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Ben Hall

Labor ’Scope

Conservative Tendency in UAW Considers
Militant Tradition a Mistake

(29 August 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 35, 29 August 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Reuther group in the UAW-CIO is not one homogeneous body of men who represent a unified program for the labor movement. On the contrary, it includes two main antagonistic TENDENCIES.

But because these are TENDENCIES and not organized factions or sub-groups, because they represent a general leaning toward two different kinds of unionism rather than clearly formulated programs and platforms, it is sometimes difficult to see just where they differ.

One example, however, can help to clarify the lineup. We will quote a brief excerpt from the Year Book of the Toledo Industrial Union Council (CIO). But first a word about the Toledo CIO. The UAW is its dominant single union, Howard H. Rediger, executive secretary of the Toledo CIO Council, is a member of Local 12, UAW, and became an international representative on Richard Gosser’s staff in 1946. Gosser was then UAW regional director; today he is a vice-president of the UAW. In our opinion, he is an example of one of the two tendencies inside the Reuther group.

And now, a look at the Toledo CIO Yearbook.

After reminiscing about the militant struggles to build the union, it continues:

“Times have changed. From the crude and regrettable beginnings, labor-management relations have progressed to the point where no city in the United States of America can boast the enviable collective-bargaining relationship now enjoyed in Toledo.

“Instead of name-calling and bricktossing, we sit around the conference table and discuss not only our differences of opinion but ways and means of helping each other, of working as a combination, to the mutual benefit of labor, management and the public.

“Gone and forgotten in this industrial-relations evolution are outmoded methods both sides employed in the early days. We are smarter than that. We have learned the simple lesson of getting along with one another. We want to work together. Our history is evident proof that we have done an admirable job of cooperating ...

“While others wrangle about this and that, we shall continue to exercise the Toledo prerogative of negotiating the problems that face us because in this procedure no one loses anything while we get together ... There is a magic word which has made possible the greater portion of our success. That word is ‘unity.’ We get along with each other, we get along with corporate management seeking to achieve harmony, and we get along with the public.”

It Was All a Mistake

Naturally, it is “regrettable” that the workers had to fight off scabs, militia, tear gas and thugs in order to build their union, and doubly “regrettable” that many men died in the process. But what does the absence of these “regrettable” conditions at this moment teach us? Simply that when the workers themselves are militant; ready to meet fire with fire to defend their legitimate rights, they can be victorious and can compel the employees to recognize the union.

The Yearbook concludes, however, that the whole business was a mistake. If only they had “learned the simple lesson of getting along,” the bosses and the workers could have avoided the messy misunderstanding ... for after all, “unity” between the employers and the workers is desirable and possible.

The labor movement today is very powerful, too powerful for the employers to beat back with the old “regrettable” methods, although in more and more cases we hear about the use of injunctions and police violence against the union.

The capitalist class, no different in Toledo than anywhere else, is now carrying on a political attack on the labor movement through its two parties.

The conservative tendency in the Reuther group glorifies. the reputed harmony of interests between the workers and their exploiting employers. But the rank and file and the progressives in the UAW who put Reuther into office after the GM strike know that this “harmony” is a fitful dream. Only those who are asleep while political and social events whirl about them could take these reveries for reality.

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