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Ben Hall

Transit Strike Challenges
Detroit Mayor

(1 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 14, 8 April 1946, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, April 1 – The city-owned public transportation system was completely shut down at 4 a.m. this morning when 5,200 street car and bus drivers, members of District 26 of the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway and Motor Coach Operators (AFL) rolled their busses and cars into the car barns for the beginning of a city-wide strike.

The strike was voted by a large majority of the union membership at a mass meeting yesterday afternoon which followed six weeks of futile negotiations with the city administration of Mayor Edward Jeffries. These negotiations continued up to midnight yesterday when the contract between the union and the city expired.

The workers are demanding an increase in wages of 18 cents per hour. Jeffries has made a phony offer of 15 cents which is tied up with various concessions by the union. The real extent of his offer amounts to no more than 10 cents per hour. This offer has been categorically rejected by the union.

At the union mass meeting the rank and file voted for the strike despite the pleading of its local and international officials who urged going slow and continued negotiations and despite the threats of city officials that the strike was illegal and would be broken. Philip Weis, chairman of the State Mediation Board, had demanded that the strikers wait for thirty days as allegedly provided for in a state law relative to municipal services. Jeffries demanded that the issues be sent to arbitration.

But these appeals, threats, and demands went unheeded. One bus driver, a young veteran named Paul Michalewski, replied to these arguments in heated terms.

“I am a returned GI,” he said, “and I am telling you we want to strike and end this damned business once and for all. The people of Detroit all want us to strike. They know what Jeffries and his rotten commission are doing to us.”

Mayor Jeffries, who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Governor of Michigan, hopes to become the darling of every reactionary force in the state by his actions in this strike. He intends, if possible, to break the strike and wreck the union by violence if necessary.

“I anticipate ... that if a strike is called it will be a long one,” said Jeffries yesterday. “If they call a strike the city will be without transportation only until public opinion is sufficiently aroused to justify the turmoil that accompanies the breaking of a strike.”

One rank and filer took up Jeffries’ challenge.

“He told you in the papers that he will break your strike,” said he. “He has 250 of his commandos over there that he wants to use for breaking our strike. Well, I for one, am ready to meet his commandos right out at the Shoemaker garage tomorrow morning. We’ll find out whether he can break our union or not. If he wants a strike, let’s give it to him.”

The DRS office workers and 100 electrical workers who are members of another AFL union have already announced that they will back up the strike of the drivers and will not cross their picket line.

Richard A. Sullivan, DSR General Manager, announced that 1,700 maintenance men employed by the system would work through the strike. These men are members of the State, County and Municipal Workers Union (CIO), a union which is controlled here by the supporters of the Communist Party. It remains to be seen, however, whether these workers will carry out the reactionary policies of the CP or whether they will respect the picket lines.

The workers of the entire Detroit labor movement must get ready for a protracted and bitter struggle, for if Jeffries has his way, a sharp fight is inevitable. All unions, CIO and AFL, must be ready to give moral and practical support to this fight.

Detroit workers! On guard against anti-union strike breaking and violence!

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Last updated: 22 January 2019