Max Shachtman

The UAW Strike:

The Road to Victory

(17 December 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 51, 17 December 1945, p. 1.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The position originally taken by the UAW-CIO in its negotiations with General Motors opened the road to victory.

By taking this position, labor said:

We will no longer look at the problem of our economic security from the narrow standpoint of wages alone. Our wage question is inseparably connected with the question of prices, with the question of profits, with the question of production, with the whole question of the way in which American economic life is organized.

The position of the Union in the GM negotiations was one of the most progressive steps ever taken by labor in this country, especially if all its implications are taken into account.

The Union challenged the big Du Pont monopoly on fundamental grounds, on grounds of principle.

The GM masters said: Hands off our profits! Hands off our monopolistic prices! Hands off “private property!” Hands off the “rights of management!” The principle of “free enterprise” – that is, of capitalist monopolism – is at stake.

In effect, the union said: All these matters are no less our affair than they are yours. We want economic security for the workers, who have never enjoyed it and never been assured of it. We want a decisive voice in determining the prices of automobiles which you maintain at a monopolistic peak. We want a decisive voice in determining the profits of the corporation prices, profits which exceed anything in history – profits which, by the way, were produced by the toil and brains of the workers.

In effect, the Union said: We no longer trust the “captains of industry” to own and manage industry exclusively on their own. They are not the servants of the people they pretend to be. They are interested only in bigger and bigger profits, at the expense of the workers and the consumers. If they alone determine profits, everyone else will suffer. If they alone determine prices, the prices will be monopolistically high and the consumer will suffer. If they alone determine wages, we will soon be back to the rotten open-shop days.

Therefore, the Union demands the right to intervene actively in all these questions. The monopolists are a gang of bankrupts, so far as the interests of the workers and consumers are concerned. Labor is not less able to determine wages, prices And profits than these profit-lusting bankrupts. Labor speaks not only in its own name, but in the name of all the people outside the ranks of the Du Ponts and their ilk.

That was the meaning of the UAW-CIO’s position.

That’s how the capitalist press understood it, and they were right! Even that press had to admit that in putting forward its position, the UAW-CIO had won tremendous sympathy not only from other workers, but from big sections’ of the wider consumer public and the middle classes.

That position was the road to victory! Along that road, labor could have taken the next step: Let the government nationalize and take over the industry which its present owners themselves admit cannot be operated on the basis of decent wages to the workers and fair prices to the consumers. Labor could have taken another step: The workers insist that they can operate industry on the basis they themselves demand of the Du Ponts, namely, on the basis of capacity production, decent wages and low prices to the consumer. Labor could have taken a final step: If the present government proves to be a Du Pont government – as it has proved to be – then we must have a workers’ government. And that would mean the achievement of REAL VICTORY.

The challenge of Reuther to GM was at the same time a challenge to Reuther himself, and to his fellow union leaders. They put forward excellent demands to GM. Every intelligent worker was behind them. But when GM rejected these excellent and simple demands, what then? Wasn’t that a confession that GM cannot and will not run industry in the interests of society? Wasn’t that a confession that GM are social bankrupts? And wasn’t that at the same time a challenge to the UAW-CIO leaders? If they say that industry can operate on the basis of their demands – as we certainly believe – and if GM says it can’t operate on that basis, the next step should have been to say:

If GM won’t, we declare that we will! If GM can’t, we declare that we can! If the present government ‘doesn’t agree, We will organize politically into a party of our own and set up a government that does agree!

But Reuther and his fellow leaders didn’t say that or anything of the kind. They didn’t meet their own challenge. They ran away from it as fast as they could. They turned back from the road to victory. They want to bring all the UAW-CIO members along with them on this road back. They are scared by their own boldness, and by the enthusiasm and support it generated among the workers. They are scared by the completeness with which they themselves laid bare the reactionary character and bankruptcy not only of the big monopolists but of the government in Washington which their politics helped to put into power.

And that is why, now, with the support Reuther, yes Reuther! and Thomas and the rest of them have given to the Leonard Plan in the Ford negotiations, they want to take the Union and the workers off the road to victory and on to —

The Road to Disaster

The Leonard plan is the road to disaster. It is not only we socialists who say so. Every thinking and militant UAW man says so.

Why wasn’t the same plan presented to Ford and to GM? What is the difference between them? Don’t both of them exploit the workers in the same way? Aren’t both of them hateful enemies of labor and unionism? Don’t both of them have monopolistic agreements on monopolistic prices? Haven’t both of them piled up vast blood-profits, and aren’t both of them determined to pile up more and more, without a ceiling?

Leonard has driven a knife into the ribs of the GM strike, and Reuther and Thomas helped him do it. It’s the most natural thing in the world for GM to say now: “We won’t even talk about your original demands. Let’s talk only on the basis of the Leonard plan presented to Ford. We’re no different from Ford. We ought to be handled the same way.”

And what is the same way? Hands off our vast profits! Hands off our monopolistic prices! Tie the workers hand and foot. Give us this Plan which makes it possible for us to provoke a thousand “unauthorized” strikes in a thousand different ways, so that we can break the backbone and spirit and pocketbook of every worker, beginning with the militant fighters and ending with the most docile worker in the plant We’ll break them by fining them from now on with union approval. We’ll break them by intimidation, with union approval. Every worker who talks up from now on – gets it right across the nose – and across his pocket!

The Leonard Plan is a crime. It can only demoralize the workers. It can only embitter them against the union. It can only undermine and weaken the union to the point where the monopolists sweep it away with a wave of the hand.

It is the road to disaster for the largest and finest union in the country!

It must be repudiated! Every union militant must join to win the just demands of the workers against the auto monopolists, in spite of the treacherous position taken by the International leaders. And these leaders themselves, must be called to account immediately by the outraged rank and file. They must be replaced by fighters who don’t scare and who don’t capitulate.

The road to victory which was first indicated is still the road to victory, not only for the UAW but for the entire labor movement.

Labor issued a challenge. It must not be allowed to become a mere bluff.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 7 August 2018