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Labor Action, 2 May 1949


Philip Ganner

The Truth About a Scandal of Concern to All Labor Left Wingers

SWP Squirms on Buffalo UAW Vote


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 18, 2 May 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A word of explanation is in order to our readers for the amount of space here accorded to what merely seems to be a local union election – the recent election in the Chevrolet Local 424 of the United Auto Workers (CIO) in Buffalo. In actuality, however, this local election has already received nationwide attention particularly in left-wing labor and socialist circles – for good reason. An exchange of articles has taken place in the Socialist Party’s paper, the Socialist Call, and in the Militant of the Socialist Workers Party (Cannonites, or self-styled orthodox Trotskyists).

The “situation” which called forth these articles was the scandalous behavior in the above-mentioned local of the forces of, and the forces supported by, the Cannonite SWP. While incomparably crasser than their policies in other sections of the UAW, this latter group’s activities in Buffalo are of wider interest to UAW men in other parts of the country who have learned to know them.

The SWP and its Militant supported the “Rank and File Group” in the Buffalo UAW local’s election. This group was crushingly defeated in the ballot by the local Reuther group. In its desperation to avoid the impending and well-deserved defeat, the “Rank and File Group” laid itself open to serious charges, reminiscent of the worst Stalinist tactics in the unions, which are discussed by our Buffalo correspondent.

In reply, the Militant recently published an article by its Bert Cochran, attempting to whitewash the “Rank and File Group” and the SWP line, and making (of course) counter-charges against the local Reutherites. This is taken up in the accompanying article. The scandal of SWP union policy in the UAW should be made known to all unionists who come into contact with this group.

We regret that lack of space in this issue compels us to print this article in two installments. – Ed.


BUFFALO – The policies of the Rank and File Group in Buffalo Chevrolet Local 424 of the UAW, and the defense of this group by the Socialist Workers Party’s paper, The Militant, need to have light thrown on them, especially in view of the recent exchange of accusations between The Militant and the Socialist Call.

The Rank and File Group, an anti-Reuther combination which is supported by the SWP, took a bad beating in the February union election. In its articles, the SWP Militant attempted to explain away this drubbing and to make counter-charges against the Reutherites. We shall take up The Militant’s arguments piecemeal, as they are given.

(1) “Conspiracy”?

Why did the Rank and File Group lose? In his Militant article, SWPer Bert Cochran devotes no less than two of his three columns to giving the “background.” According to this fantasy-writer, the “background” consists of five articles which appeared in the Buffalo Evening News – vicious Trotskyite-baiting articles which presumably poisoned the union membership.

These articles in the Evening News appeared on January 21, February 18, March 2, March 4 and March 7. Cochran claims that they were the result of a collaboration of the Buffalo Evening News and company officials together with the Reutherite regional office of the UAW and leading people inside the union.

In giving the only explanation in the entire article as to why the group championed by The Militant lost, the writer lays the blame on the above “conspiracy.” which the Reutherites “could convert into the small change of victory for their faction inside the union.”

Indignation over this distorted explanation – that the outcome of the election was, it would seem, determined by some articles in the bourgeois press – can be exceeded only by amazement at its utter stupidity.

In the first place, could any reader of The Militant possibly guess that 1hc election took place on February 23? Yes, February 23 – which means that three of the five newspaper articles were published AFTER the election they were supposed to influence! (These last three articles moreover dealt almost exclusively with the election in Bell Local 501 on March 10, and not with Local 424.)

One-Sentence Conspiracy

But what about the first two articles of January 21 and February 18? The January 21 article was truly a vicious job. but it happened to deal – only, solely and exclusively – with Westinghouse Local 1581 of the United Electrical Workers, CIO. In no manner whatsoever could it possibly be linked up with the Local 424 UAW election.

The February 18 article, likewise, in no way whatsoever dealt with any UAW local or specifically with Local 424. (Contrary to the “clever” impression left by The Militant, anxious to prove a “conspiracy,” this article did not appear in the same paper as the other four, but was in the Buffalo Courier Express. And it was not a special reprint of a Victor Riesel column; the Courier Express has been carrying his column daily for over a year.)

To keep the record clear: Within these five articles there is one line – just one – which deals with Local 424. The Evening News wrote: “At Wednesday election in Fisher Chevrolet UAW Local 424. the ticket supported by the Trotskyites was defeated.” The reader will note the past tense. This one sentence on Local 424 appeared ONE WEEK AFTER the election, on March 2.

What then it left of the alleged “conspiracy” of the press and Reutherites to defeat the Rank and File Group in the election? Only what it started with – Cochran’s imagination, and his lack of any other printable alibi. Why Cochran’s and the SWP’s heroes were defeated will really be somewhat clearer when we finish.

(2) “Racketeering”?

The Militant’s writer then viciously slanders the victorious administration: “The fact is that the local is in the hands of the ‘bookies,’ and the local president is a notorious racketeer.”

Not only a racketeer but a “notorious” one ... This, of course, is intended to bring up a vision of the use of physical violence against oppositionists or its threat, of undemocratic union meetings, crooked elections, and/or misappropriation of union finances – everything that union racketeering means to the reader.

Now it goes without saying that any group deserving of The Militant’s support would naturally fight, openly and fearlessly, against such conditions, or against any one of them, or against any sign of them. Especially when they are “notorious”!

But the Rank and File Group itself has never made the remotest hint of the existence of any kind of “racketeering” in the local! This group, The Militant’s friends, distributed more literature in this campaign than all other groups combined in any single campaign. But not a peep about racketeering! Three days before the election, at the insistence of the Rank and File Group, a debate was held on all the issues; each and every candidate was given the floor. Not one word was uttered about the “notorious” racketeering in Local 424!

In discovering the existence of racketeering in the UAW local. The Militant has scored a scoop. We admire scoops. But why was the knowledge of this “notorious” racketeering confined to the readers of The Militant (AFTER The Militant’s friends were plastered) and not disclosed to the membership of the local?

As a matter of fact, the local’s president was the individual who actually “pulled the switch” in the 1937 sit-down strike: he has been a committee-man since the very inception of the local union and still is today, and has been on the executive board for more years than not. Doesn’t The Militant believe its own articles, which point out that things are tough in General Motors plants today? There are far more lucrative fields of endeavor for a “notorious racketeer” than to spend 18 years as a working stiff in a GM shop!

However, again – one first gets indignant at the viciousness of The Militant’s slanders, and then one marvels at their stupidity.

(3) “Militancy”?

Continuing our argument-by-argument dissection of The Militant alibi, we find next the familiar stereotype invented for the SWP by Bert Cochran himself when he first convinced his group to get in on the ground floor of the Addes-Thomas-Stalinist caucus in the UAW in 1947 (this caucus, counseled Cochran to his comrades, was going to win against Reuther and the SWP would be set for the take).

The stereotype was: The Reutherites are a do-nothing, conservative, company-minded administration. In Buffalo, according to Cochran, the Rank and File Group is a militant and progressive formation. This picture is nowhere as far away from all reality as in Local 424, with regard to the local Reutherite group.

Now The Militant itself unceasingly informs its readers that the one question which separates militant, progressive unionists from the company-minded is their attitude toward the speedup. And this is true. Now isn’t it strange that The Militant article on Local 424 never once mentions speedup?

Did it not seem peculiar to the keen-eyed observer Cochran, who deliberately “extended his stay in Buffalo to make a full investigation of the facts,” that in all the reams of literature put out by the Rank and File Group in this election campaign there is not one – not even one – mention of speedup as an issue in Local 424? But in spite of their silence at election time, this group has a public record on the question.

Then They Shut Up

The record concerns one section of the GM-UAW contract which is especially dear to the hearts of all genuine militants. The contract provides that disputes go through the grievance procedure and then, if not settled, go to an umpire whose decision is binding. But there is one type of dispute on which (according to Paragraph 46) the umpire has no power to rule. THIS IS ON PRODUCTION STANDARDS (SPEEDUP). If such a dispute is unsettled through grievance procedure, the union can call a strike five days after the grievance procedure is exhausted. In other words, the local can strike (even during the life of the contract) in order to enforce its demands on quantity and speed of work.

In early 1948, when the then GM contract was expiring, the various local unions were preparing their demands for inclusion in the new contract. In Local 424 the Rank and File Group put out two leaflets in which it urged a contract change allowing speedup grievances to go to the umpire for decision! So insistent were they that they urged the voting down of any future GM contract which did not contain this change. Ironically the title of the first leaflet was Fight the Speedup.

At the January 1948 local meeting, a Reutherite supporter thoroughly dissected this backward proposal, showing how the Rank and File Group (Cochran’s militants!) was placing its dependence and confidence upon an “impartial” umpire rather than on the understanding, militancy and strike action of the organized workers in dealing with this most important working condition.

So great a stench was left by this episode that, from that day to this, the Rank and File Group has never dared to use the speedup as an issue for itself. (Incidentally, these great militants never did openly withdraw the demand for compulsory umpire arbitration.) The betting here in Buffalo is that, skillful as Cochran is at squirming, he will not be able to transform “umpire arbitrators” into militants.

Perhaps the Rank and File Group has been militant in some other ways?

One of the very few local unions in the entire Niagara Frontier area which have officially endorsed the efforts of the Kutcher Civil Rights Defense Committee has been none other than this “conservative” Local 424. A Reuther supporter made the motion. A Reuther supporter seconded it. Every speaker for the motion was a Reutherite – without exception. By neither a spoken word nor a physical motion (like standing up or raising a hand) did any Rank and File Group supporter present show any desire or inclination to speak on the issue – only abject silence.

Now this silence can be called a “clever maneuver,” “prudence,” “stupidity,” “caution,” “cowardice,” or anything else – but please do not call it militancy!

(To be concluded next week, with disclosures on the policy of the Rank and File Group and the SWP’s friends in the local regarding: the labor party question, the administration’s record, the Negro question, anti-Semitism, red-baiting and Stalinism.)

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