The Left in the Detroit Labour Movement
THE ROLE OF COMMUNISTS in the history of the North American Labor movement has always been controversial. In recent years some balance has been restored to that history by the growing body of work by and about Communists who were middle-level leaders in the CIO unions and a few studies that deal more broadly with their activities. Balanced, of course, does not mean less controversial. It simply means that more information and more points of view are being made available. Christopher Johnson's
... stopher Johnson's biography of Maurice Sugar is a solid piece of work that fills a major gap in the history of the United Automobile Workers (UAW). Sugar grew up in northern Michigan and studied law at the University of Michigan before World War I. At the university he joined the socialist movement, becoming essentially a Debsian socialist He served time in prison for his opposition to the war (failure to register for the draft). After the war, with the rightward movement of the Socialist Party, he left the Party and generally gravitated toward the Communists, although Johnson makes a convincing case that he never joined the CP and was organizationally independent He was, from the start a lawyer for the labour movement and remained that for most of the rest of his life. He gained a substantial reputation among Detroit unions for his abilities and his fairness. He was able to take advantage of whatever technicalities the law allowed but he was not simply a technician. His loyalty to the labour movement was widely respected. In the 1930s he became chief counsel for the UAW and remained in that post until fired by Walter Reuther on his accession to power. He was associated with the Addes-CP caucus and was a major advisor to what was then called the "left wing" in the union. Johnson's description of Sugar's union activities and legal battles make fascinating reading. There are, however, certain limitations to Johnson's book. The Martin Glaberman, The Left in the Detroit Labour Movement," LabourlU Travail, 26 (Fall 1989). 165-170.