Ben Hall Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Ben Hall

UAW Leaders Try to Put Over
Kaiser-Frazer Incentive Plan

(21 January 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 3, 21 January 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Incentive pay” and “company security” are the demands of the capitalist class in general and of the auto monopolists in particular. The leaders of the Auto Workers Union have yielded to these demands in the contract they have just signed with the Kaiser-Frazer Co., which has taken over operation of the former Willow Run bomber plant abandoned by the Ford Motor Co. This agreement is therefore NOT a victory for the workers but a victory for the employers and a new retreat by the top officials of the union.

The International Executive Board of the UAW has not yet assigned jurisdiction over the plant to any local union and has had complete freedom to conduct negotiations from the top without direct representation from the rank and file. The contract, it must be noted, has the unanimous approval of ALL the top leaders, including Thomas, Reuther, Addes, and Frankensteen. With his usual bombast, Thomas declares, “It is the best contract ever drawn in the automobile industry. We feel that Mr. Frazer and Mr. Kaiser will not be disappointed.”

There is no doubt ... THEY will be satisfied but the question is: Shall the WORKERS in the auto industry rejoice over this alleged victory? Unless the UAW militants speak up against this contract with the same vigor with which they denounced the Leonard-Ford company security scheme, the brass hats of the union will have quietly slipped over a plan that will have its oppressive effects on the workers of the whole industry.


The company has agreed to pay the same wage rates as the Ford Motor Co. Any increase in pay won by the General Motors strikers will be matched by equivalent retroactive increases for the K-F workers. The company has recognized thereby the power and solidarity of the union but this “victory” is a very conditional one. The fight for the 30% increase in wage rates must still be fought and won by the auto workers while the Kaiser-Frazer workers mark time as the battle is being fought out.

The agreement provisions for production bonuses and for a company security plan, however, are not only vicious in themselves but also make the fight for wages rate increases more difficult.

The Plan

The plan devised by the UAW leaders and accepted by the company is roughly as follows:

For every car sold at wholesale prices, the company will set aside $5.00 in a special fund. At the end of the year, this fund will be distributed among the workers as a bonus. Exactly how the division will take place has not been made public. BUT ANY AND ALL WORKERS WHO PARTICIPATE IN SO-CALLED UNAUTHORIZED STRIKES WILL LOSE ALL THEIR CREDITS ACCUMULATED IN THAT FUND UP TO THE TIME THEY STOPPED WORK.

The evils of this plan fall into three categories:

  1. It is an incentive pay plan.
  2. It is a “company security” plan.
  3. The combination of the two above plans is even worse than either of the two.

Incentive Pay

In the past, the advocates of incentive pay argued: “There is a war on. We must not strike. Wages are fixed. Only incentive pay can bring added wages.” The union militants who built the UAW and who fought bitterly to eliminate all forms of incentive pay refused to be baited into that trap and at the 1943 convention of the UAW voted down all piece work proposals.

Now that the war is over and all these arguments prove bankrupt, the union officials, in violation of the convention decision, agree to an incentive pay plan. Walter Reuther, who in 1943 gained himself a reputation as the spokesman for the opponents of incentive pay, also agrees! Regardless of what fancy argumentation the union brass hats may invent in order to prove that they have not violated the convention decision, they will be unable to avoid one simple fact ... the representatives of the employers KNOW and SAY that this is an incentive plan.

The Detroit News writes in one of its editorials:

“The scheme is as ingenious as it is novel and is noteworthy particularly for its ABANDONMENT ON THE UAW’S PART OF THE LONG-STANDING UNION OPPOSITION TO INCENTIVE PAY.”

George B. Hassett, financial editor of the same paper says:

“Whatever the participants to the contract may choose to call it, IN EFFECT THIS AMOUNTS TO INCENTIVE PAY.”

The general objections to all forms of incentive pay ... piece-work, production bonuses, etc. ... are well known to all experienced union men and we will not repeat them here.

But this new pill is heavily coated with sugar and dusted with the sugary phrases of the union leaders who will try to make it as palatable as possible for the members who are to swallow it. It may seem to some that the K-F workers have won an advantage over the rest of the industry. They will get the Ford rates plus the bonus. But this is a strange, temporary, illusion. The contract in question will really exert a downward pressure on the wages rates of all auto workers.

The UAW has been fighting for increases in total take home pay by raising the HOURLY WAGE RATE. It has fought against lengthening of hours, speed-up, piece work which may bring temporary, minor increases in take-home pay as the result of intensified exploitation of the workers and accompanied by tremendous rises in profits. Any plan which ties the amount of wages received by the workers to their individual or group productivity is a piecework plan and an abandonment of the fight for higher wage rates. The Kaiser-Frazer contract makes a dangerous concession to the restoration of the piecework system in the auto industry.

Greater Exploitation

Workers are not opposed to increased productivity – that goes without saying – but they want to work at a normal, human pace. Increased productivity must come out of technical improvements, better machinery, and scientific development. BUT THAT IS NOT WHERE KAISER EXPECTS TO GET HIS ADDED PRODUCTION. He says, “It is an incentive plan that makes every worker feel that his earnings are dependent upon himself.” The workers are expected to strain their muscles and energies for the added bonus.

By increases in their wage RATES, the workers obtain a larger share of what they already produce and cut down the share that is received by the parasitic capitalist class. Under the production bonus system, the workers voluntarily agree to superexploitation and speed-up which raise the capitalist’s share to the skies at the cost of a small bonus-bribe.

If such a principle is accepted in this case, the employers will fight to have it recognized throughout the industry. Instead of wage increases coming out of increased wage rates, the capitalist class will insist that they come out of increased individual productivity through speed-up. If that becomes the recognized norm, the agreed-upon standard, the illusory advantage of the K-F workers will have disappeared and the working conditions of all auto workers undermined.

(To be concluded)

Ben Hall Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 13 August 2018