Tom Kerry Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

C. Thomas

Big Willow Run Plant to Shut Down

Ford Bomber Unit Cutback to Result in Mass Layoff

Union Spokesman Asks Why Government-Plant
Is Not Used to Produce Civilian Goods

(28 April 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 17, 28 April 1945, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Ford-operated Willow Run B-24 bomber plant at Detroit Michigan, built by the government and widely publicized as the most efficient mass production unit in the world, is slated for the scrap heap. Thousands of workers are being laid off as the working force of 22,000 is reduced in preparation for a complete shutdown scheduled for August 1.

It is estimated that the shutdown of this one plant will affect several hundred thousand workers in related industries.

The cutback at Willow Run, for example, led immediately to the dismissal of 4,000 workers employed by the Buick Aviation Engine Plant at Melrose Park, Illinois, producing engines for the B-24 bombers.

The Willow Run plant cost the government $96,450,000 to build and equip with the most modern machinery. In addition, $26,000,000 was spent on a housing project for the workers and their families. A highway from the city of Detroit to the plant costing $20,000,000 was constructed at government expense. To appreciate its size, it is only necessary to point out that the Willow Run plant has an airport bigger than the huge La Guardia Field in New York.

Protesting the announced intention of shutting down Willow Run, a union spokesman demanded to know: “If we can’t make bombers, why can’t we make bathtubs, or any one of the other many items which have become scarce since war production started?” The plant is capable of producing tractors, farm equipment, pre-fabricated houses, household equipment, etc., in large quantities. It was built with funds provided by the public treasury. If it is no longer needed for war production, why can’t it be used in the public interest to manufacture civilian goods now so urgently needed by the people?

But that would violate the sacred “principle” of “free private enterprise” which guides administration policy and decrees that government-owned plants and equipment shall not be used to “compete” with private industry. The employers and their political agents in Washington cannot tolerate any “confusion” on this point. To avoid such embarrassing questions, J.A. Krug, chairman of the War Production Board, indicated “that since the announcement that Willow Run would end its output of Liberators had caused so much confusion, the Army may announce cutbacks henceforth from Washington instead of locally.”

WPB Policy

Krugg told a press conference that the Army made a mistake in telling the workers of the plan to padlock the Willow Run plant, but, he said: “I don’t think they’ll try it again.” The method advocated by WPB chairman Krug of dealing with the “reconversion” problem is to tighten the lid on information relating to cutbacks and plant shutdowns. By keeping the workers in ignorance of the plant shutdown program of the government this spokesman for Big Business hopes to avoid a repetition of the militant sit-in demonstration, staged by the Brewster Aircraft workers last year.

The capitalist “planners” have altered their technique. The Brewster shutdown was effected at one swoop throwing 13,000 workers out of a job overnight. At Willow Run, they decided to get rid of the workers gradually by laying off a few thousand at a time – but made the “mistake” of informing the workers of their intention to shut the plant down. Hereafter, according to Krug, the method will be to reduce the working force and conceal the fact that the plant is to be padlocked.

In this way, they hope to avoid the occupation of the plants by large groups of workers driven to protest the callous disregard of labor’s welfare by Wall Street’s “demobilization” representatives in Washington.

Tom Kerry Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 6 November 2018