Notes of the Month

The Auto Workers’ Convention

(October 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 9, October 1943, pp. 259–265.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Several important CIO union conventions have taken place recently – the rubber workers’ union, the shipbuilders’ union and the automobile and aircraft workers’ union. If the Buffalo convention of the UAW is selected here for analysis and comment, it is not because the others are unimportant and may be ignored, but rather because an understanding of the situation in the UAW is the key to an understanding of the other unions, at least of those affiliated with the CIO. For the purpose of analysis, the UAW has the advantage over the others only in that it reproduces in the clearest way the situation that obtains in one form or another, to one extent or another, throughout the labor movement, its problems and the ways proposed to solve them.

Apart from this consideration, there are of course others.

The UAW is now probably the largest single union in the world, and certainly the largest in the United States. President Thomas’ report showed a membership of 1,077,889 in July 1943, twice what it was at the beginning of 1943 and three times as large as in January 1941.

The membership is neither bureaucratized nor fossilized. If anything, most of the members are fairly new to the labor movement and inexperienced in the traditional solutions of its problems. But it is imbued with a spirit of militancy, a sound suspicion of any attempt to sacrifice its interests and, above all, a jealous, even truculent, insistence upon democratic rights and procedure in its ranks. Of all the unions in the country, none is more democratic. Nowhere is the leadership under such restraints and obligations to account for its stewardship to the rank and file. None of the other new unions has such a long record of well fought battles, and the memory of them is still so fresh that they echoed through every convention discussion.

Leave aside for a moment those aspects of the union that are accounted for by the exceptional war expansion of the industries covered by the UAW, and it can be said with emphasis that the way the UAW goes will be the way the other unions go, sooner or later. If the CIO is the vanguard of the American trade union movement, the UAW is the vanguard of the CIO.

Hence, again, its importance in general, and the importance of its eighth annual convention in particular.

Problems Before the Buffalo Convention

Often the revolutionary wing of the labor movement, of which our review is one part, will declare of a union: Such and such are its problemsl The union itself, alas, does not always show that it recognizes the fact. In the case of the UAW convention, no disagreement existed on the question of its problems. What was said on this score by Labor Action, which is widely read among UAW members, was contested by nobody. Incentive pay schemes versus an organized fight for higher wages geared to the rising cost of living; the no-strike pledge versus regaining the right to strike in order to enforce labor’s legitimate and long-repressed demands; subordination of the labor movement to Roosevelt and Roosevelt-ism versus independent political action in the form of a Labor Party – these were the problems before the UAW at Buffalo, and they still are. All, or most all, of the other problems depended for their solution on the correct solution of these three.

That, taken substantially, was also the position of the militant Aero-Notes, the official paper of the Brewster Local, No. 365, which was issued daily during the convention sessions. And not by the Brewster people alone. It was shared by virtually everyone else. Before the delegates would proceed to the election of their main officers and the international executive board they voted to have their outgoing officials take the floor formally to say just where they stood on these questions, especially the question of incentive pay.

How did the delegates handle these main problems? Their action will be more clearly understood if an examination is first made of the two factions contending for control of the union.

The Significance of the “Addes Faction”

The smaller, but by far the better organized of the two, was the combination of Secretary-Treasurer Addes, Vice-President Frankensteen, and the Stalinists. It would not be wrong to call it the Stalinist faction for short. That Frankensteen is a Communist Party member is doubtful. He has followed its line, supported it and been supported by it, on numerous occasions, most decidedly in the present case. But he has also broken with it when it suited his book. At bottom, he is an up-and-coming bureaucrat with no more principle than can be found in a tin horn. Addes, an administration of good reputation, is different. That he is a member of the Communist Party cannot be demonstrated, but it is of no importance. He has followed the Stalinist line through thick and thin for years, and served as the most obvious front of the CP.

This faction succeeded in rallying a pretty odd mixture. Out-and-out reactionaries were not excluded from it by any means, or without influence in it. If the official Stalinist press itself, in a vain effort to take its stigma off the group, spoke of it as containing Ku Klux Klansmen, Coughlinites and other reactionary elements, nothing more need be added here on this score.

This does not, however, alter the fact that the group was dominated by the Stalinists. It was the vehicle and mouthpiece for their policies, and received its well-knit organizational strength from the straight CP forces in the union.

This is easy to check and cross-check. First, on every point in dispute between the Addes faction and its rival, the Stalinists publicly (that is, in their official press) supported Addes, and so did their known followers in the union, in speech and in vote. Second, the Addes group position on every question that came before the convention was in harmony with the known stand of the Stalinists and in no case in conflict with it.

If the Addes group did not speak out in every dispute in the identical language of the Daily Worker, or go as far in every question as Earl Browder, or open up its caucus meetings with an invocation of the Great Stalin, it was essentially for the same reason that the medicine-man selling his all-healing “snake oil” does not announce to the audience that the bottle contains nothing more than sweetwater, paregoric, alcohol and a touch of angostura – nobody would buy.

Once the fact is know that it was essentially the Stalinist faction, its aims are easy to define. The Stalinists are as much interested in preserving and strengthening the union movement for its own sake – namely, for the sake for which it authentically exists, the defense of the economic interests of the workers – as Mr. Henry Ford. If it serves their interests to paralyze it, if they would be helped by wrecking a union, they will wreck it, as they have done so often.

What are these interests? By now, the answer is fairly well known by every informed person in the labor movement. They are the interests of the reactionary Russian bureaucracy. The term “reactionary” is not employed merely as an epithet, but primarily for clarity’s sake. Reactionary interests can be served only by reactionary policies, and that is what explains the character of the Stalinists in the unions.

For the Stalinists, the unions in this country have a value, and a considerable one right now, only as an instrument in the carrying out of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Stalinist control or weighty influence in the labor movement makes possible its use as a powerful pressure organ upon the government and the capitalist class for concessions to Moscow. In exchange for concessions, those already obtained and those hoped for, the Stalinists are prepared to deliver the labor movement, bound hand and foot, to the ruling class and its government.

The cry for the “second front” and a “better understanding with our Russian allies” is therefore necessarily coupled in this country with the campaign for incentive pay and the no-strike pledge. In simple English, the Stalinists are saying to Washington and Wall Street: “Give in to Moscow’s demands for a ‘second front’ and the seizure of territories in Eastern Europe, and we will help you put over the speed-up system and keep labor paralyzed by a no-strike pledge. We are in a position to barter, for we already have control of this union and that one and the other one.”

Anyone who fails to grasp these simple facts had better stop trying to understand the Stalinists at all, much less to fight them in the labor movement. The Stalinists are in the labor movement, but not of it. To them it is a pawn (a pawn of great importance) in the Russian overlords’ chess-game of power.

Control of the UAW would he a real feather in the cap of the Stalinists, their biggest by all odds. At Buffalo, they set themselves the aim of getting as far as possible in committing the union to their policy. But not being political amateurs, they knew the limitations imposed upon them. Getting a union like the UAW to vote the CP line all the way through is not as easy as it is an, say, the furriers’ union, which the Stalinists have long had by the throat. To press their program too vigorously, too aggressively, and on every point, would be too revealing and therefore self-defeating. What happened at Buffalo will be clearer, then, if it is understood that the Stalinists were prepared to make retreats on matter of policy if such retreats would advance their aim of getting organizational control of the union. It was a tactic, as we shall see, that they pursued with considerable skill and success, aided by a capacity for demagoguery, unscrupulousness and machine control in which they have no master and not even an equal.

The Reuther-Leonard Faction

Numerically larger than the Stalinists, decidedly inferior in political alertness and factional solidity, but having the advantage of oftener support from President Thomas, who does not always seem to be aware of what is going on in the world at large or in his union, was the faction of Walter Reuther, the other vice-president of the union, and Richard Leonard, national Ford director. It constituted the majority of the international executive board and, despite the defeat of one of its partisans, Gray, it will remain the majority, provided Thomas, who holds the balance of the votes, continues to go along with it. Hence, it is the official leadership and the leading officialdom.

Does it represent the right wing of the union? That is how it was designated by most of the capitalist press. But by thus designating it, the press showed itself to be less bright than usual. It continues to think of the Communist Party as it was many years ago, in the days when it was really communist, working class and revolutionary, just as in his West-of-the-Pecos bar “Judge” Roy Bean could remember Lillian Russell only as a young beauty. The most conscious, best-organized and most dangerous right wing in the labor movement today is the Stalinist wing. Every intelligent and intelligible test confirms this fact.

Is the Reuther group the left wing? No, there is a small, unorganized left wing, but it is not represented by Walter Reuther. The Reuther group is a centrist group, on a present-day American trade union scale.

Unlike the Stalinists, the Reuther group, like any “genuine” labor bureaucracy, is concerned with maintaining the trade union movement. That its policies do not serve this purpose well is, for the moment, beside the point. It does not want to see the union completely hamstrung or destroyed, for without the union as its base, it is nothing, nothing at all. The Stalinists can keep going more or less, union movement or no union movement, provided their real foundation and source of nourishment, the Russian state machine, maintains itself in power. The “native” labor bureaucracy, whether represented by William Green, John Green or John L. Lewis, by David Dubinsky or Walter Reuther, needs a labor movement here at home. The very capitalist system which these bureaucrats champion in the name of capitalist democracy would find no use whatsoever for them if they had no labor movement as their basis.

The point is of key importance. When capitalism no longer needs, or can no longer afford, even its kind of democracy, and adopts fascism instead, the labor movement vanishes; so does the labor bureaucracy, from Reuther to Green. The bureaucracy, therefore, wants its capitalist democracy, which makes possible some kind of existence for the unions; whereas fundamentally the Stalinists care as much about capitalist or any other democracy as they care about last year’s snows. But the same consideration that prompts its concern with capitalist democracy’s preservation, dictates to the labor officialdom (the “native” variety, we repeat) the policy of class collaboration with the “democratic” capitalists, compromise with them, concessions to them and retreat before them.

Does the officialdom typified by Reuther want to weaken the unions, hog-tie them, undermine them and let the capitalists get the upper hand? Not exactly. In fact, far from it. They want to maintain the unions if for no other reason than the fact, indicated above, that without them have have nothing and are nothing.

But nowadays the mere maintenance, to say nothing of the strengthening, of the unions is possible only if they are organized consciously and militantly in struggle against the capitalists and their government. Such a struggle would unleash social forces that would end the class democracy of capitalism by replacing it with a true socialist democracy. The labor officialdom shudders at the prospect! So does even that section of it represented by “young” and ex-socialist Reuther. Out of this dilemma spring the hesitations, the compromises, the fence-sitting and double-talk, the radical words and very unradical actions, the big promises and little fulfillment, of labor leaders like Reuther.

Speed-up schemes like the incentive pay plan will split and wreck the unions. Reuther knows it; he opposes it – but he cannot put forward a program of struggle in its place. The no-strike pledge ties labor up in a knot and helps prepare the destruction of the unions. Does Reuther understand this? We think he does, as do many others like him – but he does not call for regaining the strike right for fear of launching a struggle against “our” government and “our” war. So it goes with other vital questions.

Once this is clear, the reason why Reuther does not organize a rank and file group to counter the Stalinists is easy to grasp. The Stalinists have such a group, and have next to nothing to fear from it. Any group they organize is based on the “leader” principle – the ranks accept the decisions on policy handed down from above without question or discussion. To challenge a decision is to be expelled automatically. Given Reuther’s position, he could not organize that type of rank and file group, at least not very easily. The ranks who rally to his support are the very one who have been repelled by the ultra-bureaucratism of the Stalinists. But they have also been repelled by the ultra-conservatism of the Stalinists. They want a militant policy. In an organized rank and file group led by Reuther, the members would unquestionably vote for a far more aggressive policy than Reuther has followed. He would be more or less bound by such a vote, committed to it, and obliged to speak for it. That is precisely what he is not prepared to do.

There, at bottom, is why Reuther and Leonard did not really organize a well-knit rank and file caucus similar to the Stalinist caucus. They trusted to their bureaucratic connections throughout the union, and to the relative superiority and greater popularity of the positions they took to carry them to victory over the Stalinists and to continued union control. At the so-called caucus meetings of the Reuther group, the leaders talked, handed down the “line,” the delegates listened, asked questions – but could not decide the policy by organized discussion and vote.

The faction remained a bureaucratic group of officials at the top. Its best followers supported it because it was the lesser of two evils, not because they were enthusiastic supporters of its ambiguousness and half-heartedness. It is really a wonder that the well organized Stalinists did not come off better than they did.

Having examined the basis, make-up and outlook of both groups, we can look into the issues over which they divided.

The Question of the “Second Front”

The powerful resolutions committee was divided into a majority supporting Reuther, and an Addes-Stalinist minority. Several of the Stalinist locals had submitted the customary “second front” or “Western front” resolutions, yet none of them was reported out fo the convention floor. Why not?

“Second front” resolutions are the favorite Stalinist hobbyhorse. They ride it through every labor convention they can. The cold-blooded cynicism behind the attempt to force a “second front” is appalling. Are England and the United States prepared to launch an invasion across the English Channel from a technical-military standpoint? Will not a premature attempt result in tremendously unwarranted casualties? We do not know and it is more than doubtful if the Stalinists do. But they do not care. Casualties are their last worry.

What they are concerned with is helping Stalin. Stalin has recklessly poured millions into their graves on the Russian front. He who gave the “go” sign to start the war does not want the war to go on and end with a more or less intact Anglo-American army and a greatly weakened Russian army. Moreover, an invasion of Europe through the Balkans would be a threat to an imperialist “sphere of influence” to which the Kremlin lays claim. Invade? Yes, but only in the West, which Stalin has graciously acknowledged as the “sphere of influence” of his allies. Ready or not, the Kremlin says to its allies, you must take sixty divisions off our backs. The slaughter that might follow would merely be ... unfortunate. (Russia’s allies, it should be noted, are for their part not violently averse to the slaughter of others. And if the “others” happen to be Russians, that, too, is ... unfortunate.)

The resolutions committee majority introduced a substitute for the various “second front” resolutions which contained the usual pious drivel about solidarity among the Allies and other hollow ceremonialities. Why didn’t Reuther report out the “second front” resolutions and challenge the Stalinists to a discussion?

He knows what is what on this point. In a folder distributed to the delegates by his faction (the “UAW-CIO Committee for a Democratic, American Union”), he wrote: “Their sole interest is the victory of Soviet Russia. Just as during the Nazi-Soviet pact, the communists were unconcerned with the invasion of England and the destruction of the labor movements of France, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Holland, so today they do not care what happens to labor and democracy in the United States, so long as Russia wins.”

Correct and exact. And also a most damaging charge. If it could be sustained – the easiest thing in the world to do – it would serve to nail the Stalinist hide to the barn door. Yet Reuther did not seize opportunity by its so very tempting and easily grasped forelock. Why?

“It all boils down to one very simple question,” shouted Delegate Bob Stone, “that the Resolutions Committee has not got the guts to bring a controversial issue before the convention.”

Also correct and exact. But the reason for the gutlessness of the Reutherites on this question was that a forthright condemnation of what is behind the Stalinist demand for a “second front” would have meant lifting the veil that has been hung, with Reuther’s aid, over the real causes and aims of the war, not only on Russia’s part but on the part of her imperialist allies’. At most, Reuther could mumble something about war problems being best left to the War Department”, which is about as sound an argument as the National Association of Manufacturers’ propaganda that “management problems” in industry should best be left to management.

So Reuther ducked the fight, in accord with the sacred bureaucratic principle: Why fight, when ducking will get you just about as many votes for leadership, if not more?

To be sure, if the Reutherites lacked “guts” to fight out the “second front” question, the Stalinists did not show an oversupply of this commodity. They had all the necessary facilities to bring their resolutions to the floor. Yet the committee minority remained silent on the question and did not force the issue.

They did not dare risk it in the tense and closely-balanced convention. They are too exclusively identified with “second frontism” and to have brought Addes and Frankensteen intc a fight for it would have meant fixing them good and proper with a label they were working feverishly to obliterate. Control of the international executive board by “second fronters” is worth a resolution for the “second front” any time. They sacrificed a man on first base in order to bring home a man on third. A wise decision, for their man on third, Addes, was reelected secretary-treasurer by the dangerously narrow margin of less than seventy-two votes, signifying that a switch of thirty-six votes would have elected his Reutherite rival, Leonard.

The Stalinists took a defeat on the “second front,” but they took it in their stride. Reuther won a victory, but such a paltry, miserable, cowardly, hush-hush victory that the English language ought to have a special word for it.

The Incentive Pay Fight

On incentive pay, however, the fight was joined openly. Nobody could have escaped a discussion if he had wanted to. The “second front” in Europe may be, or may seem to be, remote. The incentive pay advocates, ranging from the manufacturers to the Administration bureaucrats, have, however, already opened their front on this question and penetrated right into the heart of the labor movement, spearheaded by their Communist Party shock troops.

What the incentive pay schemes mean to labor and the labor movement is too well known to our readers to require detailed analysis again. It is the scientifically-perfected speed-up system, resulting in the long run in a general wage-cut, pitting worker against worker, breaking down first the union standards and then the union itself. The UAW was built, so to speak, in the struggle against it, and the struggle is not yet fully won. “We come from Toledo,” said Board Member Gosser. “We fought for nine years to eliminate piecework and haven’t been able to do it yet. You put it up now, and by God, our children’s children won’t eliminate it.” That is how over two-thirds of the convention felt about the question.

The Stalinists were, of course, too prudent to come out flat-footedly for incentive pay. Some of their spokesmen did, but the more prominent leaders were more cagey. When the Daily Worker wrote of the Addes-Frankensteen group that “its fight on the incentive pay issue, however, was retarded by confusion and by a hesitancy to come to grips with the basic aspects of the question,” it is this cageyness that it refers to.

It is not, argued Addes and Frankensteen with a worried eye to their reelection to office which was to follow the discussion – it is not that we are enthusiastic for incentive pay. What we really want is to protect the democratic rights of the membership, the autonomy of the locals. We want them to have the right to negotiate incentive pay contracts if they want them.

Demagoguery is the handmaiden of reaction. The Stalinist demagogues knew the strong attachment to democratic rights and local autonomy of the UAW membership and tried to exploit it to the maximum. In part, they succeeded.

But once the door is opened to an extension of incentive pay contracts throughout the industry, the fight against it is as good as lost. The struggle for industry-wide agreements is nipped in the bud. The hope rightfully expressed by Reuther for an agreement “so that a drill press worker in Detroit and a drill press worker in Flint and a drill press worker on the East Coast and South Coast will get the same money for running that same drill press,” is dashed at its inception.

If General Motors or Ford can cajole the union into accepting incentive pay in ten plants, is it likely that they will allow themselves to be talked out of the incentive pay system in the other plants? Every local that accepts incentive pay becomes so much more force in the hands of the corporations that are driving the wedge of the speed-up system right through the industry as a whole. “It is fine to talk about democracy,” said Reuther. “Supposing a local union wanted to sign a wage agreement working twelve hours a day without any overtime. Would you say that was interfering with local autonomy if they could do it?”

That was a good enough point to make in reply to the local-autonomy demagogues, for local autonomy, which is highly desirable in a union, has its limits, and these limits are reached when autonomy is exercised in such a way as to affect directly and adversely the interests of the union as a whole. But Reuther did not and could not answer the argument by which the Stalinists won whatever support they got outside their immediate factional ranks.

What was the nature of this argument which they made, and made skillfully? Here it is:

The cost of living is going up. Present wages are insufficient to meet it. Just exactly how can we raise wages now? That is what every worker wants to know. The capitalists are making huge profits. They are willing to “share” these profits with the workers, but on one condition only, that the workers are willing to sweat for them. Work harder, work longer hours, produce more, and you’ll get more in your pay envelope. More wages are needed and wanted. How do you propose to get them? The Little Steel formula, the wage freezing decree, the War Labor Board and the President – all say that you cannot get higher wages any other way than the way we propose. We admit that our plan is not the best in the best of all worlds. But there is a war on and our boys are in the foxholes. The only other way of getting better conditions is – to strike for them” Are you prepared to strike? Are you prepared to withdraw the no-strike pledge? Are you prepared only to talk about industry-wide agreements, a sliding scale of wages to meet the high cost of living, or are you ready to enforce your demands by such an unpatriotic act as the strike? Are you ready to fight, in deeds and not merely in words, against the War Labor Board and the President? That is the question!

Said Kerrigan:

“When this question arose on the Board [at its Columbus meeting] I was in favor of the fact that we should discourage incentive payment plans, but I asked Brother Reuther one question: ‘What do we do when we have exceeded the Little Steel formula, when we had a job evaluation set up by a previous directive order of the War Labor Board and the people in that plant sought an increase in wages and the company offers them a bonus on the total tonnage going out the door?’ My mind was open on that subject. I don’t recall an answer at that particular time.”

Kerrigan got no more answer from Reuther at Buffalo than he got at Columbus.

Said Ed Hall:

“You can talk about piecework. I don’t give a damn what you call it, you can call it incentive pay, call it anything, but I am here to tell you, my friends, there are a hell of a lot of delegates in this convention that are going to have to come back to probably this hall, and they are going to have to reckon with their own words, if they are going to assume the responsibility that you are going to be able to give the workers in your plants the proper type wage increases. Oh, you can talk about breaking the Little Steel formula if you want to here. I know how far you are going to get here. You can talk about all these nice things.”

A blunt man, this Hall; very much booed by the delegates; but not a stupid man, just a reactionary, and a realistic one. Of course, Reuther did not answer his jeering challenge about “how far are you going to get here” with “talk about breaking the Little Steel formula.”

Said McHatton, a delegate from Timken Axle Company Local, which accepted an incentive pay contract to its regret:

“Naturally, I do believe in Timken today if a vote was taken that we kick it out the window if we could possibly do it. You have no agency whereby you can defend yourselves today. We have gone to all the agencies. We have been down to the Regional Board in Detroit. They sent it to Washington. It has been kicked back to Detroit. Now we are going to take it to Washington, and it is a damned slow procedure, and they let you sweat and the company rolls back in their swivel chairs and laughs at you and says: ‘What are you going to do about it?’ And they are right, we can’t do anything about it.”

Reuther might have pointed out that there IS an “agency whereby you can defend yourselves today” – the union itself! But the trouble is that Reuther and Addes, each in his own way, have agreed that this agency must not act to defend its members.

Said William Sneed, of Local 453, a man honest enough to call incentive pay by its right name – the sweat-shop system – but prepared to vote for it because no real alternative was offered:

“If the International has anything to offer better than that, we are willing to go along, but at the present time, Mr. Chairman, I don’t see anything they have to offer and still and all they want us to break up the sweat shops. We agree with that but we haven’t anything constructive that we can carry back home.”

Said Shelton Tappes, the Stalinist leader in Ford:

“A lot of people are confusing this thing. They are saying piecework, piecework, and they have worked up some of the rank and file on this matter. If they are honest with themselves they will say that we are in a war. We have a million people who want wage raises and you can’t tell us how they will get those wage increases: You can discuss this matter and kick it around all you want, but I know about 84,000 Ford workers in the shops right now working today who are interested in only one thing when you are discussing wages and that is whether or not they are going to get some money in order to meet the rising cost of living.”

The argument that incentive pay would get labor higher wages was answered with crushing effectiveness by its opponents. Too many delegates had had too many bitter and disillusioning experiences of their own with these schemes to be seduced by the Stalinist sirens.

“I think it might increase pay for a small majority of the time when it is first introduced,” said Krebs of Local 365. “Our own bitter experience with it taught us [that] as we increase our earnings, immediately behind our increase in earnings management starts chopping down the standards to get our pay down again.”

“Every time we increase production beyond a certain point,” said Handyside, of Local 157, “we get our prices cut, and the War Labor Board is favoring the cutting of these prices wherever they think you go beyond a certain figure.”

But good as these answers were, they did not reply to the Stalinist taunt: “How else are you going to get higher wages – by striking?” Reuther gave no answer, for the good reason that he had none. More accurately, his answer was a series of highly desirable generalities, with which every man and woman in the union could agree, but which lacked this indispensable implementation: “If we don’t get it by negotiation, we will fight for it with labor’s traditional weapons.”

How much can be accomplished now by mere negotiation?

In the first place, the Stalinists have already done a terrific amount of damage to labor through the unions they control or have already committed to the sweat-shop system.

“I am faced with the problem” [before the War Labor Board], said Shipley, “of the UE [United Electrical Workers Union, controlled by the CP] wanting incentive plans, with Steel wanting an incentive plan, and only last Friday we had one of our own plans [1] before the board.”

In the second place, they have already created havoc inside the UAW itself. As Gosser said:

“When the International Executive Board is split wide open, will you tell me how in the hell we can go down in Washington and say we want an increase, when actually half of us are sitting here today and saying we cannot get any money, we have got to go into incentive pay and make the workers work harder to increase their wages?”

If ever there was a “fifth column” operating inside the labor movement to weaken it in the face of the ruling class, to divide it, to show the capitalists that they need not be afraid of insisting on their demands and rejecting the demands of the workers, to muddle it and hamstring it so that its most earnest and legitimate aspirations to fight in self-defense are thwarted – it is the Stalinists. The campaign conducted by them for incentive pay, already half-won by them, is a classic demonstration.

The delegates voted them down in such numbers that the Stalinists forewent a roll-call vote. But the delegates had nothing to vote for, except the desire for better conditions voiced by the Reuther resolution. They had no action to vote for to implement this desire. Reuther went along with the genuinely progressive sentiment of the membership as far as he could go – which means, on paper. Action? That would mean a break with the capitalists, a break with the Administration, a break with the famous “war effort” which is used to blackjack labor into submitting to the most outrageous attacks upon its rights and standards. And that is what Reuther and his colleagues could not bring themselves to do.

The convention decision on incentive pay was not a victory for the Stalinists, but it was not a real defeat, either. The edge of their drive was blunted, but not broken. From the standpoint of the progressives, who rallied to the Reuther group as the “lesser evil,” as well as from the standpoint of the union’s interests, the decision was not a defeat, but neither was it a real victory.

The fight against the return of the sweat-shop must still be won. In fact, it has yet really to be launched.

The No-Strike Pledge

So it went with the other important issues before the convention.

Take the question of the no-strike pledge. How vitally connected it is with such problems as wages and incentive pay systems, has already been pointed out. It should be added that the sentiment in favor of withdrawing the no-strike pledge is as widespread throughout the union as it is... unorganized. Several resolutions were submitted to the convention calling for its revocation. There was one from Local 9, another from Local 365, another from Local 337, still another from Local 581, and one from Local 351 and Local 212 and Local 15 and Local 7. But not one of them reached the floor. These resolutions were pretty flat-footed, courageous, unambiguous and militant, that is, they had all the virtues that would bring both factions of the Resolutions Committee into harmony against them.

Yet, while they were united against the resolutions calling for retraction of the no-strike pledge, the two factions were not agreed on what to present.

The Stalinists presented a minority resolution which simply proposed that “this convention reaffirm its pledge for uninterrupted production of the arms required for the speedy defeat of the Axis powers.” The second resolve in the resolution called for the use of “labor’s most powerful weapon of political action,” not for a Labor Party – God forbid! – but “for the protection of labor’s position and for the nationwide adoption of policies required for the most decisive prosecution of the war.” In a word, the no-strike pledge all over again without the slightest qualification. The Stalinists do not sell out the labor movement; they give it away.

The Reuther majority had other considerations and other forces to deal with. It could not simply reaffirm the no-strike pledge in face of the growing and even bellicose demand for its recall. At the same time, for reasons set forth above, it could not propose the outright recall of the pledge, either. Characteristically, therefore, it proposed a weasel-worded formula, aimed at appeasing everybody, and ending with really satisfying nobody.

The pledge was reaffirmed in its resolution, too – “without any qualification” read an amendment which Reuther accepted. But, added this bold labor statesman, “in those plants where management is not bargaining in good faith and is taking advantage of the war situation and labor’s no-strike pledge to destroy collective bargaining, the International Executive Board shall” – shall what? Shall reassert the right of the workers to strike? Nothing of the kind! It shall “urge government operation of such plants” and the elimination of profits!

How brave, how radical, how menacing that soundsl That is just what it was meant to do – to sound radical and menacing. But like every club that Reuther wields, it is a bladder full of wind. The Executive Board shall “urge” the government. But it requires no miracles of memory to recall that the Executive Board has “urged” before this, and what is more, has pleaded and whined and whimpered and wailed. Results for labor and the union: zero and less. Therefore? Therefore the leaders decide that from now on they shall... urge, plead, whine, whimper and wail. This is absolutely guaranteed to make a profound impression upon the government. It is obviously a splendid substitute for the right to strike.

The delegates entered the convention disarmed by the no-strike pledge. They left the convention no better equipped to defend themselves than when they went in.

Fourth Term or a Labor Party?

As with the right to strike, so with the question of political action. There was no lack of resolutions from locals in favor of forming an independent Labor Party, not a few generations hence, but now. These resolutions never reached the floor, either. The debate occurred, instead, on the question of endorsing Roosevelt for a fourth term.

The Stalinists as usual took the more reactionary position. Their resolution called for the endorsement of Roosevelt without let or hindrance or qualification of any kind. The Reutherites were firmly determined to sell labor’s support at no less a price than a few kind words. Their resolution called to support of “the President and true progressives in an effort to achieve sound and progressive steps including: rollback of prices; end speculation and war profiteering; revision of the Little Steel formula to permit economic justice to America’s wage earners; a democratic rationing program,” and more of the same.

Then came the “threat,” that is, the bladder full of wind:

“On the basis of an aggressive effort of the President and his Administration to fulfill this program, the membership of the UAW-CIO will mobilize its total resources for a campaign for the reelection of President Roosevelt for a fourth term, the reelection of Vice-President Wallace, and the election of a progressive Congress.”

But if the President and his Administration make no more of “an aggressive effort ... to fulfill this program” than they have made up to now – what then? Then? Then? Well ... what can we do? The bladder isn’t even full of wind, and it isn’t even a real bladder. Reuther has a solid block of vacuum in his hand.

As his brother, Victor, explained the ever-so-secret strategy, the whole resolution is a clever hoax for Roosevelt to put over on the “reactionary Southern Democratic bloc.” If Roosevelt is given a blank check by labor, he must succumb, poor devil that he is, to the pressure of the Southern bloc. If, however, labor strikes an ominous pose and strikes out with the thunderous prose of Walter and Victor Reuther, Roosevelt will be able to go to his Southern friends and say: “Better give in on a couple of points, boys, if you want me to keep labor’s votes so that you can keep your places.”

A marvelous strategy! A powerful political concept! Snake oil is like water in comparison. To be sure, it has a little defect. It is not only obvious, but it has been used – by Roosevelt and against labor!

It is Roosevelt who has gone to labor and said: “If you let me strangle you slowly, I think I can resist the pressure of the Southern Democrats who demand that your throats be slit at one stroke.” Whereupon Murray and Reuther reply: “Let us really outwit the Southerners. We will strangle ourselves. We will deprive them of their argument in favor of throat-slitting by showing them we have practically stopped breathing!” Is that not, after all, the way our labor leaders “voluntarily” gave up the right to strike?

“Who appointed the War Labor Board?” asked Emil Mazey, of Local 212, the only delegate who spoke up for a Labor Party.

“Who appointed the people to the rationing program? ... Who appointed McNutt, the ‘Hoosier Hitler,’ as the director of the Manpower Commission? Each and every one of those appointments was made by the President of the United States!”

But Mazey’s voice was lost in the convention. Why? He expressed more authentically than anyone else in the convention the sentiments of the really progressive and militant elements in the union. Why didn’t these sentiments find a louder voice and a more organized form?

The Progressives in the UAW

Who can be called a “progressive” in the UAW today? Given the labor movement as it is, and the problems it faces, we would describe as progressive – not as revolutionary socialists, but as progressive – those militants who stand at least: for a Labor Party, for regaining the right to strike, for a fighting program and a fight to raise wages at the expense of profits. Such a program is a minimum required for the preservation of the union and for laying the basis for its consolidation and advancement.

It should, of course, be added that it is not enough to “have” such a program; it is necessary to fight for it and fight for it in an effective, that is, an organized way.

Are there such progressives in the UAW? Not less than thousands. Were they any at the convention? Just how many, did not appear in the discussions; but there were a few and they included articulate and able men.

Reference has already been made to the paper of Brewster Local 365, Aero-Notes. Its contents, by and large, were excellent and just what was needed. They breathed an utterly different spirit than the feeble breeze that emerged from the Reutherites. In its October 7 issue, it quoted Local President De Lorenzo as saying that “Effective combating of the Communist Party elements within the UAW will depend on how successful a Progressive Group can be completely organized on a nation-wide and year-round basis.” Elsewhere in the same issue it said: “From all indications, the Mazey-Silvers-De Lorenzo group will lead the onslaught against many of the policies of the outgoing board.”

A few militant speeches were delivered by the three local leaders, and they were superior to the other remarks by far. But the “onslaught” did not materialize. To the observer, it was evident that the progressives were not a group, that they were not organized on a “nation-wide and year-round basis.” As against the Stalinists, they rightly supported the Reuther group. But they were not as clearly separated from that group as the situation demanded and made possible.

The Stalinists have launched a campaign of blackmail and intimidation against the three local leaders, and designated them as the “Trotskyists.” Naturally, not one of the three is a Trotskyist, and does not deserve the honor. But for all their irresoluteness and unpreparedness, they have taken a position publicly in favor of a progressive program, and that is what gives the Stalinists their fit of rabies.

What men like Mazey and De Lorenzo do is not decisive, but it is important. Still more important is what the progressives in the union ranks do. They are facing grave tests, just as the union itself does. The continuation of the present union ‘policy and leadership means disaster, sooner rather than later. Both must be changed. It is not a job for overnight. It depends precisely on “how successful a progressive group can be completely organized on a nation-wide and year-round basis.”

No serious steps have yet been taken to do this. The progressives confined themselves to isolated and individual actions. They were obviously hesitant about constituting themselves as a group independent of Reuther and Co. They undoubtedly feared that an “onslaught” might play into the hands of the Stalinists, who would subject their action to the uttermost demagogical exploitation. But that fear is as valid as the fear of Reuther that the organization of a Labor Party might play into the hands of the “Southern Democrats.” The answer the progressives give Reuther on this point applies with no less force to their own situation inside the union.

The convention is over, but not the problems nor the fight to solve them correctly. Hope for the future lies entirely in the organization of genuine progressive forces in the UAW – and elsewhere. Not organization at the last minute, one day before the next convention, but organization from this moment on.

If this is not done, then between Stalinism on one side and Reutherism on the other, the union as it was will be gutted. If it is done, and done well, the UAW will not only remain the vanguard of labor, but move on to great victories in the tradition of the triumphant battles that gave it birth.

Note by MIA

1. In print edition “plants.”

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Last updated on 11 July 2015