Max Shachtman

How the UAW Ranks
Organized for Victory

(September 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 39, 25 September 1944, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

GRAND RAPIDS – The open formation of a rank and file “third group,” ready to challenge the policies of the administration of the United Auto Workers Union, CIO, and operating independently of the two old “power caucuses” in the union – the one led by Secretary-Treasurer George F. Addes, which the Communist Party supports, as well as the one led by Vice-President Walter Reuther – along with a successful rank and file revolt during the first day of the convention against two significant recommendations in the report of the Rules Committee, gave promise of a clear-cut fight on the floor of the ninth annual convention of the United Automobile, Aircraft & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW-CIO, for a course and a leadership that would release that powerful labor organization from the paralyzing bonds with which it has been fettered since the United States entered the Second World War.

The third group, which calls itself the “UAW Rank and File Caucus,” was organized at the Michigan State CIO convention last July on the initiative of such militants as Larry Yost, chairman of the Aircraft division of Ford Local 600; William Jenkins, president of Chrysler Local 490 of Detroit; Bert Boone, president of Chevrolet Local 659 of Flint; John McGill, former president of Buick Local 599 of Flint, and others.

The first meeting of the Rank and File Caucus on a national scale, which was held the evening before the formal opening of the convention, had delegates in attendance from some of the most important locals in the country, including not only several from Michigan, but also from New York City, Buffalo, Chicago and elsewhere.

The tragic error made by rank and file militants and progressives at past conventions, of acting as mere tails to the kite of either the Reuther or Addes factions, is being carefully avoided by the new group. Its very first meeting decided to act as an independent force in the convention and, following the convention, in the locals all over the country, on the basis of an aggressive program of its own.

Program of Rank and File

The program, which was widely circulated throughout the convention at its first session, has attracted not only great attention but considerable support. The first four points emphasized in it, under the heading, “Save Our Union, Restore Our Rights,” read:

  1. Rescind the No-Strike Pledge.
  2. Break the WLB by Removing UAW Members from Regional and National War Labor Boards.
  3. Smash the Little Steel Formula by Hitching Wages to the Rising Cost of Living.
  4. Begin Today to Build for an Independent Labor Party Tomorrow.

The five other planks in the Rank and File Caucus program read as follows:

  1. Wage Policy and Reconversion:
  1. An industry-wide wage policy guaranteeing equal pay for equal work throughout the nation.
  2. Fight general unemployment by instituting a thirty-hour week at a livable wage.
  3. Fight seasonal unemployment with a guaranteed annual wage.
  4. Adequate severance pay for all workers, to be based on seniority.
  5. Reduction of age limits on social security retirement.
  1. Election for all national union department heads, such as Ford, GM, Chrysler, etc.
  2. Establishment of a national UAW daily paper.
  3. Fifty per cent of all international union assessments to be retained by the local unions.
  4. Elect officers who support the program of the workers in the shops.

For the purpose of acquainting the delegates more intimately with the purposes of the Rank and File Caucus and of organizing them for an effective fight on the convention floor, the caucus has, already arranged for a series of meetings, to which all delegates have been invited.

For a Real Convention

How successful the fight of the Rank and File Caucus will be at this convention cannot be established in advance, with only the first session completed. By the time this issue of Labor Action appears, the convention will have concluded its most important sessions and the reader will know from the general press what the outcome was. But it is already clear that the temper of the delegates as a whole is one of extreme discontentment with the policies pursued up to now by the union officials, one of extreme impatience with the unprincipled “power politics” being played behind the scenes by the cliques running the union, and one of determination to fight through the main issues facing the union.

This temper could be judged by the very first day of the convention, even though the first day is usually confined to routine questions of organizing the convention procedure. The first fight on which the administration received a resounding and overwhelming rebuff from the delegates came on the report of the Rules Committee.

From every corner of the vast convention floor delegates clamored to be recognized to discuss the Rules Committee recommendation that the election of the principal national union officers and board members take place midway in the convention sessions.

One delegate after another pointed out that they were sick and tired of their experiences with this form of election. As one delegate pointed out, the first three or four days of the convention are consumed by long-winded speeches by “invited guests” from the outside, so that the delegates have little or no opportunity to debate the issues before the convention, and see where the union leaders stand on these issues, before the actual elections take place.

The demand for holding the elections on the last day of the convention, AFTER all the issues, especially the controversial issues, have been decided, and everybody has shown publicly where he stands on them, was so strong, that in spite of the urgent recommendation of the Rules Committee, its proposal was voted down by an overwhelming majority, and the recommendation of the committee minority, represented by Tom De Lorenzo, of Brewster Local 365, adopted by just as tremendous a vote.

A rebuff that was just as vigorous and thoroughgoing was administered to the other controversial recommendation of the Rules Committee which proposed, in effect, to put a gag on discussion. Point 11 in the proposed rules declared that there would be only a majority and minority report from the Resolutions Committee and that only these two reports could be discussed on the floor. That this was aimed at choking off a clear-cut discussion of the no-strike pledge was pointed out by Delegate Ben Garrison, former president of Ford Local 400. Himself a member of the Resolutions Committee, he called attention to the fact that both the majority and the minority of this committee favored retention of the infamous pledge and that if the provisions of Point 11 of the Rules Committee were adopted the “sub-minority,” which advocates rescinding the no-strike pledge, would not have the opportunity to discuss its point of view on the floor.

The delegates showed their contempt at this cheap parliamentary trick devised by the Rules Committee by voting, again overwhelmingly, to reject its proposal, and compelled it to come back with a revised version which makes formal provision for a genuine discussion of the no-strike pledge, which, in the given case, means a genuine discussion of the numerous proposals before the Resolutions Committee for rescinding the no-strike pledge.

Rescinding Resolutions

Resolutions before the Resolutions Committee which call for the revocation of the no-strike pledge, number no less than eleven already, although many more than that number of UAW locals have taken such a position. Among the locals officially calling upon the convention to withdraw the pledge are Ford Local 50, of the famous Willow Run bomber plant, the militant Briggs Local 212 of Detroit, Chrysler Local 490 of Detroit, Amalgamated Local 14 of Toledo, Bryant Heater Local 337 of Cleveland, AC Spark Plug Local 651 of Flint, and others.

As is known, such locals as Brewster 365 of Long Island City, Electro-Motive 719 of Chicago and numerous others are committed to voting to rescind the pledge. A stiff fight on this question – which is the nub of the problem of the UAW today – is clearly indicated.

The growth of the sentiment for revocation has been so great and obvious in the rank atid file that the conservative union leaders are trying desperate measures to circumvent a plain expression of opinion. An attempt at outright reaffirmation of the pledge will certainly be made. But if it fails of support in the convention, as may well be the case, somes “clever” dodges are being prepared to pull the wool over the eyes of the delegates and to thwart their desires.

One such dodge, reportedly conceived or backed by Reuther, has taken the form of a resolution calling for the rescinding of the no-strike pledge – in non-war industries! This would alter the situation only for an utterly insignificant section of the UAW members, the vast majority of whom are, of course, engaged in war industry.

Another dodge appears in the form of a resolution calling for the withdrawal of the no-strike pledge – at the end of war hostilities. This is a thoroughgoing fraud, inasmuch as the pledge was made in the first place only “for the duration.”

Communist Dodge

A third dodge, which has been supported in some of the local elections by the Communist Party people, provides for a membership referendum on the no-strike pledge, not in addition to a revocation of the pledge by the convention, but as a substitute for it. Naturally, the rank and file militants will not be taken in by such a transparent trick, while most of them have no objection whatsoever to a membership referendum on the question – for they are confident of the decision that the membership would make – they want, first of all, that the convention itself do its duty by taking an unambiguous position.

Were the convention to vote for a referendum as a substitute for a proposal to rescind the pledge, this would actually leave the union on record for its previous and still unrevoked position, namely, of endorsing the no-strike pledge. There is no doubt that this shyster device will be exposed and fought on the floor by the militants who, this time, are not only determined to fight but are better organized for such a fight than ever before.

It is still too early to report on the prospects of a fight on other issues before the convention, two of the most important of which are the question of independent working-class political action through a national Labor Party and the question of a systematic fight for a post-war program that will assure the economic standards and political rights of labor, menaced on the one side by the anti-labor drive being prepared by monopoly capital and its government agents, and on the other side by the wordy impotence of the present union leadership.

But one issue is already certain to be fought out on the floor and fought out vigorously. Practically every delegate is already aware of the clique battles, jockeying for position and unprincipled office-hunting that are being conducted among the union leaders behind the scenes. Each of the old cliques, neither of which brings forward any substantial differences on program, is working in the dark of the moon to fix its fences in the Administration.

Fight For Office

It all revolves around the fight to create, quite artificially, a third vice-presidency, the two existing vice-presidential positions now being occupied by Richard T. Frankensteen and Walter Reuther. The third vice-presidency is to be filled by Richard Leonard, formerly a wheelhorse of of the Reuther group who failed to win through at the last national convention in Buffalo, a defeat which does not seem to have quenched his ambition for high office.

In the hope of healing the rift that has developed between Leonard and Reuther, the latter is supporting, the move for a third vice-presidency. It appears that President Thomas is acting along the same lines, especially in view of Leonard’s recent shift to the position of a “Thomas man.” The Addes crowd is violently opposed to the move out of fear that it will upset the present “balance” in the top leadership. The Stalinists will support Leonard, it seems, but only if he runs against Reuther, whom they are out to clean up.

This rotten bureaucratic hunt for power, in which principles are simply non-existent, is turning; the stomachs of the serious rank and file delegates, who are fed up with this sort of thing, which has cursed their union and its leadership for years. The general sentiment among them is to oppose the creation of a third vice-presidency and to oppose it vigorously. If anything, the popular tendency is to cut down the size and the power of the union bureaucracy – not to increase it. The next few days will be decisive for the UAW-CIO.

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