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The New International, September 1943

Walter Weiss

The UAW-CIO Through the War

On the Eve of the Buffalo Convention


From The New International, Vol. IX No. 8, September 1943, pp. 238–244.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The United Automobile, Aircraft & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW-CIO), approaching its eighth annual convention, scheduled to convene in Buffalo on September 29, is able to boast that it is the largest union in the nation and even in the world, with a membership of about a million, not including some 200,000 in the armed forces. (New Republic, August 2) Nor does it yield to any other union in the militancy and political awareness of its members and in its internal democracy.

The Spectacular Growth of the UAW

At its South Bend convention in 1936, soon after which it was to break with the AFL and join the new CIO movement, there were perhaps 30,000 members. For every member then, there are more than thirty now. Here is a success story which has already been told in print by a number of writers, but which deserves to be brought up to date and pondered. For, in spite of the brilliant statistical record, the UAW, along with the other American unions, is in a period of deep crisis. Except for the United Mine Workers, no other labor organization has in recent months attracted so much attention from the press. We need only to consult the New York Times Index of April, for example, to find the following: Ford Chicago plant stoppage to protest transfer of two guards; Ford Rouge plant stoppage over wage dispute; Ford Highland Park stoppage over discipline against gambling On company property; strikes and picketing at Bendix plants in New Jersey; end of one-day strike at Thompson Products in Cleveland; strike at Toledo-Spicer also causes idleness at Willys-Overland; Chrysler tank arsenal workers stage eight-hour strike because of suspension of one worker for smoking; another strike at Ford Rouge plant ends. Naturally, we cannot take a list so compiled as complete, nor are the causes given usually the real causes for the strikes.

At the same time, the top UAW officials have probably issued more public statements, formulated more programs of an elaborate nature, called more regional and other types of conferences, and visited the President of the United States more often than any other union leadership in history in a comparable period of time.

President R.J. Thomas in January stated that the labor situation in Detroit was “volcanic” and said that he was “terribly afraid of repercussions among the rank and file.” Committed to placing the “war effort” and the orders of “our Commander-in-Chief” above the needs of the union members, he and other union officers have found the going very rough. Yet it must be said that they have striven to the utmost and, so far, with too much success.

Because of the limits of space, we shall have to confine our story to the war period, giving only a few preliminary words to earlier history. The story up to 1938 is told very well in the book, Labor on the March, by Edward Levinson, at present the editor of the UAW’s semi-monthly paper, United Automobile Worker. By reading Levinson’s and other labor histories or the newspapers of the years in question, anyone can confirm for himself the following facts:

In the early years of the New Deal, auto workers were clamoring for organization but were constantly discouraged not only by the AFL bureaucracy, which feared strike actions as much as it loved craft-union divisions, but also by the NRA bureaucracy and by President Roosevelt himself, who on many occasions personally intervened to check the development of strikes and even of genuine collective bargaining. The myths are different; these are the facts, well known to the leaders of the UAW. The auto workers were the first to nickname the NRA the National-Run-Around, but others, the steel and textile workers especially, were soon able to confirm the appropriateness of the new name.

The CIO movement freed the auto workers of craft disputes and also released their militancy. Everyone of their really great victories was won by reliance on their own strength and unity and by use of the strike weapon. The amazing sitdown strike against Genera] Motors in Flint at the end of 1936 and in January and February of 1937 lasted for forty-four days, rallied 140,000 of the 150,000 GM workers the nation over to its support, defied police and National Guard and a $15,000,000 injunction, and finally resulted in one of the truly great labor victories of American history – a victory which made possible countless others. Chrysler fell soon after and finally, in 1941, Ford. Both were conquered by strike action.

We shall conclude this part of our story by quoting in part a message sent to Governor Murphy of Michigan by sit-downers in Fisher No. 1 plant at Flint, where they were expecting that the $15,000,000 injunction would soon be enforced against them. It typifies the spirit and shows the source of strength of the UAW in the pre-war period.

We have carried on a stay-in strike over a month in order to make General Motors Corporation obey the law and engage in collective bargaining ... Unarmed as we are, the introduction of militia, sheriffs, or police with murderous weapons will mean a blood-bath of unarmed workers ... We have no illusions about the sacrifices which this decision will entail. We fully expect that if a violent effort to oust us is made many of us will be killed, and we take this means of making it known to our wives, our children, to the people of the state of Michigan and the country that, if this result follows from the attempt to eject us, you are the one who must be held responsible for our deaths.

The Organizing of Aircraft

By 1941 the union had virtually completed its organization of the automobile industry, but the defense program, as it was then called, was already making the unionization of aircraft plants imperative. In this almost totally open-shop industry wages were, on the average, about twenty-five per cent lower per hour than in the auto plants. Even before the Ford victory, a strike at Vultee at the end of 1940 gave promise that the union would conquer the new field as thoroughly as the old. A Labor Board victory in July 1940 was won, but the company remained unwilling to pay more than fifty cents an hour as a minimum wage. As in the case of its other great advances, the union was forced to strike. Taking advantage of the “defense” situation, the Roosevelt Administration showed its true colors more openly than for some time. The extremely liberal New Dealer, Attorney General Robert Jackson, since promoted to the Supreme Court, denounced the strike as a communist affair. As boss of the not so liberal FBI, he was in a position to know. But, as was pointed out at the time, the workers had voted fifty to one in favor of striking, an attitude hardly surprising inasmuch as those on the minimum rate were earning a magnificent $20 per week. Decided gains in wages and conditions were made.

By the following June (1941), although the United States was not yet formally in the war, the union leadership had definitely joined the Administration in a wartime program of breaking strikes. The present period of retreats, which has produced an ever-greater cleavage between the leaders and the workers, had begun. There was but one difference from today’s situation: Hitler had not yet invaded the USSR, and the Stalinists were still avid for strikes. Already at the preceding convention in 1940, despite their aid in the oust-Homer Martin campaign of 1938-39, they had been given notice by the main body of the leadership, in the form of a resolution condemning dictatorships, including Russia’s, that they were on probation.

The whole leadership was still verbally anti-war in 1940, even to the extent of denouncing conscription “at present.” President Thomas and the others were saying that the main problem was democracy at home and predicting its eclipse, if the United States got into war – a prophecy which, however much its truth is confirmed by the course of events, they do not now choose to recall. They secured a third-term endorsement for Roosevelt with only forty votes in opposition. But even in doing this they appealed to the genuinely anti-war sentiments of the workers, pointing out that the President had definitely promised that he would not send American boys to foreign soil.

The first great test, which showed how fraudulent was their concern for democracy and how genuine their attachment to Roosevelt and the war machine, was the North American Aviation strike. Granted that there was a Stalinist leadership in the situation and that strikes were then to them a means of furthering the Stalin-Hitler entente, still the United Auto Worker itself of mid-July 1941 carries a time-table which both shows how justified the workers must have felt in taking strike action and furnishes a typical example of the stalling tactics of the corporations and the Roosevelt Administration – tactics which have only become more provocative since Pearl Harbor. Here is the time-table: October 24, 1940, the union asks for an NLRB election; February 20, 1941, an election is held, with no clear majority for any union; March 13, run-off election, the CIO defeating the AFL by a very close vote; then until April 14 the NLRB delays certification, taking advantage of the close result; May 23, the workers vote for strike action after the company for a month refuses to make any concessions; May 28, the now defunct National Defense Mediation Board begins to work on the case but provokes workers further by taking an adjournment for a long Decoration Day week-end; June 5, “wildcat” strike is called.

At this point Richard Frankensteen was sent in by the International Executive Board and, failing to get the Pacific Coast leaders to call the strike off, in a radio speech and otherwise openly charged the Communist Party with provoking the strike, renounced any UAW or CIO responsibility, and urged the workers to return to work. Although UAW and CIO officials deplored and condemned the precedent set by the use of troops, they themselves had made it much easier, by their public statements terming it a communist and outlaw strike, for Roosevelt to resort to the military. In fact, by warning the workers that the government would act, they had practically invited Roosevelt to do so. On June 9 the soldiers took over and only then, having resisted the propaganda of both Frankensteen and the press, did the strikers return.

As the New Republic said at the time: “The government bullied the workers, even threatening them with induction, and ignored the sins of the company.” In July, after NDMB intervention, the company signed a contract providing for a general raise, a sixty-cent starting rate and a seventy-five-cent minimum after three months, maintenance of membership, and other concessions. Frankensteen, of course, boasted that his peaceful methods brought great results. But soon after, at the next convention, delegates from North American carried a banner crediting the great Frankensteen with having organized Local 000 of California. Any more than half-witted observer who considers the history of this and other unions both before and since the North American strike knows that the concessions were a tribute to the militancy of the workers and probably also an attempt to bolster the prestige of “good” labor leaders. What made the strike so important was this: It showed clearly, to anybody who did not already know, how the government and the top leaderships of the unions would behave in the war.

The 1941 Convention

The convention in August 1941 completed the instructional value of the strike. Hitler meanwhile had invaded Russia. The “socialist” Reuther boys and some very conservative allies called for the head of the West Coast Executive Board member, Stalinist Michener, while the sorely-wronged Frankensteen was loud in deprecating the notion that he wanted anybody’s blood. He expressed the opinion, amply verified since, that Michener would “cooperate” in the future. The Stalinists wanted to forget the strike as soon as possible, and Frankensteen did not want his own strike-breaking fully aired before the delegates. President Thomas couldn’t resist taking a kick at the Stalinists while they were down, predicting that by the 1942 convention they would be howling for American entry into the war. But his next words marked him as a very minor prophet after all: “My line will then still be the same. I will still say that we should keep ourselves on record against any foreign adventures.” However, realizing fully, after some coaching by Phil Murray’s representatives, how useful the Michener gang would be to him in the future in keeping rank and file workers under control, he came out against any “Red-baiting,” and Michener by a narrow vote escaped any penalty more severe than ineligibility for the Executive Board for a single year.

The Reuthers shouted long and loud that a political deal was being put over, and they were right. Since they may appear again at the coming convention as enemies of Stalinism and champions of the rank and file (on such issues as incentive pay), this point is worth driving home: In their anxiety to gain power in the union and to show their own Americanism, they took the actual leadership, by their criticism of the North American strike, in advancing the present disastrous policy of retreat which the union is following. They have no claim at all to a vote of confidence.

Whatever may have been the case with the officers, the convention as a whole did not realize either that the country was close to war or that, in discussing the strike, they should have been threshing out the problems of union policy in the face of open government hostility under war conditions, instead of the individual sins of Michener or Frankensteen. Trailing behind Roosevelt, the convention voted for “national defense,” for aid to Hitler’s victims (lend-lease), but against involvement in foreign wars. By a two-to-one vote, union offices were supposed to be barred to those belonging to political parties which owed allegiance to any foreign government (as Thomas had said, no Red-baiting!). Even the Stalinists, now the best Americans of them all, had presented a resolution to this effect, but theirs specifically included the Socialist Party as well as communist and fascist organizations, in order that they might have the Reuthers for company in their embarrassment. As a third war measure it was voted that no financial aid could be given to any local conducting a strike unauthorized by the International and that such locals might even be expelled On certain more obvious measures, designed largely to consolidate the leadership in power and to free them from control as the consequences of their war policy became more apparent, the delegates refused to be taken in. They would allow the officials a salary raise of only $500; they refused to raise monthly dues to $1.25; and, most important, they objected so strenuously to postponing the next convention to April 1943 that the proposal was unanimously rejected.

On the war issue, CIO officials as a whole acted as liaison officers between Roosevelt and the workers. They did this by emphasizing that his policies would make an AEF unnecessary and even by putting up a show of opposition to peacetime conscription. In the United Auto Worker of February 15, 1941, Philip Murray was quoted as saying that the American people wanted to stay out of war, because war would mean the end of democracy at home. But the CIO convention of that year, not long before Pearl Harbor, went all-out for the President’s foreign policy, Murray now saying that he wanted it to be absolutely clear to everybody just where the CIO stood. Since then the earlier slogan has been completely reversed to read: “Victory in the war means freedom, defeat the loss of all our rights” (R.J. Thomas at the UAW convention, August 1942).

Results of the Pro-War Policy

We shall allow one of the stoutest defenders of the all-out-for-the-war policy to summarize its results. In his column in the United Auto Worker of December 1, 1942, Secretary-Treasurer Addes wrote:

After nearly a year of war we find that one of the most serious problems facing our union is establishing and maintaining the principles of collective bargaining ...

By foregoing our right to strike we have relinquished our most powerful weapon, and the employers have been quick to take advantage of our position ...

He added that even the NLRB was stalling elections, demanding proof of a big membership. As for the union members, there had arisen “... a desire within the ranks to settle matters immediately by going on strike.”

Finally there comes (watch it closely) the grand conclusion based on the above facts: that the NLRB must realize the importance of worker morale in the war, that it should hire more pro-labor employees, that Congress should give it more funds. The labor leader has turned labor relations counselor for the government! Grand conclusion from these facts for the workers: Let the government hire and pay him and all the rest of the Executive, too, since they share Addes’ views, and let the UAW elect some labor leaders.

The principal wage demand of the 1942 convention was for a general wage increase of $1.00 a day. When the WLB granted Chrysler workers four cents an hour instead, Leo Lamotte, Executive Board member in charge of the Chrysler Division, complained (Auto Worker, October 15, 1942) that they had not even granted adjustment of classifications, so that some workers were getting less than they had received when doing similar work in the days of automobile production. Moreover, no means for arbitrating grievances was set up, and the company’s record in adjusting grievances was 100 per cent bad. He concludes helplessly and hopelessly as follows: “... what remedy do you think the Chrysler workers can find to obtain a fair and quick settlement of their grievances?”

The Chrysler workers themselves have given two answers to this question: (1) Recently a WLB panel reported that from November 30, 1939, to December 23, 1941, there had been sixty strikes at Chrysler plants, while since the no-strike pledge, from December 23, 1941, to January 8, 1943, a considerably shorter period, there had been sixty-six. To be sure, there have been no really long strikes recently. (2) In May of this year, completely fed up with the company’s tactics and WLB stalling, the workers did stage what must be considered a major strike in a war period. It involved 28,000 workers and lasted three days. The situation was so tense within union ranks that Chrysler Director Lamotte accused the strikers of having the backing of General Motors Director Walter Reuther. The Chrysler workers involved then demanded Lamotte’s removal. The Executive Board later condemned Lamotte for having made a public attack on Reuther but approved his strike-breaking actions during the crisis in every other way and, at Thomas’ request, unanimously continued him in his job as Chrysler director. For this outcome and for the no-strike policy in general, Reuther fully shares responsibility. At times he has expressed the workers’ grievances in stronger language than other leaders, but his devotion to Roosevelt, the war effort, and the no-strike pledge has been unshaken to date. Verbal radicalism is merely his way of extending his own influence and keeping the workers under control.

The first important consequence of the war for the automobile workers was extensive unemployment, caused by management’s methods of converting to war production. In Michigan alone 200,000 were unemployed in January 1942. There were still 185,000 unemployed in April. In this crisis UAW and other union leaders, prompted by the aggressiveness of the employers and the demands of the WPB, decided to ... surrender premium pay for Saturdays, Sundays and holidays! Such was the temper of the auto workers, however, that the Executive Board felt constrained to call a national conference of 1,400 delegates to ratify an elaborate Victory Through Equality of Sacrifice Program. Without demanding anything at all in return, the union was to surrender premium pay and reaffirm the no-strike pledge. If their nine-point program for victory was enacted, they were to take all wages for time over forty hours in non-negotiable bonds. Briefly, the program called for an end to profiteering (three per cent profit on invested capital, no exorbitant salaries or bonuses); a $25,000 limit on incomes from whatever source derived; full rationing; complete freezing and even some roll-backs of prices; higher wages to meet higher living costs, with a $1.00 hourly minimum; decent allowances to dependents of service men; labor representation in war agencies and on a post-war planning board.

Although the war was still in its early days, there was considerable opposition to this so-called equality of sacrifice, but the leadership put it over by using every form of pressure and demagogy. As usual, Frankensteen was crassest and demanded of the recalcitrants: “Are we going to tell the President of the United States to go to hell?” The main line, however, was that the union was taking the offensive away from the reactionaries and that a $50,000 advertising campaign (full-page ads in all the important papers, in the manner of the big corporations) would win “its enthusiastic acceptance by the people of the country as a sound and salutary program for winning the war.” Nobody at the present date needs any aid, except perhaps a microscope, too assess the extent to which the program has been successful. Even then, one hundred and fifty delegates were keen-sighted enough to resist the pressure and voted against the surrender of premium pay. About fifty delegates, seeing the patent absurdity of taking the offensive by surrendering the strike weapon and making no move to form an independent political party, stated that “the union was taking one action after another to break down established work standards and was running pell-mell into the hands of management.” Who has been proved right – these delegates or the leadership?

The Leaderless Rebellion

By the time of last year’s convention, in August, conditions in the industry, except for the unemployment situation, had of course deteriorated still further. Opposition to the leaders was much more widespread than in April but not better organized. David Coolidge summarized the convention by saying that, the delegates were against everything, but were leaderless. A reading of so conservative a paper as the New York Times fully confirms this estimate. The account in the United Auto Worker, on the other hand – and auto unionists would do well to note this – was pretty thoroughly censored. On the premium pay issue Frankensteen was booed for twenty minutes so that he could not be heard; delegates demanding the withdrawal of the no-strike pledge, because it had ended collective bargaining, received a tremendous ovation; a proposal to move up the election of officers two days was booed and defeated, for the delegates wanted to hear what these officers said before voting for them; by a big vote a motion was passed that officers should not make long speeches but mimeograph them instead. There was even a resolution to bar representatives and organizers of the International from the floor, one delegate calling them goons – a remark which President Thomas said he resented, for he personally had handpicked each of these gentlemen. When the old proposal, to hold the next convention two years later, came up again, Thomas called the shouting which greeted it disgraceful and said (correctly) that it showed no respect for the international officers. The resolution for increasing again the officers’ pay also brought forth a very heated debate.

At this 1942 convention the leadership did not allow itself the luxury of an internal struggle for power. United against the poorly organized delegates, they had their way except on issues of elementary democracy. When the principal debate, that on premium pay, was going clearly against them, they withdrew their original resolution and later put over a worse one that had a sound of militancy about it: they threatened that they would resume their right to premium pay unless Roosevelt barred it generally in industry within thirty days. Yet a PM reporter (August 5, 1942) pointed out that Reuther, pleading for acceptance of this extremely reactionary plan, received no applause whatever. The usually noisy convention met him with a deadly silence and accepted his proposal for want of something else. All the officers were reelected virtually unanimously and received pay raises $1,000 short of their demands but large anyway; Thomas, for example, was boosted from $5,500 to $9,000. Another old proposal for two vice-presidencies was at last put over. These jobs, at $7,000 each, compensated Frankensteen and Walter Reuther for sinking their personal interests to join in the united front against the rank and file. Three proposals to give the officers increased power and an unlimited vote of confidence, however, got nowhere at all. The delegates refused to delay their next convention, to make a radical cut in the representation at that convention, or to grant an increase in monthly dues from $1.00 to $1.50. This last question was referred to a referendum of the whole membership.

The attitude of the membership on the dues increase is an excellent index to their feelings about the Executive. For months after the convention the United Auto Worker carried appeals, especially from Addes, for approval of the increase. Although at the convention the increase was represented as being fifty-fifty for aircraft organization and post-war reserve, he virtually ignored the current problems of the members, since the Executive Board really had no solution for these immediate matters, and emphasized the need for a post-war fund. Thus, on November 1, 1942, Addes wrote that the employers were putting away a reserve and that the union would be wise to do the same. Of course, the union hoped that things would be different at the end of this war, but couldn’t take a chance, since the end of the First World War had brought serious onslaughts against labor. The union members naturally wondered why their officials weren’t more concerned about the present and why, immediately after the convention, the organizing staff had been cut in half, sixty-eight employees of the International having been fired and the workload of all remaining officials doubled, “in line with war conditions,” whatever that might mean. They couldn’t help remembering (1) that the officers had just had their salaries almost doubled, a pleasure which they should have refused if the union was so hard up; (2) that the organizing drive in aircraft plants had been relatively slow, as was natural in view of the limited benefits the union with its do-nothing policy could offer new members.

The union paper on February 1, 1943, reported that the rise had been rejected by a margin of about two to one. Addes didn’t surrender but proposed that the fifty cents monthly be granted not as a regular increase in dues but as a security assessment for the duration of the war only. He assured the membership that the entire amount would be set aside for a post-war fund, still under the impression evidently that this would win their votes. The Executive Board finally ended up simply by levying a flat $1.00 assessment – they have the power to levy one such assessment per year without a referendum – for the whole year. It is very instructive to observe how Addes explains the assessment in the United Auto Worker of April 15, 1943. It is, he says, for the primary purpose of enlarging our organizational activities. The union has grown but not in proportion to the influx of workers into the aircraft industry. The plants to be organized are large and scattered. The Executive Board had hoped for an increase in monthly dues for this purpose, but the members had turned this down. The union’s members are the highest paid workers in the world and can well contribute a little for organizing purposes to maintain their standards. Thus Addes. We don’t know exactly how long the memories of the members are, but surely Addes insults them in assuming that he can change his line over night, in the good old Stalinist way, without the slightest confession of error. The members must also speculate about some other points. The International gets at least $1.00 as initiation fee for every new member and receives forty cents of each member’s monthly dues; membership in May 1942 was reported as 610,000, while present membership is put at about a million. The union blithely spent $50,000 on the “equality of sacrifice” advertising campaign, while the great Ford organizing campaign was launched with a fund of $100,000.

Results of the Conferences

The convention question too has remained a hot potato for the leadership. Secretary of Labor Perkins early this year was requesting unions to hold conventions less frequently in order to ease the wartime transportation problem. President R.J. Thomas had to inform her sadly that his was a new and democratic union whose members might interpret a proposal for postponement as an attempt to perpetuate the present leadership in office. In fact, a strong movement did develop in the locals, not for any postponement but for a special convention at an earlier date. When the wordy impotence of CIO and AFL leaders generally, easily recognized as weakness by Roosevelt, brought on the hold-the-line order, which led to wage freezing but no price freezing, the UAW leadership decided that it had better head off demands for a special convention by arranging for a series of brief regional conferences.

These conferences, as well as conferences of the national GM department and the Ford Council, which were held at about the same time, discussed mainly incentive pay and the miners’ struggle. This was natural, since these two issues represented two possible and very different solutions to the auto workers’ own problem of improving their economic situation. The Executive Board had already rejected piecework and other variations of incentive pay in principle but had left the door open to a future reversal by allowing Frankensteen to remain on a WPB committee to study incentive pay systems (New International, June 1943). Most of the conferences, and all of those representing really important sectors of the union, came out very strongly against incentives as plans for a speed-up and showed considerable distrust of the Executive Board in the process. For example, the GM conference told the Executive to take a “firm and decisive position,” while the Ford Council even urged that Executive Board members be restrained from advocating any incentive plan. The Michigan region, taking a similarly strong stand with only two delegates of two hundred in opposition, also by a unanimous vote asked for a convention in July (that is, as soon as possible) and in Detroit (that is, where many of the workers could make their influence felt on the delegates as a counterweight to the pressure of the leadership). If they were against more money via the speed-up route, the delegates were naturally for higher rates of pay. The leadership had to come out for the miners’ economic demands, while condemning Lewis’ “personal political campaign” against the President and the strike method. They had only a limited and temporary success with this line at the conferences, where enthusiasm for the miners’ fight, if not for Lewis, was very vocal.

Hardly two more months had passed before the Michigan CIO convention, representing mainly the most vital region of the UAW, took stock of the developing situation (an ever worse cost-of-living situation, an ever tougher WLB, and the anti-strike law) and passed two important resolutions: (1) that the national CIO and all international unions ought to revoke the no-strike pledge, if collective bargaining were not soon restored, (2) that their own Michigan organization would take immediate steps toward setting up an independent political organization (United Auto Worker, July 15). Both these propositions they passed, it need hardly be added, over the determined opposition of their national leadership, which continues both in the union paper and in the councils of the CIO to take a diametrically opposite position.

The Michigan CIO has clearly posed the two most vital issues for the approaching convention. There are plenty of demands and programs in print but no weapons with which to realize them. The strike and independent political action are the weapons needed. As for the strike weapon, leaders of all unions, CIO and AFL, have shown that they will fight to the end against its use. To cover their cowardice they are now resorting to ridiculous bogeyman stories of the type which formerly only the Stalinists dared to invent. Every assault against labor, such an the anti-strike law, becomes a “provocation,” probably concocted by Hitler and Tojo and then transmitted, by mental telepathy no doubt, to reactionary employers and congressmen. “These people want to provoke us into striking by their anti-strike law,” shout Murray and Green and their hangers-on. “But we’re too smart and patriotic for that. We’ll grit out teeth, renew our anti-strike pledge to the Commander-in-Chief, and defy them to kick us around some more.”

The Labor Leaders Who TALK Tough

On August 2, Time, a hard-boiled organ that is open enough in representing the interests of big business, carried the following news comment:

... Last week AFL’s William Green and CIO’s Phil Murray, who have held labor in line with the Little Steel formula, marched to the White House to threaten mutiny unless prices went down. This was a very interesting piece of byplay, for everyone [NB: everyoneW.W.] guessed that while the two labor leaders talked tough on the front steps, to impress their members, they were probably much less belligerent inside, imploring the President to hold prices level, rather than threatening him if he did not roll prices back.

Theirs was no ultimatum. But the fall season for important wage negotiations begins on August 5 with General Motors Corporation. Soon after the Little Steel formula must stand or fall.

There are two possible explanations for the words of Time’s editors: (1) They are confident that Murray and Green are so docile that it is possible to tell the truth about them and to laugh at them openly; (2) they are trying to “provoke” the honorable gentlemen. The reader may choose for himself the more likely explanation.

UAW’s president, R.J. Thomas, yields to none as a writer of fairy tales. Listen to this one from the United Auto Worker of June 15:

There are some who are foolish enough to urge passage of this bill [anti-strike bill – W.W.] as a means of getting at John L. Lewis. No more stupid tactics could be used.

John L. Lewis wants this bill passed. He has been plotting for years to alienate labor from the President ... If the President signs the bill now it will be playing directly into the hands of Lewis and the little crowd of Roosevelt-haters and anti-war elements who sit up nights thinking up ways to embarrass our Commander-in-Chief.

All this black-mask hokum is intended to distract attention from the Thomas policy, which is nakedly revealed in his column of June 1 in the union paper:

There has been no change since we first gave our no-strike pledge which would warrant our abandoning that pledge at this time ...

The workers involved in most unauthorized strikes have real grievances ... When I urge them to return to work, I do not intend to give the impression that that will close the incidents as far as the international union is concerned ...

To the corporations I want to say frankly that they share in a great measure the responsibility for the few walkouts ... I know for a fact that labor grievances that could be settled before the war in a few days have, since we gave our no-strike pledge, taken months to adjust ...

If this situation continues we [we!W.W.] will only be inviting more unrest. The UAW-CIO does not want that ...

The union will not tolerate any effort by the corporations to take advantage of the current situation ...

Let me conclude with this:

Let management enter into bargaining honestly and promptly. Let the War Labor Board accelerate its procedure ... And in the meantime let every worker stick to his job. Through these steps we can obtain the basis for cooperation which we must have if our country is to emerge triumphant from this war.

Does this need much comment? Brother Thomas’ only weapon, apart from some veiled (because empty) threats, is good advice. Brother Homer Martin at least began his career in the pulpit. Brother Thomas has yet to find his proper profession. The workers really know all this. The convention delegates will know it At the last convention they had a fairly accurate idea of the situation, and since then their education has continued, as we have shown. But they will have to be determined, and they will have to be well organized. Reuther and Leonard may possibly form an opposition bloc and talk tough. Reuther may smite the incentive pay proposition from all angles, but on the fundamental issues he stands firmly united with the rest of the leadership. He has always championed the no-strike pledge. In 1941 he based his bid for power on a Red-baiting attack against the North American strike. At the last convention he said that he was glad that the UAW had sacrificed premium pay so that the union could show the world that it had “clean hands.” He has gained a reputation for forthright opposition to incentive pay, yet was chairman of a special committee which recommended seven safeguards under which locals might be permitted to adopt incentive pay plans (United Auto Worker, April 15, 1943). It will not be enough to heckle the leadership, then accept their principal resolutions. It will not be enough to reject their resolutions, then reelect them. A new course can only be successful under leaders who really desire a change. If the present crew cries out that experience is necessary in a crisis, the answer is obvious: they too were new in a great crisis only a few years ago.

A Record of Political Failure

Politically, too, Thomas and the other brothers have a dismal record. The Victory Through Equality of Sacrifice program was supposed by its sheer reasonableness and excellence to influence the President or Congress; or, if not, so to move the general public that they would set up a clamor for its adoption by the government. When this project had proved an obvious fizzle, Thomas suggested on November 1, 1942, that, being restricted from economic activities, the union might well concentrate on housing, price control, and important social services, including health. They might even consider building hospitals of their own to end the discrimination against workers in the hospitals of Detroit. However, on November 7, the Executive Board boosted the ante on the first victory program, and came forth with a triple V program, victory on the war fronts, on the home front, and in the post-war settlement. In general, the program called for labor representation in all parts of the war and post-war machinery of government, wages to match the rising cost of living and quicker settlement of disputes by the WLB, machinery for cooperation among the CIO, AFL and Railroad Brotherhoods on political and economic matters, a much broader social security program as an immediate war measure, more generous provision for men and women in the armed forces and their dependents, and clarification of the Atlantic Charter. The program, an imposing document, is less important to examine for itself than for the means proposed for carrying it out. The preamble calls for “reorientation of the functions of the labor movement to deal adequately with the new problems created by the war ...’ The CIO and its internationals ought to lobby aggressively and constantly in Washington. They ought to “demand greater representation on policy-making boards in order that these boards meet our justifiable demands.” Leaving the War Labor Board because of its failings would be a great error.

The slogan of this program might be summarized, “Let the union leaders tell it to Congress and the President.” A few specific suggestions of the program were eventually adopted to a slight degree or in badly distorted form, but Congress became progressively worse and so did the President, although congressional misdeeds distracted attention from Roosevelt’s lesser efforts in the same reactionary direction. By the middle of 1943 the movement among the workers for an Independent Labor Party was gaining such momentum that efforts had to be made to turn it into safe channels. Brother Frankensteen now came up with the brilliant idea of more or less cornering the market on penny postcards and of starting a great Tell-it-to-Congress campaign, with the ordinary workers doing the telling this time. Brother Addes claims credit for a Tell-It-to-the-President campaign along the same lines (United Auto Worker, June 15).

The Michigan CIO convention, as we have said, adopted a resolution in favor of an Independent Labor Party; and the CIO and UAW leaders, after opposing the proposal completely, gained a rear guard victory by having the resolution define the new party as an instrument for supporting Roosevelt and his program more effectively. Then the CIO Executive Board, after complaining and threatening for months about the relationship of prices and wages – Murray at one time went so far as to issue an ultimatum with a deadline, July 15, for rollbacks, after which he was going to start a campaign for revision of the Little Steel formula – decided on some political action of its own. They specifically and emphatically rejected the idea of a new party and projected a vast and expensive campaign for rewarding friends and punishing enemies in both the old parties. Even The Nation (July 31) was appalled at the political stupidity of their promise to support Roosevelt, no matter what. Murray has appointed two committees, one handed by Hillman and including Thomas as secretary, to organize bigger and better non-partisan leagues to operate in the next elections, the other headed by Addes to put pressure on Congress at once with an eye to reforming well-meaning congressmen who have somehow gone astray.

But the non-partisan plan, he says, is the program of the national CIO, and that’s good enough for him. Meanwhile, in the August i issue of the union paper, Thomas whoops it up for Vice-President Wallace’s recent Detroit speech, in which Wallace whooped it up for Roosevelt, himself, and some new kind of capitalism, not a capitalism of scarcity but of abundance, which he thinks could easily be realized if only the capitalists would change their nature entirely. The UAW Executive had just issued another new program, one concerning the post-war world, which called for a very large degree of socialization. How the program is to be achieved is, of course, not explained. As a matter of fact, Thomas doesn’t really care. He is for Roosevelt and Wallace, and they are for capitalism.

The subservience of Addes and Thomas to the President almost passes belief. Addes, worried what the President would do about the anti-strike bill, as he had a right to be on the basis of his knowledge of Roosevelt’s record, expressed his entire confidence (Auto Worker, June 15) that the President would veto the bill “if he followed his own conscience.” Almost every labor “statesman” whitewashes or covers up for Roosevelt after our weak-conscienced President has allowed himself to be led astray by the wicked reactionaries, but it takes a super-bootlicker to make apologies in advance. But Thomas, as we have seen, is not to be outdone. Lewis, he says, provoked the Smith-Connally bill just to embarrass the Commander-in-Chief. Why, pray, should so good a labor man as the Commander-in-Chief be embarrassed by a proposition so patently anti-labor?

A Convention Program

The UAW Executive Board is worried about the coming convention. Not satisfied with the Murray-Green mission to Roosevelt, Thomas, Addes, Reuther, Frankensteen and Leonard paid a visit of their own to complain about the economic squeeze on their members. Like Murray and Green, they too said on emerging that the union, although much against its will, would have to ask for more pay if prices are not rolled back (Associated Press, July 30). They would like Roosevelt to do something, anything, to enable them to keep a hold on their members. Despite any slight concessions or big promises they may obtain from the President, who must be worrying a little, too, the record of history clearly demands the following program: The no-strike pledge and the reactionary leadership must go; militancy must return; a Labor Party must come.

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Last updated on 16 June 2015