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Ben Hall

Leaders Force End to Transit Strike

(7 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 15, 15 April 1946, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, April 7 – The strike of bus and street car operators on the city-owned transportation system (DSR) ended today when the leaders of the union, the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway and Motor Coach Employees (AFL), accepted a 15 cents an hour increase in wages and submitted all other issues in dispute to arbitration. The public transportation services had been shut down completely during the seven days of the strike.

The strikers had originally demanded an increase of 18 cents. Edward Jeffries, mayor, had offered 15 cents but had qualified this offer with a number of demands for concessions and retreats by the union from its old contract which expired on March 31. It is these demands of the Mayor which will go to arbitration.

Ranks Against Return

Three days ago, on Thursday, a mass meeting of more than 3,000 strikers had almost unanimously turned down arbitration and had voted to remain on strike until their demands were granted. Only one speaker at that mass meeting, Robert Armstrong, International Vice-President, had dared to propose openly a return to work and he was hooted down by the ranks. All other local and International officials dodged the issue of arbitration and return to work. Frank R. Martel, who heads the Wayne County Federation of Labor (AFL), told the men that he felt that the strike was a mistake but that the AFL would unitedly fight against any attempt to operate the transportation system with scabs. An announcement was made by the Teamsters’ Union that it too would resist any strike breaking efforts by the city, hinting that it would back up this declaration by a general strike if necessary.

The determined spirit of the men at this mass meeting compelled their leaders to go easy on return to work talk. Most militant and vociferous in their demands for uncompromising continuation of the strike were the returned servicemen, one of whom was reported to have said: “I carried an M-1 rifle in the war and I can shoot better than any of those cops if they try to break this strike.”

When the strike began, Jeffries was convinced that this was his opportunity to break the union by violence if necessary. He said: “... the City will be without transportation only until public opinion is sufficiently aroused to justify the turmoil that accompanies the breaking of a strike.” He proposed to the City Council that as a strike-breaking measure it license private jitneys for $1.00 a car and that these jitneys provide service until the men were defeated and returned to work. But the council rejected this proposal. Councilman George Edwards, elected with the support of the CIO and falsely regarded as a real fighter for the rights of labor, explained why the Council had rejected the jitney proposal.

“The 5,000 operators might regard approval of jitneys as a strikebreaking move and accept it as an invitation to chaos,” said Edwards, “I know we have the police, but BEFORE WE START UP THAT ROAD I WANT TO BE SURE THAT THERE IS NO PEACEFUL SOLUTION.”

It is clear by now that all the declarations of support by the top officials of the AFL were concessions dragged out of them by the militant spirit of the strikers. These leaders in the first days of the strike, merely rode the wave of strike sentiment in order the better to end the strike without a real fight.

At the mass meeting today, all the leaders rose to “sell” the idea of arbitration and a work return that had been rejected only three days before. Martel, Jack Storey, president of Amalgamated Division 26, and Andrew Sayed, business agent, pressed for an end to the strike.

One speaker, Stephen Singler, former business agent, denounced the proposed settlement and spoke against going back to work.

Bureaucrats Win

Before any real discussion could take place, Storey, who was chairing the meeting, suddenly declared the debate closed. He called for a surprise standing vote of all who favored a work return. He did not ask for a vote of those opposed. He declared that a vote had been passed to return to work and announced that the meeting was adjourned.

Hundreds of strikers broke into a roar of denunciation of this undemocratic procedure. Many of those objecting and shouting for continuation of the strike were men wearing military service buttons. But these disorganized protests were powerless to fight off the tricks of the leadership and the men returned to work that night.

The strikers may get a lesson in arbitration. The board of arbitration consists of a representative of the union, one from the DSR, and a third, holding the decisive voice, Police Commissioner John F. Ballenger.

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Last updated: 22 January 2019