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Burke Cochran

The Auto Union Amalgamation

Emergence of New Union and Fusion with A.F.L.
May Have Far Reaching Effects for Auto Workers

(5 November 1935)

From New Militant, Vol. 1 No. 47, 16 November 1935, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

TOLEDO, O., Nov. 5. – The fight for industrial unionism at the 55th convention of the A.F. of L. gave encouragement and hope to every trade union progressive for the establishment of a more aggressive and a more militant unionism in America in the future. But the decisions of the Convention gave no immediate encouragement to unionism in the automobile industry. The industrial union struggle may give renewed courage to workers already inside the A.F. of L., by revealing to them the possibilities of cleansing the unions of the rotten and cowardly bureaucracy that today holds the leadership, but it is almost impossible to rouse the still unorganized workers with the promise of a better unionism in the future.

Workers Split into Crafts

In Detroit, the shameful scene of the first constitutional convention of the United Automobile Workers is still fresh in the memory of the automobile workers. It is enough for them to know that the A.F. of L. has chopped up the automobile industry into half a dozen different crafts with half a dozen different unions, one overlapping on the other one, claiming jurisdiction. Because of the timid and cowardly policies of Dillon and Green, the situation has only become more confusing, more involved. Everywhere there is an element of uncertainty, of hesitation. Every move of the automobile International in Detroit bears a temporary, provisional character, as if Dillon himself realized that the last word has not yet been said in automobile unionism.

At Atlantic City there was expressed a certain concern over the recent excursion into the field of unionism on the part of the Sage of Port Royal, Father Coughlin. Today, Dillon, just returning from Atlantic City, has even greater cause for concern. His office has just informed him that three independent unions: the Mechanics Educational Society, the Associated Automobile Workers of America (Greer Union) and the Industrial Automobile Workers Union (Coughlin Union) have been conducting negotiations for amalgamation. These three bodies have agreed on a program and are shortly to conduct a referendum vote among their respective memberships for ratification. The program of the new union is understood to be substantially the old program of the M.E.S.A., which is based upon the recognition of a class struggle in modern society and the necessity for an aggressive, militant unionism.

Background of the M.E.S.A.

The Mechanics Educational Society of America is well known to all automobile workers in the Detroit area. It arose on the crest of the first strike wave at the inception of the NRA; tied up with mass picket lines all four Briggs plants in the Detroit area and held up production of the Ford model for over a month. Basing themselves upon the key men of the industry, the tool and dye makers, they led a series of daring and spectacular strikes which electrified the whole labor movement and provided the basis for the further organization of the automobile workers. The American Federation of Labor, quick to seize the opportunity, sent in organizers and granted federal charters with a liberal hand. After the first major betrayal of the automobile workers by Collins and Green on March 25 of last year, the M.E.S.A. proved too weak to act as an independent factor and suffered as heavily as the federal unions themselves. The M.E.S.A. soon realized that it could not survive in the industry if it was limited to tool and dye makers; it therefore broadened its jurisdiction to include all workers engaged in the metal industry at its second convention in Cleveland. Since then it has had a similar experience to that of the A.F. of L. unions. In the Detroit area the union membership sharply declined and the unions are stagnating. In Toledo and Cleveland comparatively strong locals have been built up and have recruited a considerable number of production workers.

Evaluation of the Associated

The Associated Automobile Workers of America has a novel history. It was first organized as a federal local of the A.F. of L. in the Hudson plant. There the workers, under the careful tutelage of Collins, were initiated into the mysteries of class collaboration. About a year ago the local seceded from the A.F. of L. and formed the Associated Automobile Workers of America with a strong local in the Hudson plant and a base in several of the other Detroit plants. Under the guidance now of their president, Arthur E. Greer, they were carefully coached in the spirit of humility; grievances were to be adjusted by arbitration, etc. Greer finally got hooked up with Byrd, of the Automobile Labor Board and tried to take the whole A.A.W.A. in tow with the company union. The workers refused to follow. And since then they have been feeling their own way along, step by step, and are cautiously moving to a realization that the only unionism worthy of the name must be based upon a clear-cut fighting policy predicated on the fact that a class struggle exists in modern society.

The Coughlin Union

The evolution of the Industrial Automobile Workers Union takes on an added importance from the recent events in Akron and the company union steel convention in Canton, Ohio. This union originated during the great days of “union building” of Wolman and the Automobile Labor Board. The Dodge workers elected their representatives to the collective bargaining board of the Dodge plant, as per instructions of the Automobile Labor Board. After a month of this “collective bargaining” they found that they could register their complaints and had the power to air their grievances before the management, but beyond getting a light bulb replaced or a water bubbler repaired, their power did not extend. So having passed through all of the devious mazes and windings of the New Deal merry-go-round, they found themselves in the same place where they started from: only more experienced, more hardened, more suspicious of the glib promises of employers and government officials. Today they have an increasing sympathy for a program of militancy, class struggle, a fighting determination to win, and a trade unionism based upon such principles.

Green Policy Repulses Independents

Under ordinary circumstances, independent unions in their natural evolution would gravitate towards the A.F. of L.; and unless insuperable obstacles were placed in the way of their joining, would become a part of the official family. The A.F. of L., by its size, its prestige, tradition and treasury, is naturally the main attractive force in the trade union field. The fact that these independent unions at Dodge and Hudson are looking instead to an amalgamation independent of the A.F. of L. is striking proof that Collins, Dillon and Green have in the course of a year and a half run through all of their accumulated credit and will now have to take the path of some real, old fashioned organizing in the automobile field or lose all standing in the Detroit area.

The emergence of a powerful, aggressive, fighting union in the automobile industry (it is estimated the amalgamated union would number 40,000) can have a highly salutary effect upon the automobile workers. First, it will clear the field of all the different small independent unions and will eliminate a considerable amount of the confusion. Second, and this is the more important reason, the pressure upon the treacherous bureaucracy of the A.F. of L. from within and without will become enormous. With the proper perspective and strategy, the possibility will emerge of forming a powerful, fighting union through an amalgamation of the independent union and the A.F. of L. International on the basis of a convention, democratically called, democratically selecting its own officers and commanding jurisdiction over all employees working in or around all automobile and auto parts plants.

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