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Ben Hall

Cadillac Square Demonstrators Are
“Disciplined” by General Motors

(19 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 20, 19 May 1947, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, May 11 – A tiny ring of wilful dictators, disposing of millions of dollars, is utilizing its control over jobs and food to coerce men who oppose their dictatorship to abandon political activity on behalf of the people. This use of hunger and unemployment as political weapons occurs not in Berlin, not in Moscow, but in the heart of “democratic” United States, in Detroit.

On Thursday, April 24, at 2:00 p.m., over half a million workers left their jobs. Two hundred thousand of them marched in a body to the center of town for a political meeting. Who were these people? They represented virtually the entire working population of the city. They were the men and women who create the automobiles, the trucks, the trailers, tires, steel and steel products, electrical products, building equipment ... all the commodities and manufactures of modern industrial life.

They were the producers. And these producers decided to utilize the rights supposedly guaranteed them under the Constitution of the United States to assemble peaceably and make plain their desires to what they considered their own government. It was the PEOPLE attempting to influence “their own” representatives in Washington. These people were demanding that the proposed ant-union laws pending in Congress be abandoned; they were attempting to influence the course of legislation that would vitally affect their entire social status and have repercussions on their families.

These are the same PEOPLE who vote on Election Day. But they knew that they could not afford to wait until next Election Day to express their. demands. They concluded that they would express their sentiments not on little slips of paper dropped into slits in wooden boxes but on big placards carried in thousands of hands, in slogans shouted by tens of thousands of voices. And they were willing to lose half a day’s work and half a day’s wages to do so. This was their “special” Election Day and they took it far more seriously than the day in November when they have the uncertain privilege of casting their ballots for one or another representative of the boss class.

Disciplinary Action

The whole WORKING population demonstrated its will but not the Whole population. A little group of economic parasites remained in their offices; among them were the directors of one of the giants among economic giants, tied to the powerful du Pont dynasty, holding many important levers of the life of the nation in its hands, the General Motors Corporation. And this little band of people, totally divorced from and opposed to the vast majority of the population, decided to express ITS political desires in an entirely different way. In a move deliberately calculated to disorganize and demoralize the unions and make future demonstrations of this kind impossible, the General Motors Corporation, responsible to no one, invoked the following disciplinary action affecting close to five hundred of its, workers:

Political Act

The GM bosses pretend to act under the authority given to them under the recently signed contract with the union. The work stoppage, they contend, was in violation of this contract. But not a single intelligent person will take this thin pretext seriously. The stoppage was not against GM as such; it was not a result of a dispute over working conditions in the plants; it did not aim at extracting a single concession from GM itself. The stoppage was for the exclusive purpose of putting pressure on the government. This has nothing to do with the contract; it is entirely outside of its jurisdiction.

The violent reaction by the GM management against the workers who demonstrated against the actions of the government proves that a direct and intimate tie links the government in Washington with the GM corporation in Detroit. That tie is easy to detect. The government protects GM from its workers; it helped whittle down the demands of the GM strikers in 1945–46; it returned millions of dollars in tax rebates to the company; in sum, it acts as the directing executive committee for the capitalist class, of which the GM bosses are a part. In return, the GM management protects ITS government from the attacks of the workers.

But how are the GM bosses to support their government? They are few in number; they are a tiny minority. But they are powerful for one and only one reason: they own and control the machines that produce the goods of life; they own the means of production, without which it is impossible for the workers to earn their livelihood. With ; the billions of profits that it milks from workers and machines, the capitalist class is enabled to buy and sell political parties, to make or break politicians; to rule or ruin newspapers; to dictate the policies of universities, schools, movies, radio.

And when even this is not enough, when the workers begin to see through the fog of deceit, these arrogant kings and dictators say: “Abandon your political action. Cease your demonstrations. If not, we will starve your families, destroy your homes, cast you into destitution by taking away your means of life which we own, your job.”

The disciplinary measures of the GM company represent a, political act. We must learn this lesson well. The workers, too; must begin to carry on an all-sided economic-political struggle. Our. unions must create and defend our own political party, an independent labor party. Our party must defend the struggles of our unions and all our mass organizations. We must have our own workers’ government which will destroy once and for all the power of a handful of tyrants to dictate to; us economically and politically. To do that we must: Expropriate the Sixty Families. Take the ownership and control of industry out of the hands of the capitalist class and put it into the hands of the workers.

A meeting of the presidents of all Detroit UAW locals will be held on Monday night to hear a full report from the top policy committee on negotiations with GM on this case. In our next issue, we will report on these developments.

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