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Emanuel Garrett

No. 1 Lesson of the GM Strike

Political Action Is Labor’s Need!

(11 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 10, 11 March 1946, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

For more than a hundred days the General Motors workers have been out on strike. For these more than hundred days they have carried the ball for the entire labor movement.

Theirs was the dramatic challenge to big business which initiated the strike wave. The demands they made upon General Motors, and the spirit with which they pressed them, blazed a trail which pointed to a real victory not only for themselves but for all of labor. Hundreds of thousands of workers have gotten 18½ cents without a day’s loss of work because of the heroic struggle of the GM strikers.

It is not the fault of the ranks, who in over a hundred hard days have proved the worth of their convictions, that wage raises are averaging 18½ cents instead of the 30 cents or more required by labor. Nor is it their fault that these wage gains, in steel, meat packing and other industries, are being eaten away by price increases.

It is the fault of their leadership, of Murray and the others, who showed themselves supine before the pressure of the Truman Administration. If today the auto workers have been compelled to retreat on their demands and propose arbitration, it is not because they were incapable of winning the entire GM strike program. It is not because the steel workers, for example, would not have stuck militantly to the line; nor because the other auto workers in Detroit would have been less determined. Quite the contrary! These workers are no less ready than the GM workers to give battle and they have proved that countless times over.

It is, rather, because Murray, as leader of the CIO and the steel workers, depended on Truman for a settlement and accepted Truman’s price-raising, wage-ixing formulas. It is because R.J. Thomas, too, as president of the UAW, was more concerned with advice ’from the White House than from the picket line.

Reuther’s Responsibility

Reuther cannot escape his share of responsibility for the retreat. As leader of the GM workers, he first put forward a program that pierced to the heart of the issue. Speaking for the GM workers, he demanded that GM open its books, related prices, profits and wages, and thereby lifted the quality of the GM strike to new heights in the American labor movement. He demonstrated that labor spoke for the masses of people. Even sections of the capitalist press had to admit grudgingly that his attack on the prerogatives of free enterprise was backed by unassailable fact.

At the time, in commending his activities, we also criticized his shortcomings. We argued that he had taken a significant step forward but that he hadn’t pursued the logic of his own arguments either in terms of specific economic demands or their political implications; that is, toward a WORKERS’ government. It is also necessary, now, to criticize him sharply for looking to the White House for direction, for agreeing to the Truman fact-finding committee recommendation (after the union had assembled more facts than GM or the government could possibly lie their way out of), for not aggressively defending the GM program against the leadership of the Auto Workers International and against Murray, for not openly and actively opposing company security provisions in the Ford settlement. That he could have mobilized wide and decisive support in the auto union for the GM program is demonstrated by the authority he commands despite his retreat, as indicated in the election of a Reuther slate for the UAW convention in Thomas’ own Chrysler Local. In many instances he is acting cringingly where he should be acting aggressively.

The situation today in GM is that the corporation has refused arbitration and rejected the type of membership vote proposed by the union. It appears as though the issue will be decided by the government in one way or another. And that is the point we want to come to.

A Vital Lesson

In every issue that confronts us today, not merely in the GM strike, we see the hand of government. More and more it is becoming the practice to debate labor’s disputes with government representatives of industry, rather than with industry itself. Government intervention is generally established practice. It was Truman, the head of the government, who dreamed up the most recent “Big Steal” formula fixing wages far under what labor demanded and needed. It was Truman, the head of the government, who permitted industry’s breakthrough on prices. It was Truman’s “fact-finding" procedure that cut GM demands from 30 cents to 19½ cents. It is Truman, or his appointed agencies, who will probably decide the outcome of the GM strike now!

For several weeks now we have used one phrase in LABOR ACTION to describe these happenings: WHAT LABOR HAS WON ON THE PICKET LINE IS BEING STOLEN FROM LABOR IN WASHINGTON! That is, industry didn’t hand out even the miserly 18-cent wage raises freely or willingly. It had to give them because labor demonstrated its temper on the picket lines. It gave what it did because price boosts more than made up for the wage boost, and because labor’s leadership was prepared to yield the real picket line demands under government pressure.

So, too, the wage increase of the GM strikers will be eaten away, stolen, by price, increases. And if, as is likely, the GM contract will be better than other union contracts, it will only be because government agencies will hesitate to trifle too much with men and women who spent more than a hundred sacrificing days on the picket line.

Conclusion Is Clear

What conclusions do we draw? The conclusions, it seems to us, are obvious: The government is an instrument of the capitalist class. It serves their interests. It acts “against” capitalism only to the extent that it protects capitalism from the wrath of workers by small concessions. To depend on this government to settle labor’s case is to depend on the agents of capitalism, the CLASS enemies of labor. Obviqusly that is foolish. Who will depend on his enemy to champion his cause? Thus, our leaders, like Murray, who depend on Truman, are putting our case into the enemy’s hands.

What can we do? Here too the conclusion is obvious: we must strive for our own government, a workers’ government. How? The very first step is to organize an INDEPENDENT Labor Party. We emphasize INDEPENDENT because the Political Action Committee of the CIO, which pretends to the skeleton of a labor party, is not independent. It works cheek by jowl with capitalist politicians and their parties. PAC must be forced by the pressure of labor’s ranks to free itself of its capitalist party ties. And if it refuses, then a Labor Party must be organized without regard to PAC.

Many union leaders, among them Reuther, have spoken in favor of a Labor Party. Certainly many workers, above all the auto workers, have declared themselves for a Labor Party. Nobody can tell us that GM workers wjio demonstrated their class solidarity against all kinds of odds on the picket line will not equally demonstrate their class solidarity in political action.

Or, let us look at it briefly from another point of view. We’ve spoken of one type of government intervention. There is the other and more nakedly ugly type witnessed by the police attacks against workers in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Los Angeles and elsewhere. That is the government at work in its most unadorned aspects. It speaks so clearly for itself that we shall not elaborate on this part of the argument.

Every phase of our life brings us square against the issue of class versus class, working class versus capitalist class. That is socialist talk, we will be told. Right! It is socialist talk. We of LABOR ACTION and the Workers Party are socialists and not municipal socialists who are satisfied with a slight improvement here, a slight improvement there—while the great iniquity of capitalist rule remains. We are revolutionary socialists and it is our object to replace capitalist society by a workers’ society. For it is by socialism alone that we can achieve real security and freedom.

To achieve that, however, we must understand and wage our struggle on a political level, as well as an economic level. That is why we call upon you to join the Workers Party as a party for socialist action. And that is why we also call upon labor to organize the political equivalent of our unions—a Labor Party.

Just as our unions fight for our immediate economic demands, so will a Labor Party, built upon our unions, advance Our interests as a class in the political arena.

This is the lesson of the steel settlement, the GM strike, the police violence against pickets in Philadelphia, and of every battle in which labor is engaged. For that is the way toward INDEPENDENT political action and toward a WORKERS’ GOVERNMENT.

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