500.C115 Mexico City/4–2046

The Ambassador in Mexico (Messersmith) to the Secretary of State

No. 29260

Sir: I have the honor to report on the III Conference of American States Members of the International Labor Conference which was held in Mexico City from April 1 to April 17, 1946.…

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The Argentine Case

The Department’s instruction, telegram No. 311 of March 29, 8 p.m., 1946, was shown to the United States Government Delegates, Senator Chavez and Mr. Verne Zimmer, before the Conference opened. Senator Chavez said that we certainly should not raise any question about the Argentine Delegation; that he hoped that no one would raise any question on the subject; and that we should try to keep out of any discussion [Page 46] of the matter. Also, before the Conference opened, the entire American Delegation, including the representatives of Government, employers and workers, met in the U.S. Delegation Offices and discussed the Argentine case as well as other matters. Senator Chavez stated in this meeting that he would not raise any question about the Argentine. Mr. George Meany, U.S. workers’ delegate, explained that he had certain reservations about the seating of the Argentine labor representatives in the Workers Group, and that he had certain commitments to the American labor movement vis-à-vis the Argentine case. Senator Chavez restated in strong terms his view that the United States Government should not raise any question about the Argentine Delegation and indicated his opinion that we should adopt a friendly attitude toward the Argentine.

Nevertheless, at the first meeting of the Selection Committee, Senator Chavez, as U.S. Government member, raised the Argentine question, apparently through a misunderstanding of the procedure, and expressed a strong pro-Argentine attitude.

The Workers Group held a number of meetings on the Argentine case, which were presided over by Mr. Robert Watt, worker member of the Governing Body of the ILO. The Workers Group decided to expel the Argentine Workers Delegation from its meetings, and refused to elect any Argentine Worker Delegate or Adviser to any committee of the Conference. This action of the Workers Group was reported to the Selection Committee on April 5, 1946, together with a statement that the Workers Group had no comment to make regarding the Chilean Workers Delegation.

At this meeting of the Selection Committee, the Secretary General of the Conference, Mr. Edward J. Phelan, who is also the Acting Director of the ILO, and Mr. Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans, Chairman of the Governing Body of the ILO, explained the procedure with respect to credentials and discussed the constitutional powers of the Conference on this subject at length. It was finally agreed by the committee that neither it nor the Conference in plenary session has any authority to approve or disapprove credentials in the absence of a formal protest. The committee therefore unanimously resolved that it had accepted and noted the credentials of all delegations and was forwarding them to the plenary session to be noted and printed in the proceedings of the Conference.

The Argentine Government Delegate, Dr. Ricardo Riguera, thanked the committee in rather effusive terms for approving the credentials of the Argentine Delegation (including the labor representatives) and expatiated on the democracy of the Argentine Republic. This brought from Mr. George Meany, of the Workers Group, a strong statement to the effect that the Argentine Government Delegates should understand [Page 47] clearly that the action of the Workers Group in expelling the Argentine Worker Delegation from its meetings and in refusing to elect them to committees was not an idle or frivolous gesture; that, speaking for American labor, he felt that he had an obligation to the free trade-union movement in the Argentine whose members had been expelled from the country or imprisoned by the Argentine Government; and that he hoped that in the very near future the Argentine Government would permit a real free trade-union movement to function. Dr. Riguera tried to take the floor to reply to Mr. Meany, but, upon motion of Senator Chavez, the meeting was adjourned. The committee had accepted the credentials of all delegations; it had been advised of the action of the Workers Group with regard to the Argentine Workers Delegation; and it had refused to enlarge the committees.

On the following day, April 6, 1946, the plenary session adopted the report of the Selection Committee finding all credentials in order.

The action of the Workers Group in refusing to seat the Argentine Workers Delegation was induced by a double-motivation: first, the almost unanimous desire of the Workers Group to record its belief that the present Argentine labor movement is controlled by the Argentine Government; and, second, the desire of Lombardo Toledano, as president of the Latin-American Confederation of Labor (CTAL), to demonstrate the strength of the CTAL. As the CTAL has publicly committed itself to opposition to the present Argentine regime, Lombardo could not consistently support the Argentine Worker Delegation in the Conference; but, as the Soviet Government has sent a trade mission to the Argentine, he evidently did not wish to go on record as formally indicting the Argentine labor movement. He therefore compromised by agreeing to expel the Argentine workers from the Workers Group and keep them off committees, but to accept their credentials to the Conference. Mr. Meany of the AFofL led a fight to reject the credentials of the Argentine workers, on the ground that if the Workers Group found that they were not representatives of an authentic labor movement, then the Conference as a whole should reject their credentials. Mr. Meany’s motion was defeated.

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The Panamanian Resolution on Discrimination in the Canal Zone

The first intimation that the Delegation of Panama intended to raise the question of racial discrimination in the Panama Canal Zone came in the first working meeting of the Committee on Industrial Relations. Mr. Isaias Sánchez Barnett, Under-Secretary of Labor of Panama and Government member of the committee, raised the question of racial discrimination in the Canal Zone in a discussion of freedom of organization. A point of order was made by the Cuban Government Member, and the Chair ruled that Mr. Sanchez’ remarks were [Page 48] not pertinent. Mr. Sánchez quickly brought his remarks to a conclusion, but warned that he would raise the question again. This occurred on April 6, 1946.

On April 7, 1946, Mr. Ailshie of this Embassy, who was an adviser on the Government delegation, talked with Mr. John Willard Carrigan of the Mexican Division of the Department on this subject and asked for further instructions. The Department’s telegram No. 348 of April 9, 6 p.m., 1946,14 instructing the United States Delegation to press discreetly for a general resolution not mentioning the United States or the Canal Zone, was received in the Embassy on April 10 and was immediately brought to the attention of the United States Delegation.

A resolution condemning racial discrimination in the Canal Zone was introduced in the Resolutions Committee by the entire Panamanian Delegation at a meeting on April 10, 1946. The text of the original Panamanian resolution may be found in enclosure No. 3 to despatch No. 29173 of April 17, 1946,14 as the last two pages of the enclosure, and it is marked C.R./D.3. On the motion of Senator Chavez, consideration of this resolution by the committee was postponed to permit the United States Delegation to study it.

At a meeting of the Resolutions Committee on April 11, the senior Panamanian Government Delegate, Mr. Domingo H. Turner, moved the adoption of the Panamanian resolution and spoke at length on the reasons which motivated the Panamanian delegation. In effect, Mr. Turner’s statement constituted a serious indictment of United States policy in the Canal Zone and implied that the United States had not acted in good faith.

Senator Chavez took the floor for the United States Government and stated that, while discrimination exists everywhere and while he has been one of the leaders of the fight against discrimination, he opposed the present resolution on the ground that the ILO has no authority to investigate or intervene in sovereign nations. At this point, Sr. Luis Alvarado, Government Member of the Governing Body of the ILO, took the floor and explained that the ILO lacks authority to conduct such investigations as contemplated by the Panamanian resolution.

Mr. George Meany then took the floor to point out that the resolution implied that every President of the United States since 1903 had had the power to do away with the alleged discrimination but had failed to do so, and to say that he could not and did not believe that this was true.

The committee finally adjourned, after agreeing that a special subcommittee, consisting of the Panamanian Delegation, the United [Page 49] States Delegation, and a representative of the Secretary General, should meet the following morning and draft a compromise resolution for submission to the next meeting of the Resolutions Committee.

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Mr. Ailshie pointed out that the terms of the Panamanian resolution implied that the United States Government had consistently acted in bad faith since 1903; that the resolution therefore constituted an indictment of the United States; and that the proper way for the Government of the Republic of Panama to take up any complaint was through established diplomatic channels. Mr. Ailshie pointed out that the resolution was remarkable in that it failed to mention the treaty of 1936 and exchange of notes and the long series of acts of Congress and of the Chief Executive and of American Ambassadors to Panama designed to resolve this problem. He further pointed out that the resolution merely constituted a collection of allegations and that not one iota of evidence has been presented to the committee. Mr. Ailshie then suggested to Mr. Zimmer that he ask the chief Panamanian Delegate whether he was acting under instructions from his Government in raising this question at the Conference.

Mr. Zimmer asked Mr. Turner whether this would be a proper question, and Mr. Turner replied that he (Turner) was not acting under instructions from his Government, but that he was sure that he was reflecting the opinion of his Government and the people of Panama in raising it. He then denied that the Panamanian Delegation intended to question the good faith of the United States Government. He said that Senator Chavez had admitted that racial discrimination exists in the Canal Zone, and he added that everyone knows that it exists. He said that the Panamanian Government has taken this matter up through regular diplomatic channels many times since 1903, but has only obtained promises, not action. Mr. Ailshie pointed out that the present Panamanian Ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Jorge E. Boyd, was Ambassador in Washington in 1939 and that he has stated that the problem had been virtually solved at that time, but that the war emergency had introduced new complicating factors. Mr. Turner admitted that this was true.

Mr. Zimmer then said that he would undertake to lay the facts before the Secretary of Labor of the United States. It was then agreed that all reference to the United States and the Canal Zone should be deleted from the resolution. The ILO representative supported the position of the United States Delegation on this point. Mr. Turner agreed to delete all reference to the United States or the Canal Zone from the resolution, it being understood that the United States agreed to the setting up of a joint commission to study the problem. (At this point Mr. Ailshie pointed out to Mr. Zimmer that [Page 50] we could not agree to “commissions,” as this term has definite legal implications.) Mr. Zimmer proposed that we use the term “joint committees” and add the words “or other suitable agencies.” This was agreed upon by the entire sub-committee, and a draft resolution was approved, eliminating all reference to the United States and the Canal Zone and recommending equal pay and treatment for work of equal value.

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It is difficult to evaluate the work of the Conference. In the technical field—vocational training, labor inspection, and industrial relations—it is the opinion of the American Delegation that the Conference achieved some concrete results. The exchange of views between the various government officials responsible for these matters was in itself helpful, and, it may be hoped, will serve as an incentive to all concerned. The participation of representatives of employers and workers in these discussions should engender in them a greater sense of responsibility and a better understanding of the problems involved, as well as a more objective approach to the methods and techniques required for the solution of these problems. The Latin American delegations indicated that they are desirous of exchanging students, government officials, labor leaders and other qualified personnel with the United States as a means to promote mutual understanding, increase the efficiency of the workers, and bring about better living conditions.

In the political and economic fields, the following conclusions are believed to be warranted:

Lombardo Toledano organized and led an attack on United States political and economic leadership in the western hemisphere. His main attack was directed against our liberal trade, commercial, and industrial policy as embodied in the Economic Charter of the Chapultepec Conference.15 His flank attack, so to speak, was directed against our policy in the Panama Canal Zone. It is believed that he also intended to launch an attack on our other flank, against our Argentine policy, but was unable to do so because his own position was insecure and the policy of the Soviet Union toward Argentina put him in a dilemma.

Lombardo expressed his opposition to what he calls the “Clayton Plan” in his address on the Director’s Report. He was answered in no uncertain terms by Senator Chavez and Mr. David Zellerbach in [Page 51] their speeches on the subject. These speeches appear in documents No. 4 and 8 of the Provisional Record.16 Both Senator Chavez and Mr. Zellerbach supported the principle of free enterprise as opposed to communism or other forms of State control. Lombardo frankly stated that the industrialization of Latin America along the lines advocated by him was the “main theme” of the Conference.

Lombardo carried his fight into the Sub-Committee on Economic Problems, where he proposed two resolutions which, if adopted, would have put the Conference on record in support of his views. Both resolutions were rejected by the sub-committee, the Resolutions Committee, and the Conference in plenary session. The sole resolution on the industrialization of Latin America that came out of this Conference is couched in general terms and simply calls the attention of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations to the Director’s Report and to the proceedings of the Conference. The sole resolution on inflation that came out of the Conference merely requests the Government Delegates to call the attention of their governments to this problem.

While the Economic Charter was not specifically endorsed in the resolution on industrialization, neither was it specifically repudiated, as Lombardo would have liked. Mention of the Chapultepec Conference was inserted in the resolution on industrialization by the Chairman and the ILO representative, not by the United States Member. The United States Member strongly defended the Economic Charter per se, but did not insist that it be mentioned in the resolution. When the resolution was finally adopted, the reporter stated that the Economic Charter of Chapultepec had been adopted in principle by the committee.

In the opinion of the United States Delegation, Lombardo Toledano was defeated on the main issue, that is, communism versus free enterprise. Communist political and economic theories and practices received little, if any, support from the Conference, while the principles of free enterprise and individual liberty prevailed. This is borne out by the record.

The attack on United States labor policy in the Canal Zone17 was intended to diminish our prestige and stir up “anti-Yankee” feeling in Latin America. While the resentment on the part of Panamanians to certain features of our labor policy in the Canal Zone has existed since 1903, it has been skillfully exploited in recent years by the communists, led by Lombardo Toledano, in an effort to weaken Pan-Americanism and enhance the prestige of the Soviet Union, where, it [Page 52] is asserted, no racial discrimination exists. It is notable that while in recent conferences the Panamanian delegations were satisfied with general resolutions condemning racial discrimination and supporting “equal pay for equal work,” in the Mexico City Conference the Panamanian delegation pressed hard for a resolution specifically condemning United States policy in the Canal Zone.

As mentioned above, the resolution finally adopted makes no reference to the United States or to the Canal Zone. In that respect it represents a complete victory for us. However, Mr. Turner, chief Panamanian Government Delegate, was permitted to criticize our policy in his speeches in the Resolutions Committee and in the Plenary Session, and he received from Mr. Zimmer of the United States Delegation a letter stating that the Department of Labor will look into this situation.

It can therefore be concluded that on the main issue of the Conference, namely, Russian vs. American leadership in the western hemisphere, the United States not only maintained its position but strengthened and consolidated it.

So far as Lombardo’s personal prestige is concerned, he scored a tactical victory by having the ILO publish a flattering account of the CTAL in Chapter I of the Office report on Industrial Relations, Report IV. This permitted him to publish quotations from the ILO report in his CTAL News and in El Popular, thus making it appear that the CTAL has the official endorsement of the ILO. While the Conference neither approved nor disapproved Chapter I of the Office report, Lombardo will be able to exploit this unfortunate and unwarranted endorsement of the CTAL.

Lombardo was also able to persuade the Workers Group of the Conference to pass a resolution condemning the Franco Government in Spain. He wanted the Workers Group to request their governments to break diplomatic relations with Spain, but due to the opposition of the American member, Mr. George Meany, it was finally agreed that the resolution should merely express the hope that the United Nations will repudiate the Franco regime. A copy of the resolution adopted by the Workers Group is enclosed herewith.18

To sum up, Lombardo did not completely dominate the Workers Group as he no doubt hoped to do. For example, during the discussion of the “Argentine question” in the Workers Group, Mr. Robert Watt presided over the meetings, having been elected specially for this purpose to replace Lombardo, who was the regular Chairman of the Workers Group. Moreover, several Latin American labor delegations demonstrated their independence of the CTAL, notably those of Peru and Chile.

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It might also be mentioned here that the United States labor delegation took a good deal of the sting out of the charges of racial discrimination brought against the United States by the Panamanian Delegation by having Mr. Willard Townsend (colored) of the CIO address the plenary session on the morning of the day that the Panamanian resolution was scheduled to be voted on by the Resolutions Committee. This created a very favorable impression in the plenary session. Also, the fact that the two CIO advisers, Messrs. Ross and Townsend, were present and that their actuation was in perfect harmony with that of the principal delegate, Mr. Meany of the AFofL, effectively silenced Lombardo Toledano and the communists on many occasions.

To all intents and purposes, the III Conference of American States Members of the ILO was a Pan-American conference—Canada being the only non-member of the Pan-American Union present—and should be judged as such. Furthermore, it was the first important conference which has been held since the war ended.

Viewed in that light, the Embassy feels that the Conference was moderately successful in maintaining inter-American unity. The presence of Canadian representatives added, rather than detracted, to this unity. However, the Embassy feels that our Government delegation would have contributed more to the Conference and to inter-American solidarity if it had been composed of men who had a greater understanding of our foreign policy and if it had functioned under more specific instructions of our Government. This Conference demonstrates that the United States cannot today look upon any international conference as being of only minor importance and as not warranting the appointment of the best available personnel. We must effectively advocate our principles, and particularly our foreign policy, in every international conference everywhere if we hope to discharge our responsibilities in world Affairs. Whenever and wherever the United States speaks, its voice should be clear and convincing. Unfortunately, this was not always the case at the recent Mexico City Conference.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
W. K. Ailshie

Second Secretary of Embassy
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Resolution LI; see Pan American Union, Final Act of the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace, Mexico City, February–March, 1945 (Washington, 1945), p. 92.
  4. Not printed.
  5. For documentation on this subject, see pp. 1149 ff.
  6. Not printed.