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Ben Hall

Program is Vital in UAW
Contest with Ford Motors

(24 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 22, 2 June 1947, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, May 24 – The stubborn resolve of the boss class to utilize every possible political and economic weapon to press the labor movement backward, even if only by inches, was displayed here in three developments of major importance to the Michigan working class.

In its negotiations with the UAW, the Ford Motor Company is demanding that the union surrender some of its basic rights before a new contract is signed. At the same time, the company has totally defied the demands of the Foremen’s Association of America for elementary, even primitive, improvements in the new contract. As a result the foremen in all Ford plants here have gone on strike at the call of their independent union, the FAA.

Meanwhile at the State Capitol in Lansing, hearings are being held on the notorious Callahan bill, which would wipe out the bargaining rights of any union whose leadership was under “foreign” influence. The state House has already passed a bill,outlawing strikes of public employees.

Ford Asks “Concessions”

The Ford Company is demanding “merely” the following concessions from the union: ending the checkoff of union dues; abolition of the union shop; wage increase BELOW the national pattern of 15 cents; strengthening the right of the company to speed up the production line without union interference; reducing the number of committeemen and abolishing the practice of the company paying them during time when they are carrying on their duties. We must remember that the number of committeemen was reduced by the LAST contract precisely on the ground that the company would pay the fewer committeemen for fulltime service to the workers. Now they want to cut out the pay and reduce the number of committeemen still further! And without consultation with the union, the company has announced the end of paid lunch periods for all its workers.

The Foremen’s Association of America made the following simple demands: (1) equal pay for equal work; (2) premium pay for night shifts; (3) collective bargaining of grievances, no unilateral action by the company; (4) the company must stop nominal “reclassification” of workers to remove them from the union’s jurisdiction. But the company has not only challenged these simple rights, it has made clear that it is determined to smash the foremen’s union. In a public statement the company says: The idea that foremen need a union is a “notion” that is “basically wrong.” To sign a contract embodying the demands of the union would only perpetuate and bolster this “fallacy.”

By agreement with the UAW-CIO, the workers in the Ford plants will pass through the picket lines but will not take over the duties of the foremen. The strike has been in progress for two days and is slowly paralyzing operations.

Every union leader in the area has denounced the Callahan bill. The provisions of the bill would make it possible fox the authorities to take action against the leadership of any union which displeased them. This is literally true.

Proposed Work Stoppage

Several local unions have gone on record for a one-day stoppage to protest the nationwide drive against labor. Even the Michigan Herald, the organ of the Communist Party here, has taken cognizance of this demand and has endorsed it. (The allies of the CP in the UAW, it should be remembered, resisted the calling of the massive Cadillac Square demonstration last month. Labor Action will soon go into detail on this point.)

But the top leadership of the CIO and AFL are completely devoid of any program of action. Philip Murray is burying his head so far into the sand that only the soles of his shoes protrude. His answer to the problems of the day is a TWO-YEAR NO-STRIKE PLEDGE! The man doesn’t even give us a chance to forget how effective a program this was during the war years ... for the employers!

One thing is certain, however. There won’t be any no-strike pledge in the UAW. No one will even dare to propose it. But this is only a negative gain. We need a positive program and none of the high officials of the UAW has tried to offer any. What about Walter Reuther? He is silent. The reason for this loud silence is not hard to uncover. Reuther is jockeying for the support of Murray against the Addes-Thomas-CP bloc in the UAW. He shrinks back from any step which might bring him into conflict with Murray.

But the Reuther tendency in the UAW has NOT derived strength from Murray in the past. On the contrary, Murray supported R.J. Thomas. The group around Reuther rallied to him on the basis of the radical “GM strike program.” If Reuther will not speak out, seeking the nod from Murray, the ranks of the “Reuther caucus” must press him forward; and the best occasion for that will be the coming state CIO convention.

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