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Albert Gates

The Struggle for Power in the UAW

(September 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 37, 13 September 1943, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In our series of articles dealing with the problems which confront the largest union in the world, we have thus far concerned ourselves with some of the main issues which are of the deepest significance for the rank and file. There are an additional number of such problems which will be the subject of our examination in succeeding articles, but the factional division in the union and the struggle which is now fought between them require immediate comment.

It would appear on the surface that the big dispute in the UAW is between the Reuther-Leonard and the Addes-Frankensteen factions, with Thomas holding himself aloof from this fight. This is true to a considerable extent, but it would be extremely superficial to think that this is the whole struggle, or that the issues which divide the leadership are devoid of any relationship to the ranks of the union and the pressures which they exert on the divided bureaucracy.

The industrial and mass character of the UAW has made it possible, no matter how powerful the leaderships have been, for the rank and file to express itself on important problems of the union and to exert heavy pressure on the top layers.

It is with deep pride that one points to the UAW and its membership. The union has often been referred to as a militant and turbulent union. All important issues found the membership deeply involved. True, they did not always win the union to their views, but there are many causes for that. In any event, the intervention of the rank and file has held the leadership in line on many questions and has, for example, prevented such outright sell-outs as are to be observed in the unions under Stalinist control.

The UAW and Other Unions

Compare the struggle of the UAW for wages, conditions of work, union rights, against incentive pay, for independent political action of labor, against the WLB, against the increase of dues and salaries of officials, the agitation on the no-strike pledge and the support given to the brave fight of the coal miners, with the supine, boss-collaborationist policies of the United Electrical and Radio Workers under Stalinist leadership and control.

Compare the UAW with the National Maritime Union under Curran, or Harry Bridges’ union, or the Transport Workers under Quill, the Office Workers under Merrill and the whole New York City Industrial Union Council under the control and leadership of Stalinists and their fellow-travelers.

The latter unions are mainly occupied with demanding a second front. In this they are merely carrying out the dictates of Stalin and his American agency under Earl Browder. They champion incentive pay as a new form of the enslavement of the worker. They oppose any struggle that would improve the wages and working conditions of labor. They demand a more binding no-strike pledge which would cause the union movement to be even more helpless against the union-busting drive of big business.

The Stalinist unions have one occupation now: support Roosevelt for a fourth term, fight against an Independent Labor Party, and hogtie the labor movement to the corrupt and rotten political machines of the boss-dominated Democratic Party. In this they have the aid of Murray and Hillman.

The union bureaucracies have sacrificed the best interests of the working class to unite with the bosses on the war, on the right of big: business to its profits, on incentive pay, and a host of other issues which can result in nothing but harm for the labor movement. The Stalinists work with Murray and Hillman, because they all stand with Roosevelt and the policy of his Administration, the former because they are the disciples of Stalin in this country, and the latter because they are the lackeys of capitalist politicians and capitalist policies.

The importance of citing this differentiation in the union movement between the officialdoms, the Stalinists and the rank and file is necessary because it will enable one to understand something of the struggle now going on in the UAW. The Reuther-Leonard and the Addes-Frankensteen groups reflect the sharp divergences in the CIO and the wide road which separates the leaderships from the rank and file.

Behind the struggle in the UAW is the whole situation in the country. When the war broke out, the labor movement was asked to devote itself completely to the war effort. The workers were asked to sacrifice the conditions they had won after many years of struggle. They were asked to work longer hours, forego shop conditions, forget grievances, ignore wage scales.

The workers were asked to do these things because the President had promised them that this time – unlike 1917-18 – there would be “equality of sacrifice,” the bosses would not be permitted, to make war profits, there would be no repetition of a new class of war millionaires, taxes would be equalized, the burden placed upon those able to afford them, inflation would be prevented by equality in rationing, prohibiting the black market, and control of prices to keep down the cost of living.

Only a fool or a misleader of labor would contend that these promises have been kept. There is hardly a worker who does not know that exactly the opposite has occurred. Yes, the workers have made their sacrifice. But, on the other side of the ledger, we find big business making the greatest profits in history, despite higher taxes. War profiteering is the rule rather than the exception. The black market does flourish. Heavy taxes have been put on the backs of the workers. Price control has been a tremendous farce and the cost of living has mounted way beyond the ability of the workers to meet it.

These are the conditions which have driven the rank and file of the union movement, and especially the brave and devoted automobile workers, to fight the restrictions which have been placed on them by the Administration and their officials, and to demand their economic and political rights.

Promises and Reality

At past conventions the leadership was able to placate the rank and file by a basketful of promises. The UAW membership was told, time and time again, that if it held tight and carried through their pledges – even if big business enriched itself by their pledges – good old President Roosevelt would come to their aid! Support the President, said the officials, otherwise even worse might befall you from the Republican Party.

But the Chicago convention showed signs that the ranks were getting sick and tired of the run-around they were getting from Washingtoa, the auto magnates and their own officials. There were plenty of Signs at that convention that the membership wanted more than speeches from its leadership. Thomas ought well remember that convention before he runs off to Washington once more to kneel before the President and return to Detroit, as usual, empty-handed.

Rise of Rank and File Movements

Since Chicago, the ranks have given vent to their deep dissatisfaction by organizing a great number of local slates, groups and platforms, which, while not always clear or complete, indicate the road they want to travel.

It is possible and necessary to point out that the auto workers are sick and tired of the no-strike pledge. This is exactly the thing which the big corporations have utilized to break down collective bargaining, negotiations, upgrading, wage rates, conditions of work, equalization of pay, etc.

The workers are opposed to incentive pay. They want wage increases and improvement of their working conditions and the means of compelling the auto bosses to fulfill their contractual obligations!

The platforms of the slates reveal these sentiments. Some stand for rescinding the no-strike pledge, for higher wage rates, for equalization of wages, for independent political action, for limitation of profits, for a post-war contingent wage for auto workers, and all of them are against incentive, pay. Others raise the question of nationalization of the auto industry, post-war conversion problems, and so on.

It is these sentiments which are reflected, in part only, by the Reuther-Leonard group. And it is in this sense that they are more closely aware of the sentiments of the membership. The group is opposed to incentive pay, and it is for equalization of pay, for wage increases, and has a fair record in the struggle against some sections of the auto bosses. But Reuther at the same time, however qualified, opposed the revocation of the no-strike pledge. He has also opposed the organization of a Labor Party.

The Two Factions

The differences between this group and the Addes-Frankensteen group are not always clear. Their attitude toward the war is the same; they both support Roosevelt and are committed to the fourth term. But the Addes-Frankensteen group is for incentive pay. It is the most vigorous opponent of a Labor Party. Addes has been closely aligned with the Stalinists for many years. Frankensteen championed the incentive pay proposal at the general executive board.

The struggle between these groups has been sharpened by the nomination of Leonard for Addes’ post of secretary-treasurer of the union and the outright bid made by Reuther for the leadership of the UAW. But this is exactly in conflict with what Addes and Frankensteen want. Reuther is apparently willing for Thomas to remain, under his (Reuther’s) control of the GEB, but he insists on the ouster of the Stalinists and their fellow travelers, among whom they count George Addes.

The Stalinists have intervened in this situation with a somewhat changed line which cannot but be confusing to many members in the UAW. Everyone knows the close association between them and Addes-Frankensteen. Yet, in a policy article in the Daily Worker, written by the Stalinist trade union expert, Roy Hudson, they are critical of both factions.

What the Stalinists Want

The Stalinist program in the union is simple: support for the three presidents, Roosevelt, Murray and Thomas; against factionalism in the union; for unity of the two groups with Thomas. Thus it sounds strange that the most cynical and destructive factional grouping in the labor movement now champions unity and the end of factions.

The main reason for this is the fear that the Stalinists have of a Reuther-Leonard victory. But they are also worried about Addes-Frankensteen, since the latter have the support of many reactionaries. Moreover, by their dealings with Frankensteen, they know him to be a blatant opportunist and careerist. The Stalinists have been losing strength in the union and find themselves assailed in many quarters for their own avowed opportunism, sell-out policies and union-wrecking activities.

Their hope lies in a compromise between the two main factions, with Thomas presiding over them as the impartial president. This kind of a conclusion to the present fight would best serve the Stalinists in fighting for their power and anti-working class program in the union.

For a National Progressive Group

The danger in this situation is that the struggle between the Reuther-Leonard and Addes-Frankensteen groups will overshadow the more important questions confronting the ranks of the union. While it is true that in some respects the former is a more progressive group than Addes-Frankensteen, that it has in its ranks many genuine progressives and in other respects reflects the pressure of these progressives, the real need of the union is the establishment of a genuine, national progressive group. This does not exist in the UAW. There are many local groups which could qualify for such distinction. But as yet these groups have not been fully crystallized and solidified, nor have their programs been fully clarified.

A national progressive group would have to stand on a program somewhat as follows: for rescinding the no-strike pledge; against incentive pay; for a Labor Party; no increase in dues; no increase in salaries of the officials; for equalization of wage rates; against differentials in pay; for organization of the unorganized in the industry; for post-war contingent wages; for wage increases; against the wage free; against the job freeze; against the WLB.

In addition, a genuinely progressive group would have to take a positive position in favor of nationalization of the auto industry under workers’ control. It would have to consider the matter of post-war conversion of the industry to prevent such a dislocation as will result in mass unemployment of the auto. workers and the consequent hardships which would follow.

Here, then, are some of the genuine problems which confront the union.

So far the Addes-Frankensteen group has been silent on most of them. On others it has taken an equivocal position. On still others, a reactionary one.

The Stalinists have only a simple program, as we have already indicated: Support the three presidents and incentive pay; support the war and the Administration, at the complete expense of the position of the working class.

Reuther and Leonard have made a start on a few progressive issues; on the other important questions their position is not unlike the others. Or else, they have kept silent, too.

It is clear, however, that a real national progressive group built around a militant pro-labor program has yet to be erected. This is the prime task of the auto workers!

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