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UAW Convention Issues Blurred

(11 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 10, 11 March 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT – UAW locals have been electing delegates for the annual convention of the union which meets on March 23 at Atlantic City. At the same time many locals are electing their local union officers or have already done so.

The elections this year are taking place in an entirely different atmosphere from the campaign that preceded the elections to the 1944 convention. dominated as it was by a furious campaign around the issue of the no-strike pledge. In the last elections, the issues were clear. In this election the problems that face the union and the platform of the various groupings in. the International are blurred over and unclear to the rank and file.

Change in Situation

The last convention witnessed the emergence of a powerful Rank and File caucus, organized against both the Addes and the Reuther factions which dominate the UAW. It gained the votes of over one-third of the delegates on its main slogan: “Rescind the No-strike Pledge.” The Rank and File group had made its appearance long before the sessions of the convention when at the Michigan State convention of the CIO, the delegates from the auto locals led by the Briggs Local 212 and the Willow Run Local 50 delegations announced that they were organizing independently of the 1944 UAW convention.

In the referendum on the no-strike about 40% of the votes were cast for the proposal of the Rank and File caucus to withdraw the no-strike pledge. In local after local, candidates for office and for conventions ran on clear platforms: some for the repeal of the pledge and others, of course, for its retention. But at any rate, the issues were there for anyone to see.

Now however, the Rank and File caucus has disappeared. The Willow Run Local 50 for all practical purposes went out of existence when the plant shut down. The progressive group that controlled the Briggs local at the time of the last convention has been defeated by a more conservative tendency. Reports are that even in Local 15 at Fleetwood, where some of the most aggressive militants in the UAW were in control for at least three years, the local elections registered defeats for these excellent progressives.

In Local 600, Larry Yost who headed the former Rank and File group is running for local president backed by a caucus of militants who oppose both the Addes and the Reuther groups in the local on a clear platform including the following planks:

  1. for an independent labor party;
  2. against company security, and
  3. opposition to the present top leadership of the International.

However, this group and this platform are unfortunately outstanding exceptions in the elections in this area.

Support is temporarily flowing back into the channels of the two big and powerful Reuther and Addes factions.

Why the Change?

This tendency is not surprising. At the last convention, the leadership of both these groups was firmly behind the no-strike pledge; they deserted the membership which had to fight the employers in so-called “wildcat” or unauthorized stoppages; they functioned openly as strike breakers; they removed the officials of locals which insisted upon fighting the employers.

With the end of the war, however, the leadership got more elbow room for itself. Their past crimes were temporarily put aside as they bowed to the pressure of the rank and file and, at least in the case of General Motors, put the stamp of approval upon a nation-wide walkout. The Stalinist supporters of Addes, reacting to the needs of the rulers of Russia in its conflict with the United States and Great Britain, became critics of the tactics of the International Executive Board and appeared to become “radical” once again.

At the same time, the long and bitter strike against General Motors has shown the workers how powerful the big monopolies are, how great is their power of resistance, and how mighty the struggle of the working class must be to defeat them. Small isolated strikes were the rule yesterday. Now, however, after a three months’ shutdown of ALL the GM plants, the limits of these partial stoppages is clearer. The first elementary, even if erroneous, conclusion of the active unionists seems to be to shy away from the smaller “opposition” groups in order to return to the groups with apparent power and influence. Doubtless, many workers translate the wholely justified desire for unity and solidarity against the big corporations into a willingness for “unity” with and for the top leadership of the union. This becomes an even greater tendency because of the shifting positions of the leadership in reaction to the post-war problems.

However, the old problems of the unions still remain although temporarily concealed from the eyes of the membership. The leadership has accepted company security and speedup provisions in the new contracts. It has no platform to meet the political offensive of big business against labor. As the months go by, the rank and file will feel these shortcomings of its leaderships. The hum of the rapidly moving assembly lines will sing new tunes.

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