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E.R. Frank

Auto Union Convention Will Hear John L. Lewis

Buffalo Convention, Opening August 4, May Be Test of Strength
Between Lewis and Hillmanite Forces on Issue of CIO Policy

(August 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 31, 2 August 1941, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

John L. Lewis will address the Buffalo convention of the United Auto Workers-CIO, it was announced Tuesday.

Coupled with the 10–9 vote of the International Executive Board of the UAW, refusing Sidney Hillman an invitation to speak, John L. Lewis’ appearance may lead to a dramatic clash of the pro-Lewis forces with the Hillmanites at the convention.

DETROIT – Every convention of the Auto Workers Union constitutes a landmark in American labor history. The constitutional convention of the UAW, scheduled to open in Buffalo on August 4th will be no exception to this rule.

The great battle looming in the CIO between the Hillman and the Lewis forces will find its initial test of strength at this convention.

Relations between the Lewis-Addes and Thomas-Reuther groups have become increasingly embittered. The International Executive Board is divided into two hostile camps. Things have reached such a sharp turn that the board rejected by a vote of 10 to 9 the proposal made at its last meet ing to invite Sidney Hillman to address the UAW convention.

The sad fact must be recorded, however, that the Lewis-Addes forces have not yet indicated clearly what they stand for.

Hillmanite Line Is Clear

Everybody knows where the Reuther-Thomas group stands. Comprising about half the union leadership and controlling such key sections as the General Motors, Chrysler and the Aircraft divisions, this group follows the Hillman program. It has sold itself lock, stock and barrel to the Roosevelt war machine. It supports the OPM and the National Mediation Board and, in general is working overtime to place labor in the army straight jacket.

Of course the Hillmanite program, when boldly put, is not very popular with the auto workers or any other group of workers. The workers interests are in a diametrically opposite direction. The workers must fight for constant wage increases, if they are even to hold their own in this period of upward-spiralling prices.

In order to chloroform the auto workers so that against their better judgment and against their real desires they would line up behind the war machine, the Reuther-Thomas group has initiated a virulent red-baiting campaign reminiscent of Homer Martin at his worst. Reuther and Frankensteen announced months ago that they would seek an amendment to the UAW constitution to bar all members, sympathizers, etc. of so-called “subversive groups.” That is where the Reuther-Thomas group stands and this is the program it will fight for at the Buffalo convention.

The other half of the top union leadership, the so-called Addes group, has generally supported John L. Lewis and his policies. What is the policy of John L. Lewis’ followers in the UAW? Nobody knows for sure. The Addes people caucus against the Thomas-Reuther group, they compete for positions with them, but they have not yet clearly revealed what their union program is and what the union will look like if the membership grants them the leadership.

John L. Lewis has unquestionably taken a more progressive stand on many recent union issues than Hillman and his supporters. This much cannot be said, however, for Addes and his group.

Literally on every important union question that has arisen inside the UAW in the past year, the Addes group all voted solidly with hhe Hillman men on the UAW International Executive Board. The Board voted unanimously not to call the GM strike, and endorsed acceptance of the GM contract without the shop steward system against the express instructions of teh GM delegated conference. The Board voted unanimously to call off the Ford strike before the union secured a signed contract with the company.

The Board likewise voted unanimously to approve the strike-breaking actions of Frankensteen in the North American situation. This means the Board approved the dictatorial Homer Martin policy of removing without trial a local union leadership and appointing administrators over the membership. This means the Board approved F’rankensteen’s public denunciation of a wholly justified strike. This means the Board approved Frankensteen’s infamous statements welcoming the strikebreaking actions of the army and the Roosevelt administration.

Role of the Stalinists

Tagging along behind th Addes group until very recently was the Communist Party bloc. Throughout the period of the Stalin-Hitler pact, the Stalinists pretended to be the sterling militants of the union. They opposed the Reuther-Thomas reactionary red-baiting campaign. They opposed the policy of subservience to the National Mediation Board and the war machine. They were active in the organisation of the aircraft workers on the West Coast. They denounced Frankensteen for his strikebreaking activity. They appealed to every local union to denounce Frankensteen and his policy and to uphold the North American aircraft workers.

But now, with the new switch of their party line, the Stalinists have abandoned the North American aircraft workers cold. They will not fight out the decisive issues of this battle at the coming convention; they have already reversed their two-year-old campaign and are proceeding to grovel and crawl before the Thomas-Reuther group, having openly come out for Thomas’ re-election. In short, the Stalinists today are back to the Days of the People’s Front in full support of the Roosevelt war machine.

Union’s Great Gains

The Buffalo convention meets in a period of storm. Great events are in the offing in both the UAW and the CIO. What a contrast with the period of the St. Louis convention of a year ago! At that time the UAW was marking time. The UAW had conducted that year two major strikes: the tool and die strike at General Motors and the 55-day strike at Chrysler. Both strikes had achieved no real gains for the workers. The union membership appeared to be demoralized. Shortly after the convention, the UAW had renewed some of its major contracts, the Chrysler, Hudson and a number of other corporations. The contracts provided for miserable two-cent increases in be face of sharply rising living costs. The membership, seemingly pathetic and tired, accepted the entrants without protest. The UAW was temporarily in a blind alley.

The Weisenheimers of the capitalist press began to wag their heads and observed sagely that the “punch” had gone out of the auto workers and that the union was at last on the road towards “stabilization.”

But the auto workers finally caught up with the war drive. The first explosion came from the lowest paid and most exploited section of the union membership, the aircraft work-era. The Vultee strike came like a flash, and the militancy it engendered swept through the entire union membership like a prairie fire.

The fight was on and before the smoke of battle cleared, the greatest fortress of the open shop, Ford, was conquered. The aircraft drive, involving some half a million young workers began churning. General Motors, Chrysler, and almost every major automobile and parts manufacturer, were forced to grant sizeable wage increases.

UAW Faces War Drive

Since the Wall Street-Roosevelt war drive must be financed at the expense of workers, it was inevitable that the economic struggles of the auto workers should collide head-on with the forces of the Administration. The militancy of the workers smashed all obstacles in the union’s path in the preliminary phase of the strike struggles.

But the Roosevelt administration, quickly realizing that it could not wholly rely on the top union leadership to curb the rank and file, revised its strategy and met the union forces head-on at the North American aircraft strike. Within the velvet glove of the National Defense Mediation Board was the iron fist of the capitalist army. The strike was crushed and temporarily the great strike wave was stopped.

Since the North American strike, it has become extremely difficult to wage a major strike; the National Mediation Board has taken on the powers of a semi-compulsory body.

The labor movement has been maneuvered into this predicament not because it was defeated in battle by a superior power, or because it has been confronted with a force larger and stronger than its own. Labor’s dilemma flows chiefly from the fact that at least half of its top leadership, like Hillman, Thomas, Reuther and Frankensteen, have sold out to the Wall Street war machine.

Militant Leadership Needed

The present position of the auto union, coupled with the existing mood of the auto workers, cries out for a new leadership which will lead the union out of the existing impasse. A recognized leadership possessing authority and prestige such as the Addes group possesses, could easily win the auto membership to its banner if it announced its clear militant program, courageously fought for it and showed the auto workers in practical terms how an Addes leadership would operate in contrast to the Reuther-Thomas group.

So far, however, most of the effort and energies of the Addes group has gone into the game of horsetrading votes, competing for union posts, etc.

The class-conscious militants in the auto union today, the best men who have come out of the strike struggles of the past five years, are now bending their efforts to rally support for a realistic program which corresponds to the real needs of the auto workers today, the only program that will allow the union to move forward.

They ask that the union break completely from the Roosevelt administration, cut loose from the whole apparatus of the war machine, the NDMB and the OPM, and proceed to set up the independent political voice of labor, a National Labor Party, which will fight against the warmakers and the attempt to fasten the cost of the war on the backs of the workers.

They ask that the CIO fight for a policy of militant action to preserve the complete independence of the trade-union movement, so that the auto workers, in common with the rest of organized labor can move forward in spite of Roosevelt’s war machine.

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