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Ben Hall

Auto Union Faces Very Grave Crisis

(September 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 37, 11 September 1944, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“The UAW faces one of the greatest crises in its history,” said R.J. Thomas in ordering the striking Chrysler workers of Local 490, UAW-CIO, back to work.

It is this crisis that will confront the ninth annual convention of the United Auto Workers Union when it opens at Grand Rapids on September 11.

What is the origin of this crisis?

Thomas and his lieutenants, concerned above all else with currying favor with the Roosevelt Administration, place first responsibility upon the “undisciplined” rank and file of their own union, who are goaded into one “unauthorized’’ strike after another in a desperate attempt to defend their own union. They thereby blame, not those who have created the crisis, but those who try in the only way familiar to them, to overcome it.

The real danger to the union comes from the big monopolists, who are arrogantly whittling away the rights of the union in the shops and who seek to demoralize its membership by an unending series of provocations, all in preparation for a mighty offensive to destroy the union once and for all, and to restore open shop rule. In this campaign they have many powerful allies.

The big corporations are aided by the Democratic Party’s representatives in Congress of the reactionary Southern landowning class and by the anti-union Republican Party, who together spearheaded the drive to put over the strike-breaking Smith-Connally bill and who are ready with a barrage of extreme anti-labor legislation.

They are aided by the Roosevelt Administration, more subtle and far more clever than the open reactionaries, which has avowedly replaced the now abandoned New Deal with “Dr. Win the War” – a phrase designed to make more palatable the program of job-freezing, wage-freezing and the Little Steel formula, exorbitant taxation on wage earners and War Labor Board run-around.

And they are aided by a retreating union officialdom, headed by Thomas, Walter Reuther and George Addes, who, despite the differences among them, unite to stick a knife into the rank and file every time it acts in self-defense, suspend their local officers, and give the go-ahead signal to the companies for the firing of union militants.

As though this were not enough – the capitalist owners of industry are setting aside billions in post-war reserve funds, accumulated from their even greater billions of blood-stained war profits. This is its war chest against a labor movement which during the war finds its wages frozen while prices rise, and which after the war faces mass layoffs and unemployment.

That is the real cause of the crisis in the UAW.

What program can the UAW adopt to meet the crisis and emerge from it with renewed power and vigor?

The brass hats of the union cling frantically to two dogmas: 1. Uphold the no-strike pledge and 2. Support the Roosevelt Administration by building the Political Action Committee of the CIO and oppose the formation of a genuine Labor Party. These stultifying precepts must be abandoned.

Every worker who has been active in his union for more than a day, every committeeman and every steward knows by now that when the union officialdom surrendered the right to strike the unions became impotent, unable to enforce their contracts, and helpless in settling important grievances. Aware of this, the rank and file has been and is compelled to act without and against their own top leadership in hundreds of “unauthorized” walkouts.

In most cases, these stoppages, isolated and sporadic, attacked by the Thomas-Reuther-Addes combine and persecuted by the War Labor Board, end without victory for the workers and succeed only in making the management hesitate only momentarily before the next provocation.

The Communist Political Association is the most vicious strike-breaking outfit inside the labor movement. It put out a feeler to discover how far it could go with reactionary policies when Harry Bridges announced publicly that he favored retention of the no-strike pledge in the post-war period. The CPA pulled in its horns when this proposal met with the unanimous condemnation of the entire labor movement.

At the Michigan state convention of the CIO, the Reuther faction introduced its usual resolution endorsing the no-strike pledge, but this time it felt constrained to repudiate. Bridges, condemning those “inside or outside the labor movement who propose to continue the no-strike pledge in time of peace.”

Change the Course

Why repudiate the pledge in time of peace? Obviously because it disarms labor. But is labor not equally disarmed NOW? Of course! Reuther himself knows it. During the recent strike of Chevrolet Local 25, he said: “Collective bargaining in too many plants has become collective begging.” And months ago the officers of the UAW announced publicly: “In entire sections of the industry ... collective bargaining is being denied our workers.” There could be no clearer statement of the direct results of the no-strike pledge.

Why not withdraw the no-strike pledge NOW and do away with “collective begging”? Reuther, Addes and Thomas will explain for the thousandth time that we are now engaged in a great “War for democracy” and that nothing must interfere with its progress. The boys in the foxholes don’t strike, etc., etc.

Supporters of Labor Action realize that the slogans of “democracy,” “freedom,” “national liberation” in this war are deceitful camouflage to hide the real aims of the ruling capitalist class. But, of course, there are scores of thousands of UAW members who are not yet convinced of this and who hope that somehow the war will further the fight against fascism and advance the cause of democracy.

Democratic rights are justifiedly cherished by all working men. That is the reason why we cannot permit our unions to become weakened and destroyed. The first act of victorious fascism has always been the destruction of the right to strike and with that the complete wiping out of the trade union movement.

The aim of the big corporations NOW is the crushing of the UAW and the undermining of our democratic rights. That is why THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY BEGINS RIGHT HERE AT HOME!

Referring to the General Motors Corporation, Reuther charged: “It is becoming increasingly apparent that the corporation is using every pretext to weaken and undermine the UAW-CIO in the hope of destroying its power in the post-war period.”

The same is true of the Ford Motor Company, which in Windsor, Ont., tried to revoke its contract with the UAW, and of the Chrysler Corporation, which at a WLB hearing said it was willing to deal with the union after the war “if they are here.”

End No-Strike Pledge

If the companies are NOW “undermining” the union in order to “destroy its power” and if the no-strike pledge ties our hands, then is it not clear that we must revoke the pledge to counter this attack? No, says Reuther! And he explains: “We do not feel that the showdown with General Motors Corp., which must come sooner or later, should be fought under circumstances and in an atmosphere favorable to the corporation.”

Reuther has things upside down. If we go through the entire war period bound by the no-strike pledge – and how long the war will last no one can say – we will then permit the company to fight out the battle when it is strongest and we are weakest – “under circumstances favorable to the corporation.” He is a general who would permit his army to be cut to pieces, battalion by battalion.

According, to Reuther’s defeatist formula, we passively allow the corporations NOW to undermine the unions – by firing the best militants, by refusing to settle grievances, by ignoring the contract, and by provoking isolated sporadic partial walkouts which can very easily be smashed. What this is leading to we all know – the slow dissipation of the strength of the unions and the gradual demoralization of the membership. Hundreds of workers, especially those who have been in unions only since the war, put the blame for all the petty persecutions visited upon them not where it really belongs, on the companies and the Thomas-Reuther-Addes leadership, but where it does NOT belong – on the union itself. The companies carefully nurture this error. The Reuther-Addes-Thomas policy leads to the undermining of the union!

In the post-war period we face unemployment and job shortages. NOW, however, many companies are desperate for labor. When did a long line of unemployed outside a factory gate become a circumstance favorable to labor?

Yes, we still may win that battle, even under the worst circumstances, but it will be a far bloodier, more costly and more drawn out battle than what we need face.

The time to revoke the no-strike pledge is NOW.

No worker likes to strike. But every thinking worker wants to defend his union. When other methods fail to protect the union and working conditions, he is compelled to strike. Those who propose to rescind the pledge do not fayor a “wild spree” of strikes, but insist that the defense of the unions be taken up in a systematic plant-wide and company-wide basis to reinvigorate the union movement and put an end to company provocation.

The restoration of the right to strike is of first importance, but that step must be supported and defended by other measures.

Behind the employers stands the notorious War Labor Board.

If workers are on strike, insists the War Labor Board, it will not consider their demands. Just as the employers reject every union demand and jeer: “What are you going to do about it?”, so the WLB folds its arms and orders despotically: “Go back to work or we won’t talk, and what are you going to do about it?” And if you are “reasonable” and don’t strike, the WLB will consider your demands in due time – at its leisure – and then reject every important demand, on pretext of fighting inflation through the Little Steel formula.

The WLB is not an impartial public board, but a “War Bosses Board”; its decisions and decrees are those of the big capitalists and their lawyers. Labor representatives, captives of the employers and of the pro-boss professors, who use the nom de plume of “public representatives,” make diplomatic protests, propose resolutions which are rejected, and accomplish nothing. To expose its anti-labor nature to all, we must insist – Let all union officials GET OFF THE WAR LABOR BOARD.

To defend the right to strike and to be free of the dictates of the WLB, the labor movement must organize its own independent Labor Party. That is a subject discussed elsewhere in Labor Action.

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