American Labor in the Era of World War II

By Sally M. Miller; Daniel A. Cornford | Go to book overview
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CIO Leaders and the State, 1935-55

Robert H. Zieger

The differing perspectives of John L. Lewis, Philip Murray, and Walter P. Reuther with regard to the federal government in its role as military mobilizer, diplomatic agent, and world actor in the period of World War II and its aftermath reveal much about the underlying character of industrial unionism and the tensions that afflicted it. Beyond doubt, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) prospered in its relationship to the federal government. Its three presidents, however, had different conceptions of the connection between the industrial union federation and the state. 1

Entanglement with government was a central factor in the 20-year history of the CIO. It was under the wartime state and its cold war continuation that the CIO reached its peak membership, its greatest institutional stability, and, at least until the Communist issue came to a head in 1948-49, its most unified internal life. Contemporary critics argued that the CIO paid a heavy price in limitations on its autonomy and the subsumption of its interests to those of the state, claims that historians have echoed. Of the three leaders of the CIO, however, only the first, John L. Lewis, expressed concern about the effects that enmeshment in the state apparatus were having on the essential character of the industrial union movement. His successor, Philip Murray, largely

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