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American Labour’s Cold War Abroad: From Deep Freeze to Détente, 1945–1970

AMERICAN
LABOUR’S
COLD WAR
ABROAD

From Deep Freeze to Détente, 1945–1970

ANTHONY CAREW

Athabasca University Press logo

Contents

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

ABBREVIATIONS

INTRODUCTION

1    Facing the Future—Labour’s World in 1945

2    Building Labour’s Anti-Communist Opposition in Europe

3    For Multilateralism or “Independent Activities”?

4    The AFL and CIO Abroad: From Rivalry to Merger

5    A Wedding Without a Honeymoon

6    Into the 1960s: Claiming a Second ICFTU Scalp

7    Who Speaks for American Labour?

8    Toward an Independent Role

9    Au Revoir Becomes Adieu

10    Conclusion: The “Cold War” Within the Cold War

ABBREVIATIONS USED IN NOTES

NOTES

BIBLIOGRAPHY

INDEX

Illustrations

Figure 1     Irving Brown, with Greek trade union leader Fotis Makris, during a visit to Athens in January 1950

Figure 2     Vincent Tewson, general secretary of the TUC, 1946–60, delivering his opening address at the ICFTU’s Stockholm congress in July 1953

Figure 3     Walter Reuther, Vincent Tewson, and George Meany, at the December 1952 meeting of the ICFTU executive board

Figure 4     Victor Reuther, the key figure in the CIO’s overseas operations

Figure 5     AFL representative Phil Delaney and Jay Lovestone in July 1953, at the ICFTU congress in Stockholm

Figure 6     Relaxing over a hand of gin rummy, David Dubinsky and George Meany

Figure 7     AFL-CIO Vice President Jim Carey, Victor Reuther, and Irving Brown, at the ICFTU congress in Tunis, July 1957

Figure 8     Mike Ross, director of International Affairs for the CIO, 1945–55, and for the AFL-CIO, 1957–63

Figure 9     Jaap Oldenbroek, general secretary of the ICFTU, 1949–60, in July 1953, at the ICFTU congress in Stockholm

Figure 10   Walter Reuther and George Meany, at the June 1960 meeting of the ICFTU executive board, in Geneva

Figure 11   George Woodcock, the TUC’s general secretary, 1960–69, at a reception in London in 1963

Figure 12   Ludwig Rosenberg, DGB president, 1962–69, with Henry Rutz and Irving Brown

Figure 13   Omer Becu, the ICFTU’s general secretary, 1960–67

Figure 14   Walter Reuther and Arne Geijer, ICFTU president, 1957–65

Figure 15   Jef Rens, with Ludwig Rosenberg, in 1951

Figure 16   Bruno Storti, general secretary of CISL, 1958–76, and ICFTU president, 1965–72

Figure 17   Harm Buiter, general secretary of the ICFTU, 1967–71, at a January 1961 conference of the European Trade Union Secretariat

Figure 18   Vic Feather, TUC general secretary, 1969–73, and Heinz-Oskar Vetter, DGB chairman, 1969–82

Acknowledgements

As this book has been so long in preparation I have accumulated debts to a large number of people. Sadly, several of them are no longer alive, while others may have long forgotten that they ever rendered assistance. Nevertheless, I want to thank Walter Kendall and Richard Fletcher, who first steered me in the direction of this research, and Joan Keating and Amanda Lucas, who helped with early fieldwork at the Modern Records Centre and TUC Library. My good friends Ian Bullock and Victor Rabinovitch have observed my progress, or lack of same, from start to finish, reliably on hand to offer encouragement, read drafts, and suggest valuable textual changes. Their help has been invaluable.

There was more than an element of madness in my attempting to research in depth an aspect of the American labour movement from a base in Britain and on a shoestring budget. I am therefore deeply indebted to friends Bill Schaap, Ellen Ray, Louis Wolf, Dolores Neuman, Ann Harvey, Kevin West, Cleo Moran, and Ike and Fay Krasner, who at various times took me in, provided shelter, and otherwise pointed me in the right direction.

I have greatly appreciated the willingness of the following trade unionists to assist, in some cases by recalling their participation in events described in the book, in others offering their perceptions as close observers: Mark Anderson, Fabrizia Baduel Glorioso, Jim Baker, Dan Benedict, David Brombart, Harm Buiter, Byron Charlton, Mike Cooley, Nelson Cruikshank, André Dewil, Tom Donahue, Ken Eaton, Sven Fockstedt, Charles Ford, Douglas Fraser, Dan Gallin, Collin Gonze, John Harker, Veronika Isenberg, Newman Jeffrey, Jack Jones, Kalmen Kaplansky, Joe Keenan, Eugenia Kemble, Bill Kemsley, Lane Kirkland, Denis MacShane, Heribert Maier, Joe Morris, Len Murray, Marjorie Nicholson, Joanna Pilarska, Jack Otero, Victor Reuther, Rosy Ruane, Kaare Sandegren, Penny Schantz, Manuel Simon, Paul Symogyi, Virginia Tehas, Victor Thorpe, John Vanderveken, Michael Walsh, Leonard Woodcock, and Jerry Zellhoefer. I am especially grateful to Stefan Nedzynski, former general secretary of the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International, who, before his death, invested considerable time in helping with an understanding of the politics of the ICFTU secretariat and developments in African trade unionism in the 1960s.

Several former labour attachés and labour counsellors have been generous in sharing insights gained from their unique vantage point, including Sir Peter Carr, George Foggon, John Mainwaring, Michael McDermott, Douglas Talintyre, Kari Tapiola, Birger Viklund, and Murray Weisz.

I am grateful to library and archival staff at institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, notably at the George Meany Memorial AFL-CIO Archives, University of Maryland; Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit; Kheel Centre for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University, Ithaca; Hoover Institution, Stanford; International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam; Tamiment Institute, New York University, New York; TUC Library, London Metropolitan University; National Archives, Kew; Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa; Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Bonn; State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison; Arbetarrörelesens arkiv och bibliotek, Stockholm; UAW Library, Detroit; Special Collections Library, Penn State University, State College; Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry; Labour Party Archives, People’s History Museum, Manchester; and my friends at the Working Class Movement Library, Salford. I particularly want to thank Stephen Bird, Ben Blake, Steven Calco, Elizabeth Clemens, Christine Coates, Carolyn Davis, Jennifer Eidson, Lars Gogman, Pete Hoefer, Jeff Howarth, Mieke Ijzermans, Arieh Lebowitz, Gail Malmgreen, Jane Murphey, Silke Neusinger, Warner Pflug, Lee Sayrs, Kathy Schmeling, Patrizia Sione, Mike Smith, Sarah Springer, Laurie Townsend, Erhan Tuscan, Monique van der Pal, Mary Wallace, and Hubert Woltering. At Athabasca University Press, Karyn Wisselink proved invaluable in helping me transition to the digital age.

I have benefited immeasurably from the work of other scholars mining at the same or adjacent coalfaces, including Richard Aldrich, Julia Angster, Myriam Bergamaschi, John Boughton, Kevin Boyle, Alessandro Brogi, Alan Campbell, Eric Chenoweth, Barrett Dower, Michel Dreyfus, Ronald Filippelli, Alvin Finkel, Eleonora Guasconi, Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick, Quenby Olmsted Hughes, Richard Hyman, Hans Krabbendam, Annie Lacroix-Riz, Ulla Langkau-Alex, George Martens, John McIlroy, Klaus Misgeld, Koji Nakakita, Leopoldo Nuti, Karen Paget, Bob Reinalda, Yevette Richards, Magaly Rodríguez García, Federico Romero, Giles Scott-Smith, John Stoner, Frances Stonor Saunders, Reiner Tosstorf, Douglas Valentine, Mathilde von Bülow, Marcel van der Linden, Geert Van Goethem, Rob Anthony Waters, Edmund Wehrle, Peter Weiler, Hugh Wilford, Chris Wrigley, and Bob Zieger. I am especially grateful to Nelson Lichtenstein and an anonymous reader who provided supportive feedback and made helpful suggestions for improving the final draft.

For research grants that made this project possible, I am most grateful to the British Academy, the Nuffield Foundation, the Lipman Miliband Trust, and the Henry Kaiser Foundation. I also benefited greatly from the award of a Rockefeller Fellowship at the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Detroit, and a Visiting Fellowship at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam.

Finally, I owe a particular debt to Bob Reynolds, former archivist at the George Meany Memorial Archive, for help with documentation that went beyond the call of duty, to Sheila Blackburn at Liverpool University for coming to my rescue on occasions when library facilities available to me proved inadequate, and to my editor at Athabasca University Press, Pamela Holway, who kept the show on the road when, at one stage, it risked going into the ditch. Most of all, I wish to thank Harold Lewis, former general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, who encouraged this research from the outset, read all my drafts, and commented extensively while guiding me with sound wisdom acquired in a lifetime of work in the cause of the international labour movement.

Anthony Carew
Marple Bridge, August 2018

Abbreviations

AALC

African-American Labor Center

AATUF

All Africa Trade Union Federation

ACTU

Australian Council of Trade Unions

AFL

American Federation of Labor

AFL-CIO

American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations

AFRO

African Regional Organization, ICFTU

AFSCME

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees

AID

Agency for International Development

AIFLD

American Institute for Free Labor Development

ALCIA

American Labor Conference on International Affairs

ATUC

African Trade Union Confederation

AUCCTU

All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions

AWU

Australian Workers’ Union

CCF

Congress for Cultural Freedom

CFTC

Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens

CGIL

Confederazione generale italiana del lavoro

CGT

Confédération générale du travail

CIA

Central Intelligence Agency

CIO

Congress of Industrial Organizations

CISL

Confederazione italiana dei sindacati lavoratori

CLASC

Confederación latinoamericana de sindical cristiana

CLC

Canadian Labour Congress

COMISCO

Committee of the International Socialist Conference

CPSU

Communist Party of the Soviet Union

CSLC

Confédération des syndicats libres du Congo

CTC

Confederación de trabajadores de Cuba

CVT

Vietnamese Confederation of Labour (Confédération vietnamienne du travail)

CWA

Communications Workers of America

DGB

Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund

ECA

Economic Cooperation Administration

EDC

European Defence Community

EEC

European Economic Community

ERGAS

Workers’ Anti-Fascist League (Greece)

ERP

European Recovery Program

ETUC

European Trade Union Confederation

FBI

Federal Bureau of Investigation

FCLL

Free China Labour League

FDGB

Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund

FEA

Federal Economic Administration

FGTB

Fédération générale du travail belgique

FIET

International Federation of Employees, Technicians, and Managers

FIL

Federazione italiana del lavoro

FIM

Federazione italiana metallmeccanici (affiliate of CISL)

FIOM

Federazione impiegati operai metallurgici (affiliate of CGIL)

FO

Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail–Force ouvrière)

FOA

Foreign Operations Administration

FTUC

Free Trade Union Committee

GSEE

General Confederation of Greek Workers

IAM

International Association of Machinists

ICA

International Cooperation Administration

ICFTU

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions

ICFTUE

International Centre of Free Trade Unionists in Exile

IFCCTE

International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, and Technical Employees (later FIET)

IFTU

International Federation of Trade Unions

ILGWU

International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union

ILO

International Labour Organization

IMF

International Metalworkers’ Federation

INTUC

Indian National Trade Union Congress

ISG

International Study Group on Freedom and Democracy

ITF

International Transport Workers’ Federation

IUF

International Union of Food and Allied Workers

JLC

Jewish Labor Committee

KFL

Kenya Federation of Labour

LCGIL

Libera confederazione generale italiana del lavoro

LLHR

Labor League for Human Rights

LO

Landsorganisasjonen (Norway) / Landsorganisationen (Sweden)

MPR

Mouvement populaire de la révolution

MSA

Mutual Security Agency

NAFTA

North American Free Trade Agreement

NATO

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NCFE

National Committee for a Free Europe

NSC

National Security Council

NTUC

Nigerian Trade Union Congress

NVV

Nederlands Verbond van Vakverenigingen

OEEC

Organization for European Economic Cooperation

OPC

Office of Policy Coordination

ORIT

Organización regional interamericana de trabajadores

OSS

Office of Strategic Services

PSDI

Partito socialista democratico italiano

PSI

Partito socialista italiano

PTTI

Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International

RAF

Regional Activities Fund

SAK

Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö

SCAP

Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers

SFIO

Section française de l’internationale ouvrière (French Socialist Party)

SNTC

Syndicat national des travailleurs congolais

SOBSI

Central All-Indonesian Workers’ Organization

SPD

Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands

SRATUC

Southern Rhodesian African Trade Union Congress

SRTUC

Southern Rhodesian Trade Union Congress

STEP

Social, Technical and Educational Program

TUAC

Trade Union Advisory Committee

TUC

Trades Union Congress

UAW

United Automobile Workers

UGO

Unabhängige Gewerkschaft-Organisation

UGTA

Union générale des travailleurs algériens

UGTT

Union générale tunisienne du travail

UIL

Unione italiana del lavoro

UILM

Unione italiana lavoratori metalmeccanici (affiliate of UIL)

ULC

United Labour Congress (Nigeria)

UMT

Union marocaine du travail

UNCTAD

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

UREP

Union Research and Education Program

WFTU

World Federation of Trade Unions

WiN

Wolnosc i Niezawislosc (Freedom and Independence)

AMERICAN
LABOUR’S
COLD WAR
ABROAD

Introduction

This book is about American trade unions and how their efforts in the international field during the Cold War helped decisively to shape our modern world. Today, in an age when the strength of organized labour is much diminished, it requires an effort of memory to recall that, for many decades, trade unions in America and Europe were a substantial force in national politics, whose views on matters of foreign and defence policy, no less than domestic affairs, had to be listened to by governments. Organized labour was a key player throughout the years of ideological confrontation between East and West—here a contributor to cold-war antagonisms, bringing the Cold War into the heart of trade union practice, there a vocal critic of dangerous cold-war initiatives by governments, but never a mere bystander. Indeed, understanding the role played by organized labour is essential to understanding the course and social dimension of the Cold War.

The present work has its roots in research I undertook in the late 1970s and early 1980s on the Marshall Plan, a formative development in the early Cold War. My focus then was the American trade union contribution in shaping the Marshall Plan and helping to administer it, and the impact this had on national labour movements in Europe. Although the American labour movement gave overwhelming backing to the Marshall Plan, the trade unions did not speak with a single voice on international matters. A fault line broadly corresponding to, but not exactly coterminous with, the organizational split between the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) reflected different philosophical emphases. National trade union centres in Europe, beneficiaries of Marshall aid, were acutely aware of these American differences, and their reaction to developments in the aid program was conditioned by this understanding. Inevitably, international labour diplomacy was made complicated by such factors.

Among the records of the Marshall Plan administration are occasional stray items of internal trade union correspondence that had found their way into government files. They show not mere philosophical differences between the two American camps but at times animosity of a vitriolic nature between people engaged in labour aspects of the program. To me, this suggested a possible promising field for further research that would carry the story forward beyond the Marshall Plan years. However, the relevant archival material was not then available.

A good deal of documentation from the CIO was already accessible in the Walter Reuther Archives, though the AFL-CIO had yet to release material covering AFL international work from the end of World War II to the merger with the CIO in 1955, as well as subsequent international records of the unified organization. I spent several years pestering the AFL-CIO in the late 1980s and early 1990s for access to these papers. Not until 1992 was I allowed to see President George Meany’s international correspondence for the limited period up to 1960. More years were to elapse before I gained access to the vitally important papers of international staffers Jay Lovestone and Irving Brown.

The individuals who are central to this study have long since passed from the scene. They were key players in their day, and their personal biographies make them seem, at times, like characters from a Le Carré novel. Foremost among them were Lovestone and Brown. Jay Lovestone, one-time leader of the American communist party before falling afoul of Stalin in the late 1920s, went on to lead his small, anti-Stalinist Communist Party (Opposition) (the “Lovestoneites”) and gradually sought a toehold in the mainstream American labour movement in the 1930s. Irving Brown became a Lovestone acolyte in the early 1930s, while still a student activist. He remained close to his leader throughout that decade while working for organized labour in the garment trades and auto industry in positions obtained through Lovestone’s influence.

With their communism in the past, in 1945 the two were reunited as a close-knit team in the AFL’s newly formed Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC), through which the AFL planned to operate overseas. Still in a master-apprentice relationship, with Lovestone as the FTUC’s executive director in New York and Brown as its field representative in Europe, they shared a particular understanding of the role of organized labour based on their political grounding in Leninism, a mindset of central control and secrecy that never left them even as they operated as professional anti-Stalinists. The FTUC provided a congenial platform for their anti-communism, but they were never entirely defined or restricted by its policies. They had their own agenda and would refer in private to their “project.”

In the late 1940s and 1950s, they established themselves as the chief foreign policy advisors to the handful of men who determined AFL international policy. Here, three people were especially important. The first was Matthew Woll, chairman of the FTUC and leader of the photo-engravers’ union, a diminutive figure who seemed a relic of an earlier age, given his penchant for wearing wing collars and striped pants. Indeed, back in 1924, when Samuel Gompers, the founding president of the AFL, died, Woll had hoped to succeed him. The second was David Dubinsky, a refugee from Tsarist persecution who had been schooled in the ways of organized labour as a member of the Jewish Bund. In the United States, he rose to become the strong man of the powerful Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, the FTUC’s biggest financial backer. Finally, there was George Meany, of Irish-Catholic descent, who had worked as a New York plumber and had risen through labour’s ranks to become the AFLs pugnacious secretary-treasurer. Initially, the FTUC operated a de facto collective leadership, but over the years, and especially after he was elected AFL president, George Meany became the most powerful figure. It was through him especially that Lovestone and Brown sought to exert influence through to the closing years of the Cold War.

Lovestone and Brown were the two representatives who, on behalf of the AFL and, later, the AFL-CIO, interacted with officialdom in the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the leadership of other national trade union centres abroad. It was largely through their negative reporting of developments within the ICFTU and their wounding personal criticisms of its leadership that the latter’s relations with the Americans became increasingly bitter and recriminatory in the 1950s and 1960s. The profound consequences of this for the cohesiveness of the international labour movement constitute a central theme of this book.

Other national labour centres had their foreign policy specialists, but they were typically backroom functionaries of a second order rather than, as with Lovestone and Brown, influential operatives engaged in high politics and sensitive labour diplomacy. The latter moved in altogether more exalted circles, having ready access to White House staff, State Department officials, and topmost CIA personnel at home, while abroad they mixed freely with heads of government, cabinet ministers, and ambassadors.

As the archival records amply show, it was Lovestone and Brown who dominated the scene, setting out the information, ideas, and strategies that essentially fixed the agenda for the AFL-CIO and its activities abroad. But beyond being significant “players,” Lovestone and Brown were also major chroniclers of events through their extensive correspondence and reportage. In dense correspondence that spanned thirty years, they sometimes managed a double exchange of letters a week between New York and Paris. It was almost invariably business correspondence, with a deadly serious focus on the “big issues” in international affairs as they interpreted them. Much of it fed into briefings for George Meany. Other letters were private, an exchange of thoughts between two men sharing a strong ideological bond and with a special mission within the labour movement.

On the most sensitive issues, such as the financing of American trade union programs overseas—frequently from US government sources and of a covert nature—they wrote in a thinly disguised code. Yet, at the same time, they were frequently indiscreet in their discussion of events and personal criticisms of colleagues in their field. It is this that makes their letters so richly revealing as commentary on the Cold War and indispensable for an understanding of how events were perceived, possibilities assessed, and policy proposals developed.

The Lovestone-Brown archival collections lifted the lid on the handling of international affairs within the AFL and beyond, making it possible to write about the subject in detail for the first time. Based on material from these sources, in 1998 I wrote an article for Labour History, “The American Labour Movement in Fizzland: The Free Trade Union Committee and the CIA,” reviewing the relationship between the AFL and the world of intelligence during the early years of the Cold War. One year later, Ted Morgan’s groundbreaking biography of Lovestone, A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone, Communist, Anti-Communist, and Spymaster (1999), drew upon the same source material. However, Morgan concentrated heavily on Lovestone’s communist years and his subsequent drift back to the mainstream labour movement in the 1930s, while passing up the chance to delve deeply into his postwar work for the AFL and AFL-CIO in the admittedly obscure world of international trade union politics, with its complex institutional structure.

In more recent years, as academic fashion has shifted away from institutional histories of the labour movement, the Lovestone-Brown collections seem to have been relatively little consulted. Certainly, no one has attempted to tackle in detail the central issue of American labour’s often fraught relations with its partners in what became known during the Cold War as the “international free trade union movement,” with the ICFTU as its most prominent agency. Yet there has long been a need for a study of international labour affairs that details the role of Lovestone and Brown, and it is to address this gap that the present volume covering the first twenty-five years of the Cold War has been written.

I have chosen to ignore the doubtless sound advice of colleagues that a slim volume covering the entire period of the Cold War would have more appeal to a general readership. I am more persuaded by the view that the time for a detailed treatment of key episodes in this saga is long overdue. This volume therefore ends with the AFL-CIO’s momentous 1969 decision to withdraw from the ICFTU, which thereby lost its largest affiliate and its biggest source of finance. Forsaking multilateralism, the AFL-CIO thus chose to “go it alone” in its battle against communism. A second volume will address the lonely years of American isolation that followed and the AFL-CIO’s cautious road back to partnership with other national centres in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I approach the history of this period through two broad narrative strands. The first is the AFL-CIO’s relations with leading free trade union centres in Europe, most importantly the British Trades Union Congress (TUC). The TUC had, since the early years of the twentieth century, assumed a leadership role in international labour affairs, and the AFL was determined to challenge its primacy in this field. In practice, this meant working to undermine the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), which the TUC and the CIO had helped to set up in partnership with the trade union centre of the Soviet Union. It would then involve replacing the WFTU with a new “free” trade union international, the ICFTU, and, within that body, forcing the pace in anti-communist programs and the movement for colonial freedom. In the latter field, which saw Americans pitted against the trade unions of the old colonial powers of Europe, the AFL was motivated by a genuine concern for national independence movements. But its anti-colonialism was also inextricably linked to the anti-communist struggle, reflecting the American conviction that European foot dragging over decolonization inevitably played into the hands of communists and fellow travellers among trade union leaders in the emerging African and Asian labour movements.

Despite its leading role in fomenting the breakup of the WFTU and in creating the ICFTU, the AFL quickly concluded that the new international body was more susceptible to European than American influence. From the earliest days, a pattern developed in which the AFL identified the ICFTU secretariat as part of “the problem.” It accused the staff of being insufficiently forceful in the anti-communist cause and too cautious in implementing programs aimed at empowering workers in countries seeking colonial independence. AFL support for the ICFTU became half-hearted, its attitude toward the leadership increasingly hostile. The ICFTUs first two general secretaries were forced to resign, largely under American pressure. And eventually the AFL-CIO quit the organization, believing that it no longer served American interests. International solidarity fell victim to a perception that the ICFTU stood in the way of the full-blooded anti-communism that the AFL-CIO regarded as the motivating force of the international labour movement.

The second narrative thread in my account deals with the recurrent tension over international affairs between the AFL and the CIO, and then between leaders of the former independent centres in the merged AFL-CIO. Much of this was a product of historic rivalries dating back to the 1930s, but it acquired a new salience in the 1950s over the contrasting philosophical approaches of AFL president George Meany and CIO president Walter Reuther, who led the autoworkers’ union and was Meany’s chief rival for the leadership of the US labour movement. Their differences covered both domestic and international matters, but they also stemmed from the CIO leader’s burning ambition to replace Meany as president of the merged AFL-CIO.

That Reuther was staunchly anti-communist and, no less than Meany, a keen critic of European colonialism suggested to many that their policy differences were exaggerated and that the main issue dividing them was Reuther’s personal ambition. However, Reuther differed from Meany in that his anti-communism was couched in the more liberal language of “peaceful co-existence,” together with a willingness to dialogue with ideological opponents. Moreover, his political instincts were broadly social democratic, with the result that he enjoyed more common ground with European trade union counterparts than Meany ever did. In turn, this closeness to the Europeans affected the internal balance of the ICFTU.

Meany supporters believed that Reuther undermined American labour’s ability to present a united front abroad; he was viewed as an ally of the Europeans and the ICFTU secretariat and thus as an obstacle to the attainment of American objectives within the ICFTU. The UAW president’s stance made for a structural weakness on the American side that was only ended when Reuther, frustrated by the internal politics of the AFL-CIO, eventually withdrew the UAW from it in 1968. In turn this hastened the American centre’s own departure from the ICFTU the following year. Union fragmentation at home and abroad was now the order of the day.

George Meany had rarely invested much faith in the ICFTU. He had threatened withdrawal before and had now delivered on that threat. To close observers it was half expected. Indeed, a perceptive observer of Meany’s performance at a tumultuous British TUC congress twenty-five years earlier during his first ever visit to Europe would not have been surprised by his behaviour in 1969. It was on that earlier occasion that Meany first spelled out to a foreign audience his views on trade union contacts with communists. World War II had ended, the new Cold War with the USSR was in the wings, and the launch of the WFTU was imminent. And it is here then that the story begins—at the TUC Congress, Blackpool, England, September 1945.

1

Facing the Future—Labour’s World in 1945

Blustery weather typical of mid-September greeted delegates attending the first postwar conference of the British Trades Union Congress, held in 1945 at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens on the Lancashire coast. On Wednesday, 12 September, midway through the conference, the forecast called for a mix of clear skies and showers, with winds from the Atlantic freshening to gale force. Prime minister Clement Attlee was to deliver the keynote address that day—his first public speech since Labour’s landslide general election victory in July. During the intervening period, he had attended the Potsdam Conference, along with Joseph Stalin and Harry Truman.

The prime minister was well received. He spoke of the task of building a new world order, a task that governments alone could not complete. It required the painstaking efforts of the peoples of the world. Nor could it be fashioned according to fixed models or nostrums. Atlee was acutely aware of looming political problems in the old colonial world and the new Soviet sphere, and he warned in particular against assuming that democratic practices widely accepted in Britain were “necessarily either practicable or desirable in, say, Eastern Europe or India.” Yet the speech looked ahead with optimism to the “New Jerusalem” that Atlee and the trade union delegates present felt was now on the horizon.

Following Attlee’s address, the conference resumed its discussion of domestic affairs, notably proposals to speed up the demobilization of the armed forces. Then, in mid-afternoon, during a natural break in the debate, the conference took time out for one of a number of greetings from fraternal delegates representing foreign trade union centres. Earlier, Léon Jouhaux, of the French Confédération générale du travail (CGT)—recently released from a German prison and soon to become a Nobel Peace laureate—had spoken passionately of the importance of international trade union unity in the victory over Nazism. He had been followed by Mikhail Tarasov, of the Soviet All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (AUCCTU), who stressed much the same theme: the future of mankind and lasting peace, declared Tarasov, depended mainly on the unity of the working class of all countries. Now it was time for a message of greeting from the fraternal delegate of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a ritual part of annual TUC conferences since 1894. But this was to be no platitudinous speech by an American brother on a “holiday swing” through Europe. Outside the Winter Gardens, the predicted gale from the Atlantic Ocean had failed to materialize: inside the conference hall, it was about to hit with a force.

George Meany at the TUC, September 1945: Laying Down a Marker

At fifty-one, George Meany, the AFL’s secretary-treasurer, was making his debut at a British trade union conference. He was a burly 220-pound cigar-smoking Irish American from the Bronx, once described by the New York Times labour correspondent as “a cross between a bulldog and a bull.” A plumber by trade, for the past twenty-five years he had been working his way up the union hierarchy as a full-time official, but Meany was not yet the household name he would later become. He had come to Blackpool to explain his organization’s deep disagreement with the British TUC over a central issue of trade union international policy. The AFL would not be accepting an invitation to attend the World Labour Conference that the TUC, along with the Soviet AUCCTU and the American Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), were jointly convening in Paris less than two weeks later and that was likely to lead to the creation of a new international body, a World Federation of Trade Unions.

The Paris conference was a follow-up to a preliminary gathering convened in London in February that the AFL had also boycotted. There were three simple reasons for its refusal to attend. The AFL was not prepared to associate with the Soviet trade unions, which it did not regard as authentic. Nor was it was willing to join forces with the CIO, a breakaway from the AFL of less than ten years’ standing, which it accused of weakening organized labour by practising “dual unionism.” A third issue was the AFL’s legalistic contention that any attempt to restructure the international labour movement should have been initiated by the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), the established international centre to which both the TUC and AFL belonged.

With the dawning of postwar reconstruction, international trade union relations were of particular importance, and since the AFL had not participated in the preliminary World Labour Conference in London, the remarks by this largely unknown American visitor were likely to be of interest. Unusual for a fraternal address, delegates remained in their seats as conference chairman Ebby Edwards introduced him—“Comrade” George Meany.

Observing protocol, Meany opened his speech with the polite sentiments that such occasions demanded. Expressing admiration for the indomitable courage shown by the British people during six years of war, he noted that, although he was paying his first visit to the TUC, he felt as though he was addressing old friends. But, leaving the niceties behind, he quickly came to his main theme—the attitude of the AFL to international labour cooperation. On this, he warned the delegates, he intended to be very frank.

Regarding first the position of the International Federation of Trade Unions, housed since the fall of France in the TUC’s headquarters, with TUC general secretary Sir Walter Citrine as its long-serving president, he confessed to an element of puzzlement. Through their prominent role in organizing the London and Paris World Labour Conferences, Citrine and IFTU general secretary Walter Schevenels had been acting without a mandate or directive from the IFTU itself. And with Citrine sitting just two seats from him, Meany went on in accusing tone:

To make a rough analysis of the picture, as we see it, the two principal officers of the IFTU have been engaged for the past two years in an open effort to dissolve, or in other words to destroy the organization they are supposed to represent. We . . . do not understand nor can we approve of such activity. No reasons of expediency can explain or condone these actions.

The AFL’s position was simple and straightforward. They would neither seek nor accept membership in an organization that granted recognition to the AFL’s rival in America, the CIO. This was not a case of petty organizational jealousy but rather of intense hostility on the part of the AFL to a breakaway organization that was guilty of dividing the American labour movement and hampering labour’s effort in the fight against fascism. Meany referred to the significant effort of the AFL in contributing more than $100 million toward the relief of victims of fascism, contrasting it with the isolationist position of the CIO leadership, strongly influenced by communists. He reminded the audience that these CIO leaders, who were now promoting international labour unity through the World Labour Conference, had campaigned against American involvement in the war during the years of the Soviet-German friendship pact, picketing outside the White House with placards proclaiming that “the Yanks are not coming.” Addressing the charge that the AFL was now being isolationist, he insisted that the AFL was as internationalist as the TUC, but “if fidelity to the principles of true democracy isolates us from the intellectual acrobats who get their daily direction for their daily vocal exercises from the Daily Worker we are happy and proud of our position.”

Meany was no spellbinding orator, one to capture or sway an audience with mellifluous phrases or theatrical delivery. But he was forceful, self-confident, and direct, and he warmed to his theme as he now took aim at his second target, the Soviet trade unions. “Let there be no mistake,” he thundered:

We do not recognize or concede that the Russian worker groups are trade unions . . . [but] are formally and actually instruments of the State. . . . These so-called unions are designed to protect the interests of the Soviet State even if this means that the interests of the workers themselves must be subordinated or injured. These so-called trade unions actively support the Soviet system of worker blacklists and deportations to labour camps.

Muttering in the conference hall had grown louder as Meany developed his argument, and now, in an unprecedented display of anger toward a fraternal delegate, members of the audience attempted to interrupt. There were hisses, catcalls, and cries of “Shame!” and “Tommyrot!” Forced to shout to restore order, the chairman appealed to the conference to give the AFL spokesman a hearing. Unfazed, Meany pressed ahead with his message, goading his pro-Soviet critics by asking rhetorically, what common ground could there be with the Soviet trade unions? What was there to talk about? “The latest innovation being used by the secret police to ensnare those who think in opposition to the group in power,” he suggested, “or perhaps bigger and better concentration camps for political prisoners?”

Turning to the workings of the World Labour Conference and the kind of politicized international trade union organization that was likely to emerge, he referred to the preliminary gathering in London, noting acidly that he was “impressed by the amazing turnout of delegates from the Crown Colonies” and “impressed too by the spontaneous creation and representation of large trade unions in liberated and ex-enemy countries where no unions had existed a few weeks before.” But he was still more impressed by the way the CIO and the Soviet AUCCTU had brushed aside the TUC’s intention that the gathering should be only consultative and exploratory and had caused it to focus more on political issues than trade union concerns. The AFL, he stressed, would not cooperate in the creation of “a world super state of labour designed to influence the economic and political affairs of all nations.”

As an alternative, he repeated the AFL’s willingness to pursue international trade union unity through the IFTU, an approach that would automatically exclude the Soviet trade unions and the CIO, neither of which was a member of that body. Concluding on a note of amity that ran counter to what had gone before, he expressed the bright hope that as the AFL “travelled down the road to a better future” it would enjoy the companionship and cooperation of the TUC, their “old and honoured friend.”

Inevitably, Meany’s speech had injected a discordant note. It was not his style to dissemble, even in the interests of politeness. Plain speaking was his stock-in-trade. The fact that he was in England undoubtedly influenced his tone. Of Irish descent, he was no Anglophile, and as the years to come would show, he was easily irritated by what he and other American trade unionists often took to be the supercilious style of TUC officials who adopted the lofty pose of elder statesmen in international gatherings. Nor did it help that Citrine was “Sir Walter,” the first of a long line of British trade union “knights” with whom he was forced to deal. The sarcastic reference to the preliminary World Labour Conference being packed with delegations from the “Crown Colonies” reflected his abomination of British colonialism. His negative assessment of the Soviet trade unions and his bitterness toward the CIO were entirely in keeping with the views of the AFL leadership. And given the haste with which these organizations were working to create a new world trade union body, Meany probably believed that he had nothing to lose by being outspoken. Indeed, this was a definitive public warning on behalf of the AFL that it was ready to part company with former allies over the issue.

As Meany sat down, TUC president Edwards was quick to rule that a fraternal delegate’s speech was not open for debate. He was anxious to assure the American that the leaders of the TUC would want an opportunity during his visit to discuss with him their approach to the coming World Conference, but he stressed, as the Daily Worker report noted, “to tremendous cheers” that the TUC’s firm objective was “to promote greater unity among the working class of the world.” George Meany was then presented with “a good British watch.” With just a trace of good-humoured sarcasm reflecting the strained atmosphere that had descended on the conference, President Edwards assured him that this was a gift and not “lend lease” (which, to British consternation, had been recently and abruptly terminated by the Americans). With some relief, he then announced that the conference would now move into private session before adjourning for the day.1

The chairman had also expressed the hope that other fraternal guests would avoid entering into a debate over issues raised by Meany. That evening Soviet representative Mikhail Tarasov complained formally to the TUC about Meany’s attack but was told that he would not be allowed a public platform to answer the charges. Tarasov then drafted a letter to the TUC protesting Meany’s “hostile and insulting calumnies” and declaring that his speech would provoke deepest resentment among the ranks of Soviet workers. The speech, he wrote, was as much an insult to the CIO and the TUC, but he had drawn comfort from the loud protests of delegates who had also demonstrated their resentment.2

Meany’s message was at odds with the prevailing sentiment in favour of international trade union unity. A few months earlier, Walter Schevenels, general secretary of the IFTU, had referred to the widespread “mystical appeal of trade union unity” in 1945, a unity that necessarily embraced the Soviet Union.3 In Britain, enthusiasm for the USSR was at a peak in the wake of Red Army heroism on the Eastern front and the Anglo-Soviet entente in war production industries since June 1941. The cheerfully irreverent call by returning British troops of “Joe for King” reflected a positive, popular image of Stalin in the country’s workshops. Hopes for the continuation of the spirit of the Great Power alliance were entirely understandable in the context of 1945. Nonetheless, in the trade union movement in Europe and North America, there was plenty of pre-war experience to suggest that cooperation with the unions of the USSR might prove difficult.

Even before becoming IFTU president in 1928, Walter Citrine had more experience than most of face-to-face dealings with Soviet trade union leaders. He had been the TUC’s assistant general secretary for barely a year in 1925, and was actually on an official visit to the USSR, when he was summoned home early to take the reins at the TUC on the sudden death of the general secretary. Three years later he added to his responsibilities the presidency of the IFTU. Over the next seventeen years he made strenuous efforts to widen the organization’s membership beyond its European base. To this end, he shuttled extensively between North America and the USSR while all the time safeguarding the organization’s essentially social democratic concept of trade unionism, with its respect for parliamentarism and instinct for working closely with democratic socialist parties. The imminent World Labour Conference was in no small part the long-term consequence of those efforts.

Playing on growing fears of both fascism and communism, in 1937 Citrine had successfully canvassed the AFL to join the IFTU. Part of the AFL’s reason for agreeing to do so was to close the door to possible membership in the IFTU by the newly emerging CIO, since affiliation was restricted to one centre per country. When, in 1939, the TUC proposed that the IFTU also invite the Soviet trade unions to join, the AFL threatened to withdraw, and the idea was voted down.4 However, in 1941, Citrine was in tune with the British trade union groundswell of support for the Soviet Union that resulted in the establishment of an Anglo-Soviet Trade Union Committee aimed at increasing military production to equip the Red Army fighting on the Eastern front. It met several times and promoted an extensive program of Anglo-Soviet factory exchange visits.

After Pearl Harbour, Citrine turned his attention to broadening the committee membership to embrace American trade unions and so mirror in the field of organized labour the Great Power alliance at government level. Canvassing the Americans, he explained to the AFL leadership that pro-Soviet sentiment in Britain meant that a link-up with their unions had been unavoidable. But he sought to reassure them that the organization was in dependable hands and that the TUC itself had taken the lead in this initiative rather than allow its more avid pro-Soviet members to control the British component. Nonetheless, the AFL rejected the proposed three-way link-up, agreeing only to form a separate AFL-TUC Committee. Citrine’s subsequent efforts to bring the CIO into this joint body also failed because of AFL opposition. Unlike the Anglo-Soviet Committee, the AFL-TUC body only ever met once, and then in a strained atmosphere. The CIO remained on the sidelines, causing its president, Philip Murray, to remonstrate that the CIO was tired of “being kicked around like a trade union waif in this field of international labour collaboration.” To escape from isolation, Murray then successfully pressed the TUC to initiate moves that would eventually lead to the World Labour Conference of 1945.

In issuing the call for this conference, the TUC’s hope was that attendees would discuss the prosecution of the war effort (this, in Citrine’s eyes, being the overriding purpose of the conference), as well as the question of reconstruction once peace had been restored, including possible reorganization of the world labour movement. “We intend,” Citrine had insisted “that the voice of [the] Trade Unions shall be heard in the formation of any peace treaty or any post-war reconstruction.”5 The AFL felt betrayed by this latest British move to establish an all-inclusive world body and vainly hoped to enlist the support of the British minister of labour, Ernest Bevin, the former powerhouse of the British transport union, whom they understood was at odds with Citrine over his approach to the reorganization of the international labour movement. In fact, Citrine himself was still torn over the best way forward and hoped that somehow the IFTU would play a decisive role in uniting the unions of the allied powers.

The concerns of trade unions were not the only factors involved in this search for labour unity. The initiative leading to the World Labour Conference had government backing of the three big allied powers. In his wartime shuttling between the United States and the USSR, Citrine had been operating in no small measure as an emissary of the British government in pursuit of strategic wartime policy. Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden made clear his sympathy for the Soviet AUCCTU line that a completely new international body needed to replace the IFTU. Prime minister Winston Churchill was invited to address the preliminary conference in London, but because of his absence at the Yalta summit his deputy Clement Attlee delivered the government’s greetings. As a reflection of government approval, all the delegates to the preliminary conference were invited to meet the king and queen. Likewise, the World Labour Conference proper in September 1945, held in the grand setting of Paris’s Palais de Chaillot, had the stamp of approval of both the French and Soviet governments: delegates attended a dinner hosted by Chairman of the Provisional Government General Charles de Gaulle and a reception at the Soviet Embassy.

Although the conference process began as a “consultative and exploratory” exercise, the CIO and AUCCTU delegates soon combined to seize the initiative, moving decisively toward the launch of a new world body. Both Citrine and Schevenels saw the danger and delivered warnings about mixing politics and trade unionism. However, brushing aside their appeals for caution and a continuing role for the IFTU, the preliminary conference appointed a committee to draft a constitution and prepare in short order for the conference in Paris in September where the new World Federation of Trade Unions would be launched. In effect the TUC had now lost control of the process it had initiated, and AFL leaders held it responsible. Meany was quick to describe this hoped-for cooperation with the Russians as “grovelling in the dust of false unity which would replace one form of totalitarianism with another.”6 More pointedly, AFL president Bill Green denounced Citrine as a “traitor.”7

Without doubt, Walter Citrine was stung by such American criticism. The day following Meany’s address at the TUC conference was given over to debating international policy, and the general secretary made little effort to disguise his extreme annoyance at the personal attacks he had suffered at the hands of AFL leaders. Referring to “misrepresentation” and “abuse” levelled at the TUC, he called for the exercise of restraint before irreparable harm was done to the international labour movement. He dismissed as less than forthright (“trifling with grave issues”) Meany’s suggestion that the IFTU should have been the body to convene the World Labour Conference, since the AFL had made it abundantly clear that it would strenuously object to such a conference.

As for Meany’s criticisms of the Soviet trade unions, Citrine assured the delegates that the TUC was well aware of the way they operated. They worked in a different environment, experienced different problems and so had different structures. But he made light of this, suggesting that there could be no cause for complaint when government at the highest level consulted unions. To loud applause, he remarked that it was something he would welcome in Britain. Refusing to pass judgment on the unions in the Soviet Union, he argued:

The Russian method of defending the interests of their working people . . . may be radically different from ours, but I do not think that any of us has the right to charge a great Trade Union Movement like the Soviet trade unions as being devoid of the purpose of defending the interests of its members.

Over 120 delegates had asked to speak in the TUC’s international debate, but the conference chairman was anxious not to allow further expression of hostility to the AFL. This would surely have been the consequence of prolonged discussion. He pointed out that Citrine had not been trying to score debating points against Meany, and he won the delegates’ agreement to treat Citrine’s statement simply as a progress report and to move on. Later in the day, in what might be seen as President Edwards’s final parting shot, following a plodding address by the second AFL fraternal delegate, postal union leader Bill Doherty, dealing with the AFL’s domestic program (including details of the latest pay rates of US postmen), the chairman noted that the latter’s contribution had at times “sacrificed eloquence for knowledge” but thanked him nonetheless for a speech that, he said pointedly, was “as good a one as I have heard from a representative of the AFL.” George Meany, it is safe to say, had definitely got up the noses of the TUC. It would not be the last time.8

The Birth of the World Federation of Trade Unions

When the World Labour Conference proper met in Paris two weeks later, Walter Citrine made a final unsuccessful effort to preserve a role for the IFTU while delaying the creation of a new global trade union body. In the event, he merely managed to safeguard jobs for IFTU staff in the new federation while failing to secure the general secretaryship for Walter Schevenels, who had to settle for one of the three posts of assistant general secretary. The top position went to Louis Saillant of the French CGT, who had made his reputation as a leader of the wartime resistance. Though not a communist party member, Saillant was the Soviet nominee for general secretary and, interestingly, had arrived at the preliminary conference directly from Moscow and in the company of the Soviet delegation. Citrine himself was elected president. The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) formally came into being on 3 October 1945, representing the first time since 1919 that the division at international level between communist and non-communist labour movements had formally been bridged. There were some who harboured reservations about the initiative, but the tidal wave of general enthusiasm for unity in the labour movement simply washed over them. As British steelworkers leader Lincoln Evans, a dedicated anti-communist, noted, it was impossible “to ignore Russia, at least in the European movement. . . . We are bound to make our peace with them.” Skeptical though he was, there was always a chance that the WFTU might work, and so it had to be given an opportunity to prove itself.9

Citrine surmised that fourteen of the twenty-one members of the new federation’s executive committee were either communists or dependent on the Soviet Union. But the founding conference had received assurances that no single large organization would be allowed to dominate the federation, and Citrine believed that together with the CIO president, Sidney Hillman, he could probably contain the Russian trade union leader V. V. Kuznetsov. There was nothing particularly radical about the WFTU’s stated objectives, which Hillman viewed simply as a global version of the New Deal. Even so, Citrine warned the federation against allowing political objectives to intrude into trade union activities:

Our job here is to build a Trade Union International . . . to carry on practical day to day Trade Union work . . . [and] to secure practical results for the individual members of our Unions. I say that because some of the speakers seem to be under the impression that our job is to build a Political International. I heard one speaker say yesterday that his organization . . . wished to establish Socialism. However laudable those desires may be the World Federation of Trade Unions is not the medium whereby that is to be done. If once we get into the maze of politics . . . this International will perish.10

The big unresolved issue at the founding congress was the future relationship between the new federation and the international trade secretariats (ITSs) that linked national unions according to their trade or industry and were firmly rooted in the bread-and-butter aspects of day-to-day trade unionism. The WFTU constitution envisaged their complete integration and subordination within its structure as mere trade departments. However, the trade secretariats themselves insisted on retaining their autonomy in matters of industrial policy, and their leading spokesman, J. H. Oldenbroek of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), was personally opposed to membership in the WFTU. He told the congress that no one but the secretariats themselves were entitled to decide on their future.

With no agreement reached at the congress, this matter was left to be resolved through negotiation. Walter Citrine had previously favoured a subordinate role for the trade secretariats in an enlarged world trade union international, but he now changed tack and made it a condition of the TUC’s continued membership in the WFTU that there had to be agreement between the federation and the secretariats on the terms of their relationship. It was a “get-out” clause for the TUC should relations within the WFTU sour. It also created an issue around which those hostile to the “political” WFTU could agitate and organize.

Just over two months following the formation of the WFTU, the last rites were performed over the IFTU when its general council met for a final time in London. The AFL was not represented and wrote objecting to the idea that the organization be dissolved. But with the two principal officers, Citrine and Schevenels, having already decamped to the WFTU, it was decided to wind up its affairs on 31 December 1945. To handle residual financial matters a board of trustees was established. For doubters it offered the promise that the organization might still be revived should the WFTU fail. The AFL leaders were incensed at the way the IFTU had been killed off, adding to their feeling of betrayal and creating a lasting source of acrimony.11 However, they were not the type simply to bemoan their defeat. Contesting the field of international labour with the WFTU now became their central focus. A whole new field of international activity was about to open up for them.

The Free Trade Union Committee

Despite the prominent role played by AFL president Samuel Gompers in the formation of the International Labour Organization (ILO) after World War I, the AFL had been traditionally isolationist, its involvement in international affairs relatively recent. It was at the urging of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), with its large Jewish and Italian membership and under the dynamic immigrant leader, David Dubinsky, that the AFL first began to look outward and raise money for trade union victims of Nazism and fascism in the mid-1930s. In the process it helped to rescue many labour activists from persecution in Europe.

Once America was in the war, both wings of the labour movement participated in the international relief effort, and large sums of money were raised to help trade unionists working underground in the various resistance movements in Europe. From late 1943 the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was responsible for channelling much of this aid through its Labor Division based in London. Its agents included American trade unionists with language skills working alongside refugees from the labour movements of enemy countries. For the AFL the key body in coordinating the wartime relief effort was the Labor League for Human Rights, with Abraham Bluestein as executive director. Again largely a garment workers’ initiative, the labour league was established as a semi-independent organization under the umbrella of the federation, its leading offices held by senior AFL figures. The AFL’s affiliates were free to identify or not with its program and to contribute financially.

After the Normandy landings, with the end of the war in sight, attention focused more on the revival of European trade unionism where it had been officially suppressed. For this activity the AFL convention in 1944 voted to establish a Free Trade Union Fund, with a target of $1 million. A “Finance Committee” consisting of AFL president Bill Green; Matthew Woll, a past president of the photo-engravers’ union; David Dubinsky; George Meany, and Dan Tobin, president of the teamsters union, was appointed to distribute money collected, and a sixteen-strong executive board was created with formal responsibility for oversight of the fund. However, the executive board never met, and the finance committee soon became simply the “Free Trade Union Committee” (FTUC)—the only tangible reflection of the unions that had contributed to the Free Trade Union Fund. The FTUC was formally established as a component part of the Labor League for Human Rights with the same personnel acting as officers.12 And as executive secretary they hired Jay Lovestone.

The Rise of Jay Lovestone

Powerfully built, forty-seven years old with fair hair, Jay Lovestone had been born Jacob Liebstein in 1897, in Poland, and was aged nine when his Jewish family emigrated to America and settled in the Bronx. He studied at the City College, New York, and planned to be a lawyer, but having been caught up in the tide of enthusiasm for the Bolshevik revolution he became a founding member of the Workers Party of America, the American communist party, and began to work full-time in the revolutionary cause.

As a prominent member of this small, sectarian organization, waging bitter fights against socialists and anarchists as well as rival communists, Lovestone made lasting enemies in the labour movement. At twenty-nine he succeeded to the leadership of the party, but his position was immediately threatened when he balked at Stalin’s then ultra-leftist policies. Travelling to Moscow in 1929 in an attempt to resolve his differences with Stalin, he found himself caught up in the deadly battle between the Soviet party secretary and Nikolai Bukharin, the party theorist with whom he had developed a warm relationship. Stalin’s line in 1929 was that capitalism was in a state of collapse, whereas Lovestone, influenced by Bukharin, argued the case for “American exceptionalism,” the view that American capitalism was far from dead. In private conversation with Stalin he pledged his loyalty and pleaded to be given a chance as party leader in America. But having been deemed to be a “right deviationist,” he was removed from the leadership. Indeed, Lovestone was lucky to escape from Moscow with his life.

Back in the United States, Lovestone regrouped his supporters into the Communist Party (Opposition) (CPO), later known as the Independent Labor League of America, or more commonly as “the Lovestoneites.” Throughout the 1930s he maintained organizational links abroad with other communist opposition groups while being careful not to criticize Stalin publicly and even defending the execution of Zinoviev and Kamenev in the early show trials. At home he rejected the “dual unionism” that was the Comintern line in its posited Third Period of capitalism. Indeed, after his former party colleague and garment workers’ member Charles (Sacha) Zimmerman had renounced the communist tactic of forming a separate clothing workers’ union, Lovestone backed him in 1932, when he successfully ran for office on a Lovestoneite platform as president of ILGWU Local 22, the union’s second largest local with 30,000 members. Under Zimmerman’s powerful leadership, Local 22 became Lovestone’s base in the labour movement for the rest of the decade. His odyssey would now gradually take him back to labour’s mainstream, his direction of travel evident in 1934, when David Dubinsky, the recently elected international president of the ILGWU and rising star in the AFL, invited him to speak at its convention.13

When the CIO, with a significant communist presence among its leadership, broke away from the AFL in 1937, Dubinsky arranged for Lovestone to act as advisor to Homer Martin, the first president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW), who was engaged in a desperate struggle for control of the new union against a left wing of communists and socialists. With generous financing from the ILGWU, Lovestone became, in effect, chief of staff to Martin. The battle for control of the UAW lasted from 1937 to 1939, when Martin was defeated. The price of having fought the left wing of the UAW in the CIO for two years was that Lovestone had now added to his list of enemies the Reuther brothers. He would have to contend with them in the international field from the late 1940s onward.

Not until the end of the 1930s did Lovestone formally break with the Comintern, outraged at Stalin’s execution of Bukharin in 1938 and, in the context of the Spanish Civil War, opposed to the campaign waged by Moscow against the POUM, with which the Lovestoneites had close links. Once World War II broke out, he insisted that there was no longer room for “isms” in American politics and that what he called the “cherished illusions” of radicalism were sterile. He duly dissolved the Independent Labor League at the end of 1940. With the destruction of organized labour in much of continental Europe, he now reckoned that American trade unionism could become the decisive force in the field of international labour. Its new role would be to spearhead the fight against all forms of totalitarianism.14

Lovestone Goes to War

With the communist opposition movement now a thing of the past and Lovestone looking to embed himself in labour’s mainstream, Dubinsky gave him a further helping hand by arranging a job for him as head of the labour division of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, which was subsequently renamed Citizens for Victory.15 In this position, he was responsible for drumming up trade union support for Roosevelt’s policy of aiding British resistance to Hitlerism and countering powerful isolationist tendencies in the American labour movement. It involved raising funds to support the underground labour movements in Europe, and it was here that Lovestone acquired his first experience of tapping government for assistance with what he described as “technical arrangements to facilitate our work.” When the OSS Labor Division’s operations in Europe began, Lovestone was able to supply its director, Arthur Goldberg, with over thirty letters of introduction to key European labour movement activists.16 He, too, tried to join the OSS but was rejected on grounds of political unreliability. Likewise he failed to land a post in the Department of Labor, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) registering horror that he was even being considered for such government work. “Lovestone cannot be completely trusted,” stated an FBI report. “Informants have stated that he continued working for the OGPU [forerunner of the KGB] after being expelled from the Communist Party . . . may still be a Communist.” It was a charge he never completely shook off. Indeed, he was subject to regular surveillance by the FBI until the late 1950s, and particularly during the years 1951 to 1954.17

Only when Lovestone became executive secretary of the AFL’s Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC) in 1944 did he find a new role that fully engaged him. Based in the ILGWU head office on 7th Avenue, in New York, and on Dubinsky’s payroll, Lovestone would henceforth work closely with the top leadership of the AFL, which, besides Dubinsky, included Matthew Woll, the longest-serving first vice president of the federation, and the secretary-treasurer, George Meany, who had a particular interest in international affairs—both men Catholics and staunch anti-communists. With Lovestone in their midst they seemed an unlikely team, but Dubinsky assured Meany: “The son of a bitch is OK: he’s been converted.”18

Among the FTUC leaders, Dubinsky was, arguably, the most dynamic and imaginative, but as the Jewish leader of a non-craft union, with his heavily accented speech, he was conscious of being somewhat apart, and within the FTUC he was content to let Matthew Woll be the front man. Qualified in law and with a pompous manner, the sixty-five-year-old Woll had first been elected president of the small International Photo-Engravers’ Union of North America forty years earlier, and his experience of international labour affairs dated back to 1915, when he had been AFL fraternal delegate to the British TUC. He had expected to succeed Sam Gompers as AFL president in 1924 but, outmanoeuvred by miners’ leader John L. Lewis, who secured the post for his nominee Bill Green, Woll had to settle for being chair of innumerable AFL committees. In 1944, he added to these the chairmanship of the FTUC and remained for many years its public face.19 As for George Meany, in the generally undemanding role of AFL secretary-treasurer he set about claiming the field of international affairs as his own, though only after becoming president in 1952 did he really begin to assert his authority.

As well as being chairman of the FTUC, Matt Woll held the chair of the AFL’s International Labor Relations Committee. The relationship between the two bodies became an enduring source of confusion. The international affairs committee was clearly an integral part of the AFL structure, whereas the FTUC represented only those unions that chose to contribute to the Free Trade Union Fund. It was not part of the AFL’s formal structure and became in effect a convenient vest pocket operation controlled by fewer than half a dozen leading figures. With overlapping membership, the AFL international affairs committee and the FTUC concerned themselves with the same international issues. In practical terms the key difference was that whereas the international affairs committee discussed developments abroad and committed the AFL to lines of policy, it was the FTUC that had the necessary funding from a more restricted group of AFL unions and became responsible for implementing policies on the ground. In short, it controlled the money for programs overseas and engaged the personnel to conduct the operations. The relationship between the two bodies was conveniently opaque and would become a contentious matter in subsequent years when the FTUC came under attack for conducting its own program without full accountability.

Donations to the Free Trade Union Fund were slow coming in—the much-touted $1 million target remained a distant prospect—and there was little for the FTUC to do for the first half of 1945. In the meantime it was another ILGWU-sponsored body, the American Labor Conference on International Affairs (ALCIA), that was most actively focused on postwar strategy for labour. Its chairman was Raphael Abramovitch, a former leading Menshevik and assistant to Julius Martov, the leader of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. After the 1917 revolution, Abramovitch escaped from Russia and led the party in exile while editing its paper, the Socialist Courier. For twenty years, he also served as Berlin and then Paris correspondent of the Jewish Daily Forward and up to 1945 was Dubinsky’s chief consultant on international affairs. ALCIA’s secretary was Varian Fry, a Harvard academic who had previously worked in France for the Emergency Rescue Committee on behalf of fugitive intellectuals. ALCIA’s role was to develop plans for postwar reconstruction and to publish the quarterly journal International Post-War Problems.20

In April 1945, Matthew Woll commissioned a memorandum from ALCIA on possible activities in Europe. Drafted by Fry, the document envisaged the likelihood of Europe dividing between Soviet- and Western-controlled blocs. Nine months before Winston Churchill made the term famous in his Fulton speech, Konrad Ilg, general secretary of the Geneva-based International Metalworkers Federation (IMF), spoke of an “iron curtain” running through Europe. Varian Fry shared Ilg’s fear. In his mind the trade union enemy would not be capitalist employers so much as western European communism backed by the USSR. The preliminary World Labour Conference had taken place in London a few weeks earlier and, reading between the lines, Fry assumed that it would give birth to an organization under heavy communist influence.

Fry’s memorandum to the FTUC identified France and Italy as the two problem countries, both with powerful communist groups in the labour movement. The climate of the time made it almost impossible for any labour leader in these countries to speak out strongly against Soviet influence, and any attempt to split the unions between communists and non-communists would be impractical. Still it was necessary to try to build what Fry called “centres of moral and spiritual resistance against communist propaganda and plans for domination.” This would require the publication of newspapers and other literature. He proposed a budget for the next twelve months of $250,000 for grants and subsidies to these centres of resistance. He also recommended that $10,000 be set aside to cover the cost of sending a representative to Europe for a longer period to make the necessary contacts within the labour movement for distributing literature.21 The memorandum was discussed at a meeting of the FTUC on 11 June 1945, especially Fry’s proposal to send a representative to France to “look over the territory and get in personal touch with union leaders” as a preliminary to helping the free trade unions organize. The appointment in October of an FTUC representative to Europe was a direct outcome of this discussion.

The specific proposal had come from ALCIA, which for a short period rivalled the Labor League for Human Rights as an influence on AFL international policy. But ALCIA’s role would soon come to an end. Various factors were at work here. Its social democratic chairman, Raphael Abramovitch, viewed the labour movement in its wider sense as involving both political and industrial wings, whereas the traditional “pure and simple” values of the AFL militated against the idea of giving help to political groups. But more important were sectarian and personality differences. Abramovitch came from a different political tradition and was not part of the Lovestone circle, and with Lovestone running the FTUC there would be no role for “outsiders,” especially in producing literature for overseas consumption, the proposed mechanics of which Varian Fry had outlined in a memorandum to Dubinsky in August 1945. This proposal of ALCIA’s was not acted upon for eighteen months, by which time ALCIA had been elbowed aside by the FTUC after being bypassed in the decision to send a representative to Europe.22 But it also took some time for Lovestone himself to establish his own authority within this constellation of agencies spawned by the AFL. The FTUC began life as a subordinate body of the Labor League for Human Rights, and until Lovestone could fully assert himself it was Abraham Bluestein, the league’s executive secretary, who had overall responsibility for the exploratory mission to Europe by the FTUC’s newly appointed field representative. That representative’s name was Irving J. Brown.

Irving Brown—Lovestone’s Acolyte

The son of Jewish parents, Irving Brown was raised in the Bronx, where his father, a milk delivery driver, was a member of the teamsters union. He was thirty-three when the FTUC sent him to Europe as its representative in 1945. Five feet eight inches tall, with dark-rimmed spectacles that survived all changes in fashion, he had brown eyes and a mop of wavy dark brown hair, and was invariably dressed in the same rumpled dark suit, grubby collar, and stained tie. A New Yorker to the core, he was unmistakably a man with “hustle.”

In the thirties, Brown had put himself through New York University, where he studied economics and became president of the Social Problems Club. He had briefly been a member of the Workers Party prior to Jay Lovestone’s break with Stalin, and at NYU had cast the deciding vote in favour of inviting Lovestone to speak on campus when the student body was divided over the issue. This was his first encounter with the man who would become his mentor. On graduating, Brown married Lillie Smith, who was employed as Lovestone’s secretary.

Brown became Lovestone’s protégé, the latter obtaining part-time work for him as a researcher for ILGWU Local 22 and as a lecturer on labour economics in ILGWU adult education programs. Toward the end of 1936, Lovestone arranged for him to be hired as an organizer for the Homer Martin–led UAW working out of Baltimore, Western Michigan, St. Louis, and finally South Chicago, where he became a key part of the Lovestoneite faction during the internal battle with the union’s left for control of the organization. By the end of the decade he had risen to the position of regional organizer for the Eastern United States and became a member of the executive council of the UAW-AFL formed by Martin following his loss of control of the original union.

With the Martin forces finally defeated, Brown was hired by the AFL as a representative in its organization department, based in Washington. He subsequently transferred briefly to the International Association of Machinists (IAM) with the prospect of becoming its research director. But in June 1943 he was nominated by the AFL for service in the War Production Board, initially having responsibility for advising on labour aspects of aircraft production but eventually becoming deputy to the board’s vice chairman for labour production, Joe Keenan, secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who was also on secondment to the government.

There followed a period during which much of Brown’s activity was shrouded in mystery. In April 1945, he transferred within government service to the Federal Economic Administration (FEA), responsible for advising on economic policy for countries under military occupation. In the case of Germany, it favoured restricting the level of industrial production in line with Morgenthau proposals for the pastoralization of the country. Brown, who bore the title Director of the Labor Division, disagreed with this policy and its negative implications for German trade unionism. Faced with this official policy, he resigned from the FEA in September 1945. In fact, people who were close to him at the time testify that he never really worked for the FEA at all.

The FEA had responsibility for recruiting civilians for positions in military government, and at the urging of the prominent socialist, Paul Porter, almost as soon as he joined the FEA, Brown signalled a readiness to transfer to the Manpower Division of the US Office of Military Government in Germany. That same month he was due to be posted to Germany along with colleagues Newman Jeffrey of the UAW and David Saposs, a consultant to the White House’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. In the event, Brown didn’t go with them, but he did spend some months in Europe, and it was assumed by these colleagues that at this point he established a relationship with the OSS.23 These months remain a mystery. Brown hardly ever spoke about the period in later years, and he gave few details that could be verified. Intriguingly, an obituary notice by the AFL-CIO’s African-American Labor Center, of which he was later director, briefly states that “in the final months of World War II, Brown acted as labour representative with U.S. occupation forces in Europe” and “worked with labour leaders exiled from Vichy France and Norway.”24

It is impossible to corroborate these sketchy accounts of wartime activities. OSS files provide no indication of Brown’s involvement with them. Likewise, among Norwegians who were prominent in the resistance and historians of the Norwegian underground there is no apparent knowledge of any role played by Brown. Norwegian Labour Party secretary Haakon Lie, who later knew Brown well in connection with CIA-financed support for the Finnish labour movement, noted that “if Brown was in Norway in wartime, he never mentioned it.”25

Adding to the confusion, a biography of Brown by a journalist friend, Ben Rathbun, compiled on the basis of numerous discussions with him and published after his death, goes much further, claiming that Brown was actually working with the OSS as early as 1944 or even 1943 while formally employed by the War Production Board. According to Rathbun, to afford him cover during wartime visits to Europe, the intelligence service allegedly provided documentation under the signature of the secretary of state notifying his agency chiefs in the board, the Federal Economic Administration, and the heads of US foreign missions in London and Salzburg that he was there on a short and appropriately vague assignment. In this account, Brown claimed to have dealt in London with OSS head Bill Donovan, Labor Division Chief Arthur Goldberg, and Director of Organization (and eventually director of the CIA) William Casey in 1944–45, while “working on post-war programmes for the underground in Eastern Europe.” Moreover, Rathbun recounts that, two days after D-Day, Brown parachuted into France behind “Allied [sic]” lines and was similarly due to parachute into Norway in November 1944 when the plan was scrapped because of fog.26

It is hard to know what to make of this. Elsewhere, Rathbun’s biography of Brown is riddled with factual errors big and small and has been largely dismissed by people who were close to the subject. Brown was always happiest when operating in the shadows and seemed to have little interest in having his life’s work recorded. In his later years, he did talk idly about writing an autobiography and got as far as a possible title, which, perhaps revealingly, was “From Resistance to Resistance.” But it went no further than that. Traditionally guarded about giving much away to interviewers, he might well have been stringing Rathbun along with tall tales after a liquid lunch.27 Equally, Rathbun’s obvious inattention to detail might have extended to a deliberate gilding of the lily in the interests of creating a more exciting yarn.

However inflated Rathbun’s account, there appears to be enough smoke to indicate a certain amount of fire and that Brown was indeed inducted into the world of secret intelligence in the closing stages of the war. Why he should have been selected for such work—making contact with French trade unionists when he spoke no French, discussing sabotage with Norwegian partisans when he knew nothing of sabotage, and generally having no international experience—is puzzling. All that is certain is that Irving Brown was close to Jay Lovestone and that the latter was beginning to make his own contacts with US intelligence.

Irving Brown’s departure for Europe as a one-man advance guard in the AFL’s battle against the WFTU followed by just six weeks George Meany’s stormy appearance at the TUC conference and by three weeks the launch of the WFTU in Paris. The decision to dispatch him had been taken hurriedly, without time to elaborate a clear strategy or program of action. The situation was fast moving, and the fear that developments already in train in the international labour movement might quickly help embed communism in Europe dictated the need for an American labour presence. Brown would have to play things by ear. But he was to be no mere observer, and his early interventions were to leave an impact on organized labour for a generation or more to come.

2

Building Labour’s Anti-Communist Opposition in Europe

In sending Irving Brown to Europe the AFL had no detailed plan. The first need was to assess the trade union situation and explore the possibilities for combined action with like-minded, anti-communist groups. Brown had to improvise a modus operandi in France and Germany, but whatever the context, he always reckoned that an American presence at the centre of events was essential in order to supply the drive that Europeans were assumed to lack. Only when his posting was made permanent in late 1946 was he able to open an office and work more systematically in France, Germany, and Greece and within the international trade secretariats (ITSs) that rejected the subordinate role offered them by the WFTU. It was principally by combining the AFL’s efforts aimed at the trade secretariats in opposition to the WFTU, and, from 1947, linking this to the campaign for acceptance by European labour of the Marshall Plan, that Brown was able to claim significant success after three years in Europe.

First Steps in France and Germany

Irving Brown left for Europe on 23 October 1945 accompanied by Charles Zimmerman, the forty-eight-year-old director of ILGWU Local 22, which had provided a base for Jay Lovestone since the early thirties. It was a joint mission of the FTUC and Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), the latter another Dubinsky stronghold and a vehicle through which the needle trades helped fellow workers abroad. Their first port of call was Norway, in response to a request for assistance in replacing printing presses for the Labour Party and the central trade union organization, Landsorganisasjonen i Norge (the LO). Zimmerman was then to visit Poland on behalf of the JLC. Brown’s assignment was to stay in Europe for an indeterminate period and assess prospects for supporting the trade unions now re-emerging on the continent. He was on a monthly contract and later anticipated returning to the United States, where a job as director of research and education for the machinists union was on offer. How long he would remain in Europe was unclear. The AFL was inching toward leadership of a future anti-WFTU crusade, but its approach was hesitant.

In his first report home, Brown recommended that the Norwegians be granted $15,000 toward the cost of printing presses plus another $10,000 to cement good relations. Sold on the notion of international unity, the Scandinavian unions had joined up with the WFTU. Brown found that he couldn’t reason with them on this, but he still conceded that they were “our best friends in Europe.”1

Moving on to Paris in mid-November, he checked in to the fashionable Hotel California just off the Champs-Elysée, which was to be his base for the next year. France was suffering from shortages of foodstuffs and a consequent escalation in prices. This one item took up 60 percent of the average wage, and eating meat was typically a once-a-week affair. Brown wrote wistfully about missing his bacon, eggs, and orange juice, but at least he was spared the privations of most of the populace.

Shortages fed a growing popular resentment made worse by the fact that government-controlled wages lagged behind ever-increasing prices. France was entering the final phase of the all-party postwar coalition led by General de Gaulle, and as the largest component, the Parti communiste français (PCF) was beginning to flex its muscles. Communists were the leading proponents of the “battle for production,” which prioritized output over wage improvements, but despite their backing for moderate trade union policies, the dynamism and clear sense of purpose they showed greatly appealed to the organized working class. Within a fractious coalition government, the PCF benefited from the respectability of holding office while retaining freedom to manoeuvre in populist fashion, with a keen eye on the electoral calendar. In the medium term it appeared to have a good chance of coming to power through the ballot box.2

With minimal ability to read French and unable to speak the language, Irving Brown nevertheless quickly found his feet. He was no mere American tourist in Paris; he had valuable contacts among American embassy officials. Richard Eldridge, the US labour attaché, helped him navigate the trade union scene and acted as a safe posting box for Brown’s sensitive incoming and outgoing mail sent via the diplomatic pouch. Norris Chipman, a political officer with an intelligence remit to keep a watchful eye on the communist party, was especially close to Brown and, by the latter’s reckoning, “one of the AFL’s best friends in Europe.” An OSS office still functioned in Paris, and Brown immediately teamed up with Bert Jolis of the labour division, a jeweller by profession who, both then and in later years when he was with the CIA, was able to provide the AFL with courier services to New York. Within a year Brown would also develop a strong relationship with Ambassador Jefferson Caffery, politically reactionary with little time for trade unionism but a man who recognized that, in the French context, the non-communist unions had to be supported.3

Back in the United States, through his relations with key figures in the State Department, Lovestone also had access to confidential information that he routinely fed to Brown. His contacts were typically people who shared a belief that the State Department was riddled with communists and fellow travellers. Lovestone kept a list of some thirty people working in the department whom he considered “pro-Soviet.” Some of the names listed were cross-referenced “see FBI record for communist connections.” The list was almost certainly supplied to him by Ben Mandel, who was employed by the State Department as a “security officer” but had once been the business manager of the Daily Worker. Among the department’s veteran specialists on Soviet communism, Lovestone had ready access to Loy Henderson, who was then director of the Division for Near Eastern and African Affairs. Another invaluable ally and soulmate was Raymond Murphy in the shadowy EUR-X branch, which worked closely with the intelligence services in monitoring European communism. In the late thirties, Murphy had debriefed newly arrived communist defectors from Europe and was currently working to expose the communist sympathies of Alger Hiss. Lovestone and Murphy regularly shared intelligence, the latter providing the FTUC with confidential reports from the most reliably anti-communist foreign service officers such as Norris Chipman in France and Elbridge Durbrow in Italy. When the AFL lobbied Dean Acheson to appoint a person to the office of the secretary of state with particular responsibility for liaising with the AFL, Murphy was the person they specifically requested for the post.4

From the outset, Brown also benefited from having ready access to the top leadership of the French labour movement. Within days of arriving in Paris, he was able to arrange meetings with the socialist leader and former prime minister, Léon Blum, at his home, and also Léon Jouhaux, general secretary of the CGT and grand old man of French trade unionism. After only four days in the city, Brown’s initial report from Paris clearly reflected a perspective gleaned from talks with Blum and Jouhaux.5

He saw a glimmer of hope in the limited but already growing opposition within the CGT to the pattern of meetings being dominated by communists and focusing on their sectarian political agenda. It would be these anti-communists that he set out to woo. Yet the scale of the challenge was daunting. The communists had recently secured a majority on the CGT executive committee, which included Louis Saillant, the WFTU general secretary (who continued to hold office in the CGT and, though not a PCF member, regularly followed the party line), and Benoît Frachon, now joint-general secretary alongside Jouhaux. In Brown’s reading of the situation, Frachon was the key communist trade unionist in Western Europe, with a role extending beyond French borders. “The communist capture of the CGT was the prerequisite for communist control of Europe,” he wrote, a process aided by the formation of the WFTU, which, with headquarters in Paris, now became the communist base of operations in Europe.

Lacking faith in the aging Jouhaux’s readiness to stand up to the communists, Brown focused on a younger group of union leaders associated with the paper Résistance ouvrière (later renamed Force ouvrière), including Jouhaux’s long-serving deputy, Robert Bothereau, who, together with Albert Gazier and Roger Deniau, was already talking about “the coming split” in the CGT. He met them toward the end of November and offered them financial assistance. They expressed interest but balked over practical difficulties: almost all the CGT industrial unions were either led by communists or had a sufficiently large number of communists in key positions that it was pointless to make a formal offer of American aid. The only realistic course was to give covert assistance to individuals and friendly factions, hoping to create a nucleus of one or two hundred “reformists” from among the ranks of anarcho-syndicalists, Trotskyists, and miscellaneous anti-communist trade union intellectuals. The channels that might exist for this were discussed at a second meeting on 29 November with Jouhaux present. Brown reported agreement in principle but no resolution of the practical difficulties. There the matter remained, and in the months ahead, with Jouhaux determined to avoid divisive, sectarian battles and Bothereau sympathetic but lacking in decisiveness, no progress was possible.6

Brown did find a promising ally in August Largentier, since 1914 secretary of the Paris region of the CGT printers’ union. He had organized the underground press during the war, maintained a network of contacts in other CGT unions for whom he had arranged clandestine printing services, and advised Brown on where to begin his work. Brown loaned him $400 of his own money as an initial float and wrote to Matt Woll requesting $5,000 to cover him for the next three months. Woll quickly arranged to send this via the Jewish Labor Committee.

Otherwise, Brown’s requests for funding went begging. In a separate report to Abe Bluestein, executive director of the Labor League for Human Rights, he vaguely requested between $20,000 and $80,000 for a trade union group in Lyon to help them maintain a socialist-oriented trade union paper. The lack of precision in the request suggests a man fishing to see how generous might be their commitment to funding. To Woll he wrote describing structural changes proposed by the communists for the 1946 CGT congress that would cement their power base. He requested a budget of $100,000 for organizing work in the coming six months, accepting that it was a huge sum but insisting that “it would pay to aid in the entire job or not at all.” As he added, “it is a very desperate situation but the stakes are high and are worth the fight for free trade unionism.” Brown asked for a response before the end of 1945, but none was forthcoming.7 The AFL leaders were not yet clear in their minds about how and to what extent they should involve themselves in European trade union affairs. The FTUC had been launched amid talk of raising $1 million for the Free Trade Union Fund, but so far it had collected only $124,000, with another $74,000 pledged.

Irving Brown spent Christmas 1945 in London and was encouraged by his meetings with TUC leaders, Jaap Oldenbroek of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), and a group of German trade union émigrés from the Landesgruppe Deutscher Gewerkschafter who were preparing a manifesto for the new German trade union movement and who included future socialist party leader Eric Ollenhauer and ICFTU assistant general secretary Hans Gottfurcht. Restless and bursting with energy, Brown returned to his Paris base at the beginning of 1946 and reported enthusiastically on these latest contacts. But he was fretful at having no response to his budgetary requests and the lack of guidance as to what his AFL bosses expected of him. The German émigrés in London needed a mere $200 to print 20,000 copies of their manifesto, yet he had no authorization to help them. He would later recall bitterly the days “when I bounced around Europe stewing in my own juice for months on end without ever hearing from New York [i.e., Bluestein] except after I would take the bit between my teeth and issue press statements as to AFL policy.”8

Charles Zimmerman, who had now returned to the United States from Poland, intervened with Matt Woll in urging more material support for Brown, and believed he had succeeded in winning a commitment that a permanent AFL international affairs department be set up to service activities abroad.9 Yet he reckoned without the glacial pace of AFL policy making. In fact, Brown was left to occupy himself as he thought best for most of 1946 while awaiting any sign that the AFL might commit itself wholeheartedly to a long-term presence in Europe. His few specific tasks involved standing in for AFL president Bill Green in a ceremonial capacity as fraternal delegate at congresses of national trade union centres in Europe.

Frustrated at the limited scope for activity in France, Brown turned his attention to Germany, where he spent three weeks in January and February 1946. The issue of the moment was how to approach the rebuilding the German trade union movement. Brown had resigned from the FEA over the implications of the Morgenthau Plan for trade unionism, and he now arrived in the midst of a bitter row within the Manpower Division of the Office of Military Government that flowed from this very policy. In dispute was whether the organization of trade unions in the US zone should be led by, or even involve at all, former German social democratic union leaders from the Weimar period, or whether they should be excluded and the task left to new leaders from the rank and file.

The American policy debate was cast in simplistic terms of a “bottom-up” versus a “top-down” organizing strategy, with the former reflecting current official policy. It was possible to see the options in less Manichean terms, but those centrally involved—Brown now among them—were inclined to polarize their differences. For the architects of this approach, the charge against the pre-war social democratic union leadership was that their failings were the proximate cause of Hitler’s rise. To allow a role for them now in the US zone in a situation that demanded the closest cooperation with the trade unions of the Soviet zone would be to betray the essential anti-Nazi cause over which the Great Power alliance had been forged. Yet to those who questioned the policy and championed a role for the social democratic organizers, the attempt to sideline the latter while cultivating a new generation of rank-and-file leaders was tantamount to promoting a communist agenda in the interests of the USSR.10

The main protagonists were seasoned American trade unionists or NLRB staffers, veterans of pre-war labour movement battles between left and right. Here they served under career soldiers who had little grasp of the issues involved and were easily manipulated: Brown dismissed the head of the Manpower Division, General McSherry, as a mere “politically naïve, overgrown boy.”11 By the time he arrived in Germany in early 1946, pressure from the AFL leadership in Washington to change the policy and weed out its adherents was beginning to have an effect. The leading proponent of the “bottom-up” approach, Mortimer Wolf, whom Brown dubbed a “skilled fellow traveller,” had resigned. Concerned that the housecleaning was taking too long, Brown also called for the removal of Wolf’s principal ally, George Wheeler, the director of the Labor Allocations Branch, whose efforts, he believed, were aimed at slowing down the organization of unionism in the American zone and thereby handing an advantage to the longer-established Soviet zone unions when eventually the trade unions of the various zones were united in a national body. They had benefited from an early start and plentiful help and encouragement from the Soviet military authorities.12

A foretaste of what Brown feared might happen on a national scale was on view in Berlin, where the unions of the four sectors were in the process of combining in a unified Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (FDGB). Brown was present at the founding congress, where there was a preponderance of communists among both delegates and leadership. He reported that the Berlin unions were about as free as the Soviet unions—essentially “instruments for the communists to push through their political programme” and a template for what might be expected in the Western zones if preventative action were not taken.

The simultaneous presence in Germany of a high-level WFTU delegation comprising Walter Citrine, Léon Jouhaux, and Sidney Hillman presented him with an opportunity for a public attack on the CIO leader. In a report intended for publication, Brown wrote that Hillman “more than anyone else is responsible for assuming to speak in the name of American labour in defence of the original [Military Government] attitude of suspicion and hostility towards the German trade unionists and their efforts to recreate a labour movement.” He gave an interview to the AP news agency that appeared in the Sunday Herald Tribune and other papers, blasting Hillman’s role in Germany. Making much of the fact that the WFTU delegation included a number of communists, he wrote of them touring “in the grand style of visiting potentates,” spending four-fifths of their time wining and dining with the military high command while allowing little time and showing little courtesy to their German union counterparts.13

Brown recommended to Woll that the AFL allocate a budget of $10,000 to assist the German unions over the next year. It would enable the appointment of an AFL representative in Germany, help with office supplies for trade union headquarters, and facilitate the production of a German-language AFL newspaper. He told Woll that he had been impressed by Kurt Schumacher, leader of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD), with his opposition to the forced merger of the socialists and communists in the Soviet zone. Contrasting the poverty-stricken circumstances of the social democratic groups in the western zones with the well-endowed apparatus of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands—generously supplied from the Soviet zone, even though they enjoyed but a fraction of the electoral support—he therefore advocated aid for the social democrats. In particular, he forwarded to New York an appeal from Willi Richter, leader of the emerging trade unions in Hesse, to help buy printing presses that would enable the social democrats to produce an extra edition of their paper, the Frankfurter Runschau, for distribution by embattled social democrats in the Eastern zone. Their needs were but a drop in a bucket, and Brown hinted that $1,000 sent to the Jewish Labor Committee account in Paris would enable him to help them.14

Brown returned to France and the work of encouraging the anti-communists in Résistance ouvrière, but when he came back to Germany in April he found that conditions had eased only marginally: union properties confiscated by the Nazis had not been returned, and the unions continued to suffer from lack of licensed publications and the shortage of newsprint. Communist propaganda in labour publications was flooding in from the Soviet zone but went mostly unanswered in the Western press. What concerned Brown most were the economic conditions, which, as a consequence of the Morgenthau Plan to restrict industry, showed no real sign of improvement. “All other German problems fade into insignificance alongside the economic problems,” he wrote. “It will be sheer suicide for America to continue to underwrite the insane application of the Potsdam decisions, maintain an industrial vacuum . . . and at the same time try to encourage the development of democratic forces.”15

On a third visit to Germany in the summer of 1946, Brown first became acquainted with military governor General Lucius Clay and spent several hours with him one Sunday seeking his impressions of the trade union situation. Years later, after Clay had achieved iconic status as the hero of the Berlin airlift, the two men became firm friends, but at this stage Brown considered the general an intransigent “brass hat bureaucrat.” Both Clay and his economics chief, General William Draper, were ideologically opposed to trade unions and against their developing industrial and political power. Under them, the Office of Military Government claimed to be politically “neutral,” but from Irving Brown’s perspective it amounted to an anti-labour policy, and a “bankrupt” one at that, given its results to date.16

That same summer, Ambassador Jefferson Caffery introduced Brown to Secretary of State James Byrnes, who was in Paris for the 1946 Peace Conference. With the help of Norris Chipman and Sam Berger, the US labour attaché to Britain, a meeting with Byrnes was arranged, at which Brown described current AFL activities in Europe and urged especially that the Office of Military Government provide greater assistance to the German trade unions. They also discussed Brown’s assessment of the trade union and political situation in France and his belief that the key to reducing communist influence was to break the French communist party’s hold on organized labour. “You talk a language I understand,” Byrnes told him, indicating that he would welcome further concrete proposals from him. Brown proceeded to draft a memorandum for the State Department’s Soviet expert, Charles Bohlen, for use in discussions with the secretary of state. However, Byrnes would shortly be leaving the department, and the promise here of an inside track to influence soon disappeared.17

Contact with high officials such as Byrnes and Clay led Brown to believe—or at least to have others believe—that he had their ear. In later years he could undoubtedly open doors to top decision makers. But at this stage in his career he was still essentially hustling and trying to become known—still a curious blend of brashness and insecurity.

Throughout much of spring 1946, Brown was on the road in France, attending union conferences from the Pas de Calais in the north to Bordeaux in the southwest and then across to the steel-fabricating towns of the east, gauging the trade union mood in advance of the April congress of the CGT. Much of what he saw was discouraging, but he was getting into the fray. At the solidly communist metalworkers’ congress, Louis Saillant was present and Brown was drawn into a sharp exchange with him when the Frenchman demanded to know why the AFL still refused to join the WFTU. At a regional conference of the CGT in Lille, Brown was invited to explain through an interpreter the AFL philosophy of non-political trade unionism. He wasn’t satisfied that his meaning was getting through and so took the plunge and for the first time attempted to speak in what was still a “lousy, halting French.” Nobody laughed and, he noted ruefully, they gave him a round of applause. But he also doubted that anyone had understood him.

Still, he was making himself known. At the Café Lamand in the coal mining town of Lens, he first met Henri Mailly, the veteran anti-communist miners’ leader who would become one of his most important union contacts. Similarly, during his tour of the Belfort region in eastern France he got to know André Bergeron, a printer who would later become general secretary of Force ouvrière (FO) and who was to be his most lasting ally in the French trade union movement. Soon after their meeting Brown began to send Bergeron small sums of money to help with the costs of a local union publication.

He seized eagerly on any sign of dissent in union ranks. The “battle for production”—under which the communists prioritized increased output over improved wages and terms of employment—was taking a toll on the morale of workers. So Brown tried to identify people who were prepared to “do a trade union job,” concentrating on bread-and-butter issues. Yet such people invariably lacked leadership and resources. “We ought not to let them down now in their fight against the CP,” he wrote to Abe Bluestein. But getting money from the FTUC was like pulling teeth. He complained to Charles Zimmerman of having received only $1,000 since the beginning of the year, merely enough to cover his own personal expenses: “It is the most heart-breaking experience of my life to see what can be done and then be paralyzed for lack of resources,” he wrote.18 Zimmerman was indignant and told David Dubinsky that “we should be ready to assume the responsibilities of our decision.” He went on to point out that “to send a representative to Europe to carry it through and then to deny him the resources with which to do so effectively” was “unfair” to Brown and also “bound to discourage large numbers of European trade unionists.”19

The summer of 1946 saw the first breakaways from the CGT, including groups of railway and Paris Métro workers. More significantly, a strike over wages led by disaffected Trotskyists and socialists in the postal service became the biggest postwar dispute to date and resulted in the formation of an autonomous union.20 It was a sign of things to come, but Irving Brown played no part in these events: at the time of the strike, he was away in Amsterdam representing the AFL at another national union congress, followed by further foreign travel in Europe.21 The events in France had passed him by. He would later be identified as the man who “split” the French trade unions, but even without his intervention unity was fragmenting almost from the time he arrived in the country.

During his summer travels, Brown returned to Norway as AFL fraternal delegate at the congress of the Norwegian LO, where he delivered a sharp attack on the WFTU. Once again Louis Saillant shared the platform with him and was forced to rebut the AFL’s criticisms. Some months later, Brown would be back in Scandinavia at the congress of the Swedish LO (Landsorganisationen i Sverige), where a speech by the WFTU’s Russian assistant secretary, Mikhail Faline, attacking the foreign policies of the American and British governments was answered in kind by a forthright anti-Soviet contribution by Brown.22

Brown relished the publicity that such events gave him, and it was in these months that his image as a belligerent anti-communist was fixed throughout Europe. These well-publicized exchanges also helped alert a wider trade union public to the ideological tension at the heart of the international labour movement. Writing to Matthew Woll, Brown sought to convey his growing enthusiasm for the assignment, though only if the job prospects were made clearer: “I should like to stay in Europe . . . to be of any service that the AFL thinks necessary and is willing to support in international affairs . . . to see this thing thru to the end (even in terms of years)—dependent on being able to eventually bring my family over.”23 Woll now asked him to draft a budget for activities in France.

This time Brown’s modest proposal was for a six-month program costing $15,000. Of this, $3,700 would cover the cost of an office in Paris to act as a headquarters from which to distribute literature and to dispatch temporary organizers to key locations. The balance was to be divvied up into sums of from $125 to $300 for activities in twenty-one listed towns and three industries of strategic importance. The Paris office would function as a shadow Bureau confédéral for the non-communists in the CGT who were currently issuing propaganda and organizing activities independently of one another. Brown’s aim was to bring them together around a program of militant economic demands in opposition to current wage restraint policies that were a product of communist political control of the CGT. He wrote Woll: “As you know, I want to stay in the field . . . but I must know soon in order to make a decision about returning to my own union. It is now a question of just how far we intend to go.” He added that the future “appears to have possibilities that we didn’t dare dream of eight months ago.”24

Still, AFL deliberations continued at their sedate pace throughout the summer of 1946. Woll asked Raphael Abramovitch of ALCIA to produce another think piece. In it Abramovitch agreed the time was right for intervention by the AFL to build on the “psychological and moral rift” that was emerging between communism and democratic socialism in the wake of the USSR’s heavy-handed behaviour in the occupied countries of Eastern Europe. He proposed opening a permanent European office headed by Brown and assisted by two Europeans to coordinate the industrial and political activities of labour groups dissatisfied with the WFTU. More ambitious than Brown, he suggested an annual budget of $85,000, of which $35,000 would cover the cost of the central office, with research services and a monthly bulletin produced by ALCIA.25

However, in AFL leadership circles the idea that political groups of the left might have a role to play in the program was never likely to be accepted. And Brown had also made known his personal opposition to the suggestion that Europeans be given staff positions in an AFL operation. His own emphasis was on the need for it to be led by people who knew America and the American labour movement. Naturally they needed to understand Europe, but the first requirement was an ability to explain American labour—its history, organization, methods, and goals. Much more so than Abramovitch, Brown saw the whole operation in terms of missionary work—by Americans.

The AFL Commits to Remaining in Europe

After a year away from home, Irving Brown returned to the United States in October 1946 for the AFL’s Chicago convention, where, following months of indecision, the federation leadership committed itself to extending his assignment in Europe. He was now authorized to open a permanent office and even given discretion over where to locate. Seemingly indicating a firmer AFL commitment to a European program, the convention voted to establish an international affairs department. The Labor League for Human Rights was closed down in December 1946 and Abe Bluestein, Brown’s nominal boss to date, dropped out of the picture. The Free Trade Union Committee, hitherto a subsidiary body, came fully into its own under Jay Lovestone’s direction, and Brown now reported directly to him. In November, the FTUC founded a monthly paper, the Free Trade Union News, published internationally, and very much under Lovestone’s editorial control. From this point on, the FTUC had an unmistakable public voice: no one could doubt that it articulated the world view of Jay Lovestone.

News that Brown was to be permanently based on the continent aroused protests from those Europeans who saw him as a disruptive influence. Over the preceding months he had deliberately sought publicity for his presence, relishing his image as a tough-talking American with powerful contacts. For opponents he had a sinister quality. The WFTU executive board meeting in December spent time discussing the AFL’s activities in Europe, and there was an element of braggadocio in Brown’s account written for Matt Woll:

There was a spectre haunting every [WFTU] meeting—namely, the AFL. The fear of future AFL moves seemed to dominate their every action. We are accused of planning all sorts of splitting tactics such as keeping the German trade unions out of the WFTU. The greatest fear was aroused over the question of our affiliating the various [US] international unions to the [international trade] secretariats which would prevent their affiliation to the WFTU.26

The CGT journal La Vie ouvrière now railed against the possibility of the AFL’s opening an office in Paris as an invasion of French national sovereignty. General Secretary Benoît Frachon wrote of “insolence on the part of United States reactionaries” and of Brown’s attacks on European and Soviet trade unions being such as “would not have been disavowed by the late Goebbels.” Lovestone hit back in the Free Trade Union News, deriding him in an article titled “The Frantic Mr. Frachon.”27

In fact, no decision had yet been taken on where to locate the European office. Paris was Brown’s preferred city, from where he would be able to continue to cultivate the non-communists in the CGT while also being the physical embodiment of opposition to the WFTU, which had its head office there. Jaap Oldenbroek, however, was keen for him to base his operations in London so as to be able to link up more readily with the activities of the ITF. But Brown never felt entirely comfortable in Britain, and he also noted that his presence in London might “embarrass our friends in the TUC.”28

However, the vehemence of the CGT attack caused Brown to have second thoughts about locating in France: his personal safety could not be assured, and he attempted to make political capital out of this. Having briefed the press that he intended to make an important statement just after the New Year holiday, he secured wide publicity for his announcement that he had decided against having his office in Paris. Though the French capital was noted for its openness and hospitality to people of different beliefs, he explained that he had abandoned his plans because of political warfare being waged by the French communists. He was thus justifying his change of mind in terms of the growing cold-war atmosphere—and, of course, reinforcing that very atmosphere with his announcement. Irving Brown’s decision was that the sedate and slightly out-of-the-way Belgian capital, Brussels, would be the place from which the AFL would fight its corner in labour’s Cold War.29

The passion generated over the opening of an AFL office in Europe was itself just a reflection of larger forces in world politics. The previous twelve months had seen the evaporation of hopes for a continuation of the big-power wartime alliance, now replaced by the dawning reality of the Cold War. It had been a gradual process. Joseph Stalin’s election speech before the Supreme Soviet in February 1946 seemingly reasserting Bolshevik orthodoxy, George Kennan’s subsequent “Long Telegram” warning of the threat of Soviet expansionism, and Winston Churchill’s ominous “iron curtain” speech in March might not in themselves have been total proof that the promises of the Yalta conference were dead. But with the passing of the months, the difficult relationship between America and the USSR was increasingly obvious, and suspicion of the Soviet Union became almost universal in Washington as advocates of military preparedness and the security state set the tone of public debate. By the end of the year a consensus existed in the United States that Soviet aims were, as one historian puts it, “aggressive, expansionist, devious and unlimited.”30 The imminent merger of the British and American zones in Germany into the Bizone was evidence that the division of the country was becoming a reality, while tensions within the coalitions of Communists, Socialists, and Christian Democrats that governed in France and Italy raised doubts over their long-term viability. The slide toward a polarized world was unmistakable.

The changes introduced at the AFL’s October convention in Chicago marked the real start of the FTUC’s engagement on the continent. By the spring of 1947, Brown had set up shop in the Brussels suburb of Stockel in a house that afforded office space alongside the living accommodation. His wife Lillie, Jay Lovestone’s former secretary, now joined him with their four-year-old son. Multilingual, Lillie would serve as his unpaid secretary and translator, and he would be in a position to live a more orderly life than he had in the months camped out in the Hotel California. A more determined phase of work would now begin.

The decision to make Brown’s appointment permanent highlighted an anomaly in the AFL structure. International issues were already the responsibility of an “international representative” who spoke for US labour at the ILO in Geneva while also handling the routine and mostly decorous relations with other national trade union centres. For the past decade Robert Watt, soon to be succeeded by Frank Fenton, had held the post, both working without support staff or bureaucratic structure. The establishment of the FTUC was clearly intended to add substance to AFL work overseas, but it remained semi-detached, without any clear linkage to the work done by Watt or Fenton, and the limited coordination between them developed only in ad hoc fashion.

Indeed, Lovestone would have been very reluctant to be imprisoned within a bureaucratic framework that involved central direction from Washington. Formally, he was on the staff of the ILGWU, where he combined the role of FTUC executive secretary with the directorship of the ILGWU’s international affairs department. With his office in the ILGWU’s New York headquarters and his salary paid by the union, for all practical purposes he worked for Dubinsky and ran the FTUC with the logistical support of the ILGWU. Operating “ultramontane,” he enjoyed a measure of freedom and tended to view any international initiative originating from the AFL headquarters with suspicion.31

Irving Brown experienced the dysfunctional relationship between the FTUC and AFL in another way. At his recommendation, the AFL had appointed Henry Rutz, former director of education of the Wisconsin State Federation of Labor, as its representative in Germany. Until recently, as a major serving in the army in Germany, Rutz had played a useful role in opposing the Wolf-Wheeler policy on union organization. However, he soon began signing his correspondence “European Representative, AFL,” implicitly elevating his status above that of Brown, the FTUC representative. It was trivial, but rank was at issue, and Brown clearly regarded himself as the senior man in Europe. He could be very sensitive over perceived slights, and he wrote to Lovestone threatening to have no truck with Rutz if he persisted with his “pompous, bureaucratic use of that title”: “Unless there is a clear mandate as to who is who . . . I don’t intend to jeopardise my own position by staying away from America for several years to get this second-hand kind of deal. If this continues . . . I will just get out and return.”32 Brown’s anomalous position was not rectified until 1950, when he was appointed to the AFL staff and Meany, then asserting himself more in the international field, became his nominal boss.

Within the AFL, Lovestone was still an “outsider” with whom few would have had any truck a decade earlier. His relationship with Dubinsky had begun as a marriage of convenience and took some time to deepen. With the other leading lights in the AFL, circumspection on Lovestone’s part was required initially. He needed to show deference to the men who ran the federation and headed the FTUC. With some familiarity he might address Dubinsky as “DD,” but the others were “Mr. Green,” “Mr. Woll,” and “Mr. Meany.” All shared a deep anti-communism, but they had arrived at their positions through different routes: Woll, for example, as a Republican and fervent disciple of free enterprise capitalism, Dubinsky a social democrat. They spoke for different constituencies, but it was because of this that Lovestone came to value the FTUC as a sensitive barometer of the cross-currents in the AFL.33

AFL president Bill Green had little involvement in international affairs, but for the other officers of the FTUC this was an area of considerable interest. It was a particular hobby of Woll, who was the long-serving chairman of the AFL international affairs committee. In George Meany’s case, operating uncomfortably as Green’s number two in the undemanding post of secretary-treasurer, he had identified the international field as one he could stake out as his own, something that would lend meaning to his job. But Meany had not led a large union and, like Woll, didn’t command any big labour battalions. His strength lay in his bureaucratic acumen, sharp mind, command of detail, and bluff, no-nonsense style in committee. Within the FTUC, it was Dubinsky alone who brought to international work the authority derived from being a leader of a large, dynamic union with a healthy treasury. And his interest in international labour politics was an expression of his largely immigrant memberships’ consciousness of their ideological roots in Europe.

Lovestone and Brown were closest to Dubinsky, the man they were likely to approach first with any problem. Meany was someone they warmed to and grew to respect later as he began to play a more forceful role and emerged after 1947 as the likely eventual successor to Bill Green. Matt Woll, a generation older than Brown and a man full of his own importance, was someone to respect rather than befriend. What all this meant in practice was that if David Dubinsky gave backing to Lovestone and Brown on an issue, and if Matt Woll could be brought on board, then the committee’s support could usually be assured.

By now the partnership between Lovestone and Brown dated back fifteen years. They were close, sharing a sense of being two alone, having fickle and often unreliable colleagues, yet waging the good fight against great odds. Lovestone was clearly the senior partner and, as their exchanges sometimes showed, still the “teacher.” When Brown complained that his letters to Matt Woll had gone unanswered, he was reminded sharply of the hierarchical structure: “He doesn’t write to you,” Lovestone explained, “I do . . . I’m handling all their stuff with you.”34 In a report of a visit to Britain in late 1946, Brown recorded his approval of the Labour government’s domestic policy and his belief, following a meeting with Harold Laski, that the Labour Party chairman was not the fellow traveller that some Americans thought. Lovestone then read him a lecture on the facts of life: “You know the AFL . . . is not in favour of British or any other kind of socialism. They might be frightened by your committing them so closely to . . . the British Labour Party . . . Remember . . . who you are dealing with and whom you are representing.”35 On another occasion Brown complained that FTUC pronouncements were often crudely negative and appeared to support “extreme forms of free enterprise.” He also criticized the indiscriminate use of the terms “totalitarian” and “slave state” to describe not just Soviet communism but by inference other versions of socialism as well. Again Lovestone refused to yield an inch, insisting:

I am in complete disagreement with you on your attitude towards our use of the term Russian Slave State. That is the issue of the day . . . The slave labour issue is the biggest issue confronting world labour today. Mark my words: on this issue the WFTU will be wrecked. Not by the AFL but from within.36

Safely ensconced in his Manhattan redoubt, Lovestone could indulge in sweeping pronouncements and deliver anathemas, whereas Irving Brown, in regular contact with the European labour movement, understood that proponents of nationalization and state intervention in the economy were by no means necessarily “Stalinists” and that to suggest otherwise was a big mistake.

Interventions in Greece, France, and Germany

Brown’s first assignment under the new structure in late winter 1947 was in Greece to ensure that efforts to unify the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) did not reopen the door to communist influence. WFTU-supervised elections for the GSEE executive committee the previous year had produced a clear majority for the communists and socialists belonging to the leftist Workers’ Anti-Fascist League (ERGAS), only for the results to be set aside by the Greek government. A new executive committee led by Fotis Makris of the National Reformist Workers’ Group—an energetic but essentially opportunistic man with political roots in the right-wing Populist Party—was then appointed by the government. With Greece falling within its sphere of influence, the British government, supported by the TUC and WFTU, attempted to reunify the GSEE through a formula that reinstated the dismissed executive committee members sitting alongside the government’s appointees. Yet these efforts coincided with Britain’s announcement that it was pulling out of Greece. The US decision to step in and assume responsibility for keeping the country safe from communism within the terms of the Truman Doctrine now propelled the AFL into the GSEE’s affairs.

At the request of the GSEE leadership, Lovestone dispatched Brown to Greece in February 1947, the same month that Britain made known its decision to withdraw. Brown set about ensuring that the latest British-backed attempt to reinstate the duly elected executive committee would not be implemented. He reported to Lovestone that, as Makris had the backing of the Greek government, he was best placed to form the nucleus of an effective non-communist front. It was, however, important to bring in other groups from the political centre, especially the followers of the more moderate John Patsantzis, who, he reckoned, included “sincere, intelligent and militant elements.”37 Lovestone quickly requisitioned $20,000 for assistance to Greece from the War Relief Fund to be spent on food parcels for activists in the Patsantzis group. These parcels would be a vital resource, supplementing the meagre diet of recipients, but also with an inflated resale value should they be needed as a hidden cash subsidy.38

Brown insisted that Greece was the last Balkan country where a free trade union movement was possible, and that the threat of communism in the country had to be viewed in the context of Soviet strategic designs on the Middle East and the warm-water ports of the Mediterranean. Brown’s support for a firmer anti-communist line, the appointment of a permanent labour attaché to Athens to guide the unions, and a delay in efforts to reconstitute the GSEE until the United States had a firmer grip on the situation was well received in the State Department.39 British foreign secretary Ernest Bevin was alarmed by the Americans’ new, harder line, and at the Foreign Ministers’ Conference then taking place in Moscow argued vigorously with Secretary of State Marshall on this very issue, insisting that the American approach toward Greek trade unions risked damaging Anglo-American relations.40

In part at Bevin’s suggestion, the American labour attaché in London, Sam Berger, was dispatched to Athens pro tem to negotiate with his British counterpart in search of a formula for the reunification of the GSEE. Berger invited Brown to participate in the reunification talks with the unions, and while at a formal level a formula purporting to offer equal representation to all factions was on the table, Brown’s efforts behind the scenes were devoted to unifying the representatives of the political centre and right and resisting any compromise of benefit to ERGAS. The anti-communist front held long enough for the talks to collapse after the two labour attachés gave up the task, and ERGAS’s call for the WFTU to be allowed to supervise future GSEE elections was rejected.41 This was the last attempt at establishing trade union unity; the civil war in Greece intensified, with more than a hundred communist trade unionists arrested and executed over the next three years while three recent GSEE executive committee members belonging to ERGAS were imprisoned.

However, the coalition of centre-right-wing leaders that Brown had helped bring together failed to forge a cohesive free trade union movement and within a matter of months were fighting among themselves for the spoils of leadership. At the GSEE’s 1948 congress, Brown blamed the lack of progress on the new labour attaché appointed following his intervention the previous year. The appointment was made without Woll or Lovestone being consulted, and over this they protested loudly. “We have the purse strings in Greece,” Brown complained, “and we could have accomplished much in forcing Makris and his crowd to play ball with the united front set up.” At the congress Brown imposed himself, taking responsibility for organizing the balloting for elections to office and acting as arbiter of points of contention between delegates. The outcome of the congress was still in the balance when he departed for business elsewhere, ostentatiously refusing to hand over money that he was authorized to give. Keeping the Greeks on a short leash, he told Lovestone, “I have not given a penny . . . and do not intend to do so” until satisfied with the news coming from the GSEE.42

The problem with the Greek centre was that those who had demonstrated leadership qualities in the past and enjoyed the support of trade union members were excluded from the organization now led by people approved by Brown who were mainly attracted by the trappings of office. Deriving their regular finances from compulsory dues levied by the government, they inevitably became clients of the state. “Many of the so-called leaders who live on the contributions of the workers would disappear overnight if there weren’t forced trade union contributions,” commented the British labour attaché. Less than six months after Brown had helped sabotage any chance of leftist participation in a unified GSEE leadership, the same official noted that the “irresponsibility and calculated intrigue of prominent leaders and their complete disregard of genuine trade union interests has again become painfully obvious.” The situation was still unsatisfactory in 1949 when the GSEE requested $25,000 from the AFL to pay for its annual congress. Lovestone instructed Brown to tell Makris that the federation was in no position to help; the GSEE were too much of a headache.43

In his detailed study of this phase of Greek trade unionism, Peter Weiler observed that as a result of the failed unification attempt in 1947, the Greek trade union movement was now in the hands of unscrupulous and unrepresentative men running it on behalf of industrialists and conservative politicians. The country would fade as a focus of urgent interest for the FTUC once communist influence in the GSEE had been averted and the WFTU eliminated from the picture, though Brown visited periodically and provided a “financial shot in the arm” to one or another of the GSEE factions if there were signs of a new communist challenge. His involvement in 1947 had been a classic spoiling operation targeted at communist trade unionists that succeeded in the short run but hardly benefited the cause of Greek trade unionism. It was a pattern to be repeated in other locations.44 Meanwhile, Makris, who had begun his trade union career under the pre-war Metaxas dictatorship, would continue in office through the years of the military dictatorship of 1967–74.

Figure 1

Figure 1.  Irving Brown (second from the left), with Greek trade union leader Fotis Makris (left), during a visit to Athens in January 1950. Intent on keeping the GSEE free of communist influence, Brown periodically appeared in Greece to give the organization a “financial shot in the arm.” Courtesy of the Special Collections Department, University of Maryland.

In Germany, from the autumn of 1946 through 1947 the main concern of the FTUC was with a series of conferences intended to unite the zonal unions in a national structure. The AFL was initially excluded from the process, which began under WFTU auspices, until, following vigorous protests, it was granted observer status. At the first of the conferences in Mainz, the WFTU’s new American assistant secretary, Adolph Germer—a veteran CIO colleague of Sidney Hillman during the battle with Homer Martin for control of the UAW—noted in his diary how “Irving Brown, one of Homer Martin’s ‘stooges’” tried to “gate crash” the conference, “distributing [food] parcels to anyone who would say he is against Communists” and announcing that the AFL would “put up $500,000 at the disposal of the German labour movement.” In practice, the aid was far more modest, though still important: by early 1947 the AFL was supplying food parcels to five hundred American zone union officials each month. It would also soon be distributing 8,000 copies each month of its German-language edition of the Free Trade Union News.45

As steps toward German union unification gathered pace, Brown was again in Germany in August 1947 to meet the union leadership of the US zone and secure agreement on a policy that would delay plans for a unification congress the following spring until more progress had been made in uniting the unions of the British and American zones as part of the process of bizonal economic integration.46 But what finally derailed the plans for an all-German trade union congress was an announcement by General Clay that unification of the labour movement would not be permitted until the four zones were integrated economically, a prospect that was by now distant and receding. Clay had been the AFL’s bête noir in resisting demands for the return of trade union property and the lifting of restrictions on newsprint supplies to unions, but this recent decision alone made him a hero. In 1948, at the height of the Berlin blockade and airlift, Brown helped make permanent a trade union breakaway in Berlin by non-communists from the unified citywide FDGB over alleged communist electoral manipulation. A timely $1,000 FTUC appropriation for the newly created Unabhängige Gewerkschaft-Organisation (UGO) ensured its continued viability as a pro-Western body.47

A particular achievement of Brown was his nurturing relations with the chairman of the SPD, Kurt Schumacher, in 1946–47. Schumacher had impressed him with his magnetic personality, impeccable anti-Nazi credentials, and uncompromising opposition to Stalinist communism. On being confirmed as permanent FTUC representative in autumn 1946, Brown had secured a promise from Dubinsky that the ILGWU would provide $10,000 for use in support of the German Social Democrats. He met Schumacher for the first time in December 1946 in London, where they struck up a rapport and discussed possible uses of this money. Brown proposed to Lovestone that $8,000 be used to purchase for the SPD typewriters and other office equipment from the US army’s surplus property unit. The balance of $2,000 would be available to publicize the SPD’s position abroad through a travel grant for Hans Gottfurcht, who handled external relations for the unions in the British zone. Brown wrote Lovestone: “It is not enough for us merely to oppose the WFTU in Germany. There is a great yearning for international recognition on the part of the Germans . . . [who] once played a great role in international trade union organization.”48

Brown also suggested that Schumacher be invited to the AFL’s 1947 convention, giving him an overseas forum from which to make the case against German communism. He had to overcome the skepticism of General Clay and reservations among the AFL leadership before funding for the trip was agreed to and an invitation to Schumacher extended in the early autumn. Brown chaperoned the German leader at the San Francisco convention, where, in his rasping voice, Schumacher spoke powerfully warning of the threat of communist totalitarianism. Very much in tune with Lovestone, he argued that the great question of the day was whether freedom or slave labour would prevail. He welcomed the role of US labour in Germany, called for American help, and backed the recently announced Marshall Plan. It was the first time since the war that any German political leader had participated in such a gathering abroad, and his presence in San Francisco did much to boost his personal standing in Germany and that of his party.49

Brown and Lovestone remained confidants of Schumacher until his death in 1952 and were arguably his most important friends outside Germany. In their opposition to communist-leaning trade unions in various parts of the world, they in turn would often quote Schumacher on the essential choice between freedom and slave labour. The link between the SPD leader and the AFL—the latter often criticized in international labour circles for its conservative business unionism—was a remarkable feature of this period. It was undoubtedly Schumacher’s implacable anti-communism that most appealed to the Americans. He was the best-known opponent of communism in Germany and, from the AFL’s point of view, their most effective foil. But their support for him also helped indirectly to publicize and popularize German social democratic policies of socialization and democratic planning, and in this they were operating far outside official US policy in Germany.50

The FTUC’s biggest challenge in spring 1947 was in France, where strains within the communist-led CGT were coming to a head, principally over its moderate wages policy. A strike by Renault workers at the communist stronghold of Boulogne-Billancourt in April, which forced the CGT to abandon its wage moderation and resulted indirectly in the expulsion of communist ministers from the coalition government led by Paul Ramadier, began to open up space for opposition by the Force ouvrière faction. Of the group’s leadership, Brown had no faith in Léon Jouhaux’s capacity to lead the anti-communist struggle but rather placed his hopes in a younger cohort “who will some day break through this fuzzy myth of unity.” He had recently been allocated $6,000 for activity in France, and he now arranged to mail out copies of a French edition of the Free Trade Union News to a list of 24,000 potential activists.51

The role of the AFL—and especially Irving Brown—in helping to split the CGT has gone down in mythology. The essential facts bear restating. In the summer of 1947 the communist leadership of the CGT set out to restore its battered credibility by leading a succession of strikes that were increasingly “political” in that they were influenced by communist opposition to the recently announced Marshall Plan. These strikes among rail workers, miners, and metalworkers caused splits in the ranks and were accompanied by attempts at organizing an opposition, but all such efforts suffered from lack of resources and the relative isolation of one group from another. To overcome these handicaps, Brown urgently requested a further allocation of $5,000 from the FTUC and was given clearance to spend an extra $500 per month over the next four months in assisting the dissident groups. By the end of July, sensing that the tide was running his way, he was pleading for a further $2,500. In August he submitted still another request for $4,000 for use in France, and suggested also a “supplementary aid programme” financed by the American rail unions, telling Lovestone, “In spite of what may happen in other parts of Europe, for the moment the best of American plans will go for naught if this French situation is not broken. . . . It is still France that must be cracked or else every move we make will be paralyzed in advance. I urge you to meet my latest request.”52

The decisive phase came in November and December 1947 with a wave of insurrectionary strikes launched by the CGT that were more violent than any since the war. The buildup had been coming for months: “Power is already on the streets,” reported the British labour attaché at the end of September.53 Tapping into genuine economic grievances, the CGT embarked on action by dockers and rail and metalworkers for higher wages: it became de facto a general strike and lasted for three weeks. The political purpose was clear. At a meeting of the Franco-Soviet Trade Union Committee ahead of the strikes, Benoît Frachon had denounced the “anti-democratic and anti-Soviet propaganda” of the AFL and its support for “a small group of French splitters,” against whom the Soviet delegates called for “resolute action.” The CGT’s subsequent national council meeting declared opposition to Marshall aid as “a plan of subjugation of the world by the capitalist American trusts and preparation for a new world war.” That same meeting decided to consult all workers (not just union members) on whether to strike.

The non-communist minority among the CGT leadership opposed the insurrectionary nature of the action, the unconstitutional way that it had been called, and the fact that it was directed not by the CGT executive committee but by an ad hoc strike committee dominated by communists. CGT members who rejected the strike call were subjected to threats and beatings. The government introduced controversial legislation to protect property and non-striking workers and called up army reservists in a show of force. As the strike began to crumble with people drifting back to work, the CGT leadership called the action off in order “to regroup for further combat.”54

Although Léon Jouhaux still tried to resist the inevitable, this action led to the permanent split in the French labour movement and the formation of Force ouvrière (FO) as a separate centre. Even then, Jouhaux was still determined that the new body would remain within the WFTU fold if possible.

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