepted in spite of you, you claim credit for the improve- 
ment. 

We Communists do not care much for academic principles. 
We realize that only through organization can be obtained 
those things that make for progress, and the A. F. of L. is a 
living — partially living at least — example of the truth of our 
beliefs. Could an academic desire for higher wages and 
shorter hours achieve results there would be no trade-union 
movement to day. So it is with amalgamation, for instance. 
Those who see the need for industrial unionism as an im- 
proved weapon for the wage-earners must organize and work 
to bring it into being. In this work they encounter the oppo- 
sition of those who are ignorantly opposed and of those who 
have privileges to protect as you have. We expect this opposi- 
tion and if for years I had been holding a job in the trade- 
union movement that paid me five to ten times what I could 
earn in any other occupation it is possible that I would also 
be opposed to amalgamation. It is here that we see clearly 
the diversity of interest between the membership and official- 
dom. 

The same is true of the labor party idea. We have a ecu 
tralized government and a working class that is more homo 
geneous than ever before. In spite of your sabotage, labor 
parties are springing up in the various states and the « 

e on the parliamentary field is becoming clearer. Bui 
lovers of evolutionary progress can not see the unique fact 



576369 



14 



WM. F. DUNNE'S SPEECH AT PORTLAND 



WM. F. DUNNE'S SPEECH AT PORTLAND 



IS 



that quite often evolution may take no account of your petty 
prejudices. 

Evolution may not care at all that it deprives you of the 
pleasure and profit of peddling your influence for the benefit 
of one or the other of the parties of the employers. 

You seem to believe that capitalism is in its heyday; we 
do not; we say that this is the twilight of capitalism and unless 
the labor movement changes its politics and tactics it is going 
to be caught and dragged down in the general chaos that cap- 
italism is bringing in the train of its collapse. We have en- 
joyed one short year of capitalist prosperity following a two- 
year period of terrible unemployment and suffering. We now 
are about to enter another period of depression whose dura- 
tion no one dare predict. What of the labor movement? Has 
it recouped the losses sustained, in 1920-21 ? You know it has 
not. It will face another open-shop drive with less confidence 
than ever before. What is your answer to this? A war upon 
the radicals in co-operation with the department of justice, an 
appeal for aid from the employers in this holy cause; but it 
will put no food in the mouths of the unemployed — although I 
am sure that the Michigan prosecutor will be pleased to hear 
you take the same attitude toward me that he does. 

All over the world it is now a race between the organiza- 
tion and growth of consciousness among the workers, and 
chaos. You accuse us of looking with disfavor upon constitu- 
tional action. We do not, but we realize its limitations. I ask 
you now : If after you have exhausted all constitutional possi- 
bilities and the workers still starve by the millions, what then ? 

In closing let me say that no matter what you do here, I 
shall continue in the path I have chosen and to fight for what I 
believe to be right. I have no fear of the outcome because I 
fight with a knowledge of the lessons of history and on the 
side of evolution. You fight ignorantly and against the evolu- 
tionary processes you pretend to adore. 



Answers Questions After Speech 

Delegate Green: I. would like to ask the delegate if he 
believes that President Lewis delivered the miners to the em- 
ployers as is- charged in thisarticle in the Butte Bulletin? 

Delegate Dunne : Please find and read the statement you 
refer to. 

Delegate Green : Does the delegate believe that statement ? 

Delegate Dunne : When you find that statement and read 
ii to me I will answer (Green could not find the statement. 
It was not there.) 

Delegate Green: Does the delegate believe that the offi- 
cials of the United Mine Workers acted as hangmen and in- 
formers for the employers as he stated in his report of his 
speech last night? 

Delegate Dunne : I am literate and I understand the Eng- 
lish language. If the articles sponsored by John L. Lewis and 
published in the capitalist press in which he accuses 66 Lithu- 
anian miners of the Herrin shooting, after an acquital by a 
jury, are not an attempt to turn members 01 his organiza i 
over to the gallows, what are they? 

Delegate Green : Do you believe those stories of bribes 
published in the Butte Bulletin. 

Delegate Dunne : I call the attention of Delegate Green 
and the convention to the fact that these charges of bribery 
are not made by me but were made against one another by 
two responsible officials of the United Mine Workers. I am 
interested only in discovering how far these men will go to 
keep their jobs. 

Delegate Green: Do you charge that the United Mine 
Workers officials asked aid of the employers? 

Delegate Dunne: I do not have to make the charge. It 
is Ibere under their signature in the last paragraph of the fifth 
article. 



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