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H. Benson

Unified Strategy Is Essential
for an Over-All Labor Victory

(22 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 22, 31 May 1948, p. 3..
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The accompanying article was written before the GM settlement. Though now outdated in some of its facts, the essential point of the article is still vital to the labor movement.Ed.


DETROIT, May 22 – 225,000 workers may walk out of their plants when the UAW contract with the General Motors Company expires on Friday, May 28. After weeks of fruitless negotiations, no offer of any kind has been made to the union. General Motors which is making more profits than ever in its history, and which forced its workers into a three months long strike in 1945–46, is so far acting in line with a “pattern” being set by all sections of the capitalist class in all industries.

The task imposed upon the labor movement, it is becoming clear, is not simply to obtain a well-justified wage increase. In order to win our just demands, we must resist the “pattern” of united capitalist attack; and the “pattern” of government by injunction!

The Chrysler strike, now entering its third week, may be the opening episode heading toward a big national crisis.

Following a few relatively trivial incidents, Chrysler applied for an injunction against mass picketing at the Dodge truck plant and the state police were mobilized at the gates of the Highland Park plant. These measures in themselves have little effect on the course of the strike in face of the solidarity of the strikers. But they assume great significance in terms of a possible long range and unified strategy by ALL the big auto companies, and not them alone. Police measures and court injunctions are preparatory measures to soften up the workers for the possible intervention of the Federal government.

The Chrysler Corporation contemptuously offered and then withdrew a token and insulting 6 cent wage increase and has stubbornly refused to budge. Even this offer was accompanied by a letter to all employees in which the company stated that its real position was that NO WAGE INCREASE was justified, but that it offered the 6 cents as ransom money against a strike. Chrysler is not alone in this arrogant attitude.

Not long ago, the steel industry flatly refused even a 1 cent increase to the United Steel Workers Union. Westinghouse Electric followed suit with an identical move against the CIO electrical workers.

The Ford Motors Company, which succeeded in breaking the Foremen’s Association in its plants after last year’s foremen’s strike, is proposing NOT A WAGE INCREASE BUT IS DEMANDING A WAGE CUT from the union. A strike against Ford to defend the living standards of the workers is inevitable if the company does not retreat.

After battling it out for more than two months on the picket line where they met a campaign of terror and intimidation reminiscent of the open-shop days of 15 years ago, the CIO packinghouse workers were compelled by the sheer pressure of hungry families and empty larders to return to work on the basis of the employers’ proposed 9 cents per hour wage increase. In Kansas City, for example, the police broke up peaceful picket lines with clubs, invaded the local union hall, wrecked the equipment and property, and beat all in sight.

The 9 cent wage increase leaves the packinghouse workers far behind the cost of living.

Unified Policy

If the Big Three auto monopolists, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors, follow an agreed-upon plan of attack against the UAW the course of events is clear. The union will be forced either to capitulate and suffer a demoralizing setback, or it will be compelled to carry on a combined strike against the Big Three. Knowing the UAW and its militant rank and file we are certain that they will not capitulate. We know that they will take on the auto monopolists.

But it is not enough to be prepared to stand up against the auto manufacturers. The shutdown of the big auto plants, involving in itself more than half a million workers, would quickly affect supplier and parts plants directly affecting possibly a million workers. Related industries would soon feel the effects ... rubber tires, glass etc. All the big monopolies are tied together. If the auto barons decide to effect what amounts, in fact, to a lock-out of the mass production workers, shops and industries which could really continue in operation might be closed under one pretext or another. Such a unified and coordinated policy is possible to the capitalist class because it is in control of all the levers of modern industry and has the dictatorial right to decide what plant shall and what plant shall not operate.

The crowning aim of such a policy would be a demand for Federal intervention, a demand for an anti-strike injunction under the infamous “national emergency” sections of the Taft law. The capitalist class has received encouragement to embark upon such a criminal road by two years of government by injunction. Twice in two years the miners have been beaten back to the mines by injunctions and fined astronomical sums by the courts. Twice in two years the railroad workers have been driven back to work by government decree. In each case, upon the advice of leaders who do not know how to defend the rights of the labor movement or who are not willing to do what is so necessary, the labor movement has capitulated. That is what leads the auto manufacturers to the conclusion that now may be the time for a show-down battle.

All this MAY NOT occur. The capitalist class, seeing the solidarity of the auto workers, may decide that the unions are too powerful, that it is best to be more cautious and to wait. But it is possible. It is very possible. And if the UAW-CIO. Should be forced to bow to government by injunction, this fact added to the capitulation of the miners and the railroad unions would give a green light to the whole capitalist class to begin a new era of union wrecking.

Social Struggle

The labor movement cannot permit itself to be forced backward one section at a time. The joint strategy of the capitalist class which has as its aim the final wrecking of the union movement must be met by a joint strategy of the labor movement for defense of its rights. What begins as a fight for a simple wage increase,for the right to improve or even merely to maintain the existing living standards of the workers is being transformed by the capitalist class into a big social struggle. And it must be met as such.

Against the “pattern” of government by injunction! A joint strategy committee representing all the mass unions and responsible to the democratically elected representatives of the workers must coordinate the fight. Shall one shop or more than one strike at a time? Shall one industry or more than one strike at a time? How can the workers be organized and mobilized to defend each sector of their struggle? These and similar matters can be settled by a joint strategy committee if it understands the need to prepare for co-ordinated mass action against the injunction pattern.

The UAW already has a Policy Committee for the whole auto industry. Two things are needed: 1) that this policy committee understand what is about to take place or what can very well take place; 2) that there be a “policy committee” for the whole working class.

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