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David Coolidge

Whose Victory? Whose Equality? Whose Sacrifice?

The UAW “Victory Through
Equality of Sacrifice” Program

(4 May 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 18, 4 May 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In opening the “War Emergency Conference” of the UAW in Detroit, President Thomas remarked that the conference was ‘called “to consider the role we are to play in the prosecution of the War.” The leadership of the UAW following the CIO leadership had a program to present to the “conference” on this vital question. There were 1,400 delegates present to hear what their leaders had to say.

The “main point is the winning of the war,” said Thomas. “We all have to make sacrifices, labor must make sacrifices,” Thomas continued. “I can stand here and say that labor must not give up a damn thing in this war. You might applaud me today but tomorrow in the day of defeat you would curse me as a betrayer of our country.”

This was the keynote speech of the conference so far as the international board was concerned. The “program for the nation” was then taken up. It is called Victory Through Equality of Sacrifice. It is this program that I wish to consider briefly.

It should be clearly understood by all of us that this “program” and the method of its adoption were really based on the decision of the leadership to capitulate to the bosses and Roosevelt. Furthermore the “program’’ is based on a false conception of the independent role of the unions and the relation of the working class to imperialist war. (To be sure Thomas and the CIO-AFL leaders do not say that it is an imperialist war. Some of them know that it is but for reasons which I will discuss later they befuddle the workers with claptrap such as we reported in last week’s Labor Action in the article on the conference.)

Becoming Sacrifice-Conscious

The CIO-AFL leaders, Murray, Green, Thomas and others, want the workers to become sacrifice-conscious. A Program for the Nation says: “within this war effort there can be no room for special privilege or gain by any group or individual. Labor has recognized this from the outset of the war.”

What does this really mean coming from the leadership of a great militant international union? When we read such sentiments last year and this, in the capitalist press, when we read such statements made by the reactionaries in Congress we know exactly what they are talking about. We know because we know whom they represent. We know that when the bosses, their press and their congressmen talk in this manner they are trying to fool and mislead labor. The bosses and their stooges know that industry is not going to make any real sacrifices. They intend to go right on with their “special privilege” and their tremendous financial gains and profits.

What would Thomas and Murray consider “special privilege or gain” by labor? Was time and a half and double time on Sunday “special privilege and gain” for labor? Is the demand of the steel workers for a dollar a day increase in pay “special privilege and gain”? Is this what labor has recognized ... from the outset of the war”?

When Thomas and the UAW leadership use the exact language and take the same position on this question as the bosses and the capitalist press, whom are they bargaining for; for labor or for the bosses? When Thomas, Addes, Reuther, Leonard, Frankensteen, Kerrigan and the rest talk just like Witherow, Ford, Sloan and Wilson; then we say that they are no longer bargaining for labor but for the bosses and a boss government conducting the second word imperialist war.

Thomas Wants Labor to Retreat

Thomas and Murray call on labor to give up more, to do more sacrificing while at the same time they parade before labor all the sacrifices that the working class has already made. They not only admit that labor has made tremendous sacrifices but they also admit that only labor has made any sacrifice at all. The Program for the Nation says: “the men and women of labor have cheerfully paid their share of steeply increased taxes; their contribution in this respect is altogether out of proportion to their comparative ability to pay. Labor has voluntarily foregone its priceless freedom of economic action, its right to strike.” (It should be remarked right here that labor did not “voluntarily” forego its “right to strike.” Murray and Thomas, under pressure from the bosses and Roosevelt, gave up labor’s right to strike without asking labor’s opinion on the matter.)

Who says that labor pays these outrageous taxes “cheerfully;” this is nonsense and Thomas knows this. Labor knows who should be paying the taxes for the support of this war even if Thomas and the CIO leadership don’t.

“Labor has made sacrifices and will continue to make them without complaint.” No one who stayed awake during the six hours discussion at the Detroit conference could draw any such conclusion as this. How does Thomas know that labor will continue to permit itself to be sold down the river for the duration of the war?

Where did Thomas, the “socialist” Reuthers and Addes get the idea from for their “equality of sacrifice” slogan? From Donald Nelson, the $70,000 a year Sears Roebuck executive and head of the War Production Board? “Before a congressional committee several months ago” says the “program,” “Mr. Nelson called for ‘equality of sacrifice’ in the war effort. The time is overdue to make this slogan a reality.”

And how do Thomas, Addes and Reuther precede to make “this slogan a reality?” They come into the “conference” with the proposal that labor sacrifice more right at the time the bosses are grabbing more and more and sacrificing absolutely nothing.

Contrast This with Standard Oil

This conference was held just a few days after the officers of Standard Oil of New Jersey had been called traitors by a United States Senator and at a time when the large corporations were brazenly reporting big increases for 1941 over the already huge blood profits of 1940.

“In furtherance of these principles the UAW-CIO asserts its adherence to the following commitments.” First what principles are Thomas, Addes, the Reuthers and the others talking about? All they have talked about is the things that labor has given up. Labor has “cheerfully paid ... increased taxes ... out of proportion to their comparative ability to pay. Labor has foregone ... its right to strike. Labor has waived its contractual rights to double pay for Sundays and holidays ... the foregoing of this right by labor ... means the acceptance of substantial wage cuts.”

Therefore in the “furtherance of these principles” the UAW leadership proposed that labor do some more sacrificing. Sundays and holidays shall be treated as ordinary working days. The pledge not to strike is reaffirmed. They agree on a 24-hour day, seven day week with a swing shift schedule. “To the above conditions we commit ourselves without conditions.”

After giving up everything the UAW leadership gets down to the business of “equality of sacrifice.” They submit their “program for the nation.” They want all profiteering ended with all earning over 3 per cent going to the government. They insist on “no war-time millionaires. During the war salaries and incomes should be no higher than $25,000 a year. Wages should be adjusted to meet living costs.” They don’t say how the workers will get this since the leaders have given up the right to strike for the workers. There are other points in the 10 point program but these are the main points aside from the last.

Should Labor Give Up Overtime Pay?

When industry consents to the above “we agree that all wages for time over 40 hours per week shall be paid in the form of non-negotiable SPECIAL DEFENSE BONDS. This will mean a tremendous source of income for our government for financing the war effort. It will at the same time relieve the existing pressure toward rising prices, and will create a cushion of purchasing power for the post-war period.”

Could any group of slaves make a more miserable, cowardly and abject proposal? Thomas and his board talk in point 5 about adjusting wages to meet the increased cost of living and then in point ten say that all our wages over 40 hours per week the government should take and save it for us. Then when our present bosses kick us out when the war is over, the government will have something to feed us on for a while. Then the government will not have to tax our bosses for unemployed relief. They will be able to keep all the millions they have piled up during the war. We will sacrifice now and go hungry so that the bosses will not have to pay for feeding us after the war is over.

It is no small wonder that this “program for the nation” created such a furor at the “War Emergency Conference.” It is no wonder that Thomas and the board kept the “program” concealed until the morning the conference opened. It is easy to understand why they did not submit it to the locals in advance for discussion. They knew that this sell-out would be kicked over by the UAW membership if they got a fair crack at it.

It is a fact, the Murrays, Greens and Thomases are willing to strip labor and leave us naked. They are bargaining for the bosses, for the war-mongers, for the National Association of Manufacturers and the Automobile Chamber of Commerce. If labor wants to come out of this war with even its shirt left it will have to assert its rights, it will have to ignore the “bargains” the Greens, Murrays and Thomases are getting for the working class.

Labor can do nothing if the strike is given up. Not the “right to strike” but the strike in fact when it is necessary. The picket line is the only weapon that will guarantee “adjustment of wages to meet increased living costs.”

It is only the mass economic and political organization, swelling ever larger, becoming political and more militant that can “end all war profiteering.” It is only the mass organization of the working class that will bring us through this war with a shirt left.

It is only the mass economic and political organization of the working class now, in every capitalist country that can “win the peace” for the working class and establish that “post-war planning” that is working class planning and a working class victory.

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