Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

David Coolidge

Convention Should Halt UAW Policy of Retreat

(3 August 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 31, 3 August 1943, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One year after holding a great convention with 1,000 delegates in Buffalo, N.Y., the United Automobile Workers are in session again, this time in Chicago.

The main labor theme of the Buffalo convention was the organization of the hundreds of thousands of workers in the rapidly expanding aircraft industry. The delegates were insistent on this. This was the insistent and persistent refrain from the convention floor.

There were Curtiss-Wright, Glen Martin, Douglas, Consolidated and many smaller airplane plants to be brought under the banner of the CIO. There was the matter of completing the organization of plants where something had already been done. There was the important matter of getting all the workers into the union in plants where contracts had already been signed. There was plenty of work to be done that would take all the time, ability and energy of the high command of the UAW and of every single organizer, both paid and volunteer.

It was during this convention that the demonstration at the Buffalo plants of Curtiss-Wright took place. During the year this company was to be the focal point of the organizing attack of the UAW shock troops. There was also Glen Martin, where a rather desultory organizing campaign had been in progress and the Douglas Aircraft Co., perhaps the toughest nut of all to crack.

There was the problem of building up and strengthening the locals in plants such as Bell, where things were going from bad to worse; where in a local of about 5,000 members, less than 200 vote in an election for local union officers.

These were some of the pressing problems that the UAW faced even before the United States entered the war and before the conversion efforts in the automobile industry had been decreed.

How well have these tasks been carried out in the past year by the leadership of the CIO and the UAW? What have Thomas, Addes, Frankensteen and the UAW regional directors been doing since the last convention? This question must be answered at this convention. The delegates should insist on an answer and on full and frank discussion.

During the Past Year

Let us look at the past year and see just what has been going on. About three months after the UAW convention last August, the CIO convention was held in Detroit. It was at this convention that the CIO first came out in full support of the war. At the previous convention in Atlantic City the organization had stuck to its own business and devoted its time to the problems of labor in the United States. If one throws out all the ballyhoo of the Stalinists at the Atlantic City convention for the re-election of Lewis and their campaign against Murray, one can say without qualification that it was an excellent convention of labor.

However, one year later Murray announced that it was his opinion that the CIO should take a definite stand on the war. To Murray this meant support of the war. This opinion took form in the main convention resolution in the expression, “support of the foreign policy of the President.” At the close of the convention it was clear that the CIO had moved a long way from the militant attitude of the Atlantic City convention that the first consideration of the CIO was the militant defense of the rights of labor.

Murray and the CIO leaders made some very subtle distinction between the right to strike and the promise not to strike. They adopted the formula: “We have the right to strike but we promise not to use this right for the duration of the war.” This of course was satisfactory to the bosses. They have no objection even to wage raises “in principle.” They object only when the workers demand the application of the principle.

The next retreat was on the matter of “premium pay” for Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Under the lashing of the National Association of Manufacturers and their deputies in Congress, the CIO leadership agreed to give up time and a half and double time for Sundays and holidays.

Here too, as in the case of giving up the right to strike, Murray and the CIO leadership acted bureaucratically. The membership of the CIO was NOT CONSULTED. There was a reason for this bureaucratic procedure, of course. Murray knew that the membership of the CIO was opposed to yielding the right to strike and to giving up the overtime pay for weekends and holidays.

Democratic Tradition

All of this had its effect on Thomas and the UAW leadership. Thomas is perhaps Murray’s chief lieutenant and his most powerful support aside from the Murray-MacDonald steel Union. But the UAW is not so thoroughly bureaucratized as the United Steel Workers. Thomas is younger in the game and less experienced than Murray. He has not had the advantage, as has Murray, of years of training under such a consummate master as John L. Lewis. Furthermore, even if he is so inclined, it is doubtful if Thomas can ever become the old-line bureaucrat because he really hasn’t the ability.

There are other and more important reasons for the difference between the UAW and some of the other CIO internationals. For one reason it is not in the grip of the Stalinists. Therefore it has not been harassed and plagued with the intricacies, complexities and mysteries of Kremlin politics. Furthermore, the UAW has a tradition of internal democracy and militancy, its conventions have been somewhat of a model of democratic procedure in the trade union movement. The members have refused to let the leadership be the whole show.

This tradition and this independence and militancy in the membership no doubt had much to do with the decision of the UAW leadership a call a special conference to consider the question of giving up the “premium pay.” Thomas knew that it was necessary at least to go through the motions of a democratic procedure on this question. It turned out that this was all it was: the motions of democratic procedure. At the opening of the conference it was announced that the conference had no legislative function, that its acts would have to be approved by the locals. At the close of the convention a resolution was introduced instructing the locals to renegotiate their contracts, eliminating the “premium pay.”

Not only this, but the organizers were told to go back and put it over. One organizer told a local union that it might as well accept because it was going to get it anyhow.

The Brute Facts

These are some of the things that have been happening in the CIO and the UAW since the last great convention of the UAW in Buffalo.

These are the brute facts that Thomas, Addes, Ffankensteen, Reuther and others must face at this convention. This is what the UAW gave up.

What did the automobile and aircraft workers get in return for these concessions to the bosses? Well, for one thing they got a nice slogan: “VICTORY THROUGH EQUALITY OF SACRIFICE.” According to the CIO-UAW slogan-makers this meant that labor and management were to sacrifice equally! Concretely they said that management was to be limited to annual incomes of $25,000. This is equality of sacrifice!

On the heels of the emblazoning of this great slogan on the CIO-UAW banner the corporation reports began rolling in. These showed that General Motors and other vast combines were raking in the profits in undreamed of amounts. So much so that it is reported that the UAW paper now refrains from publishing profit figures for fear of inflaming the workers.

Next the workers were treated to the spectacle of management doubling and tripling its own salaries. Here again was the working out in practice of the equality of sacrifice slogan.

Labor was confronted with the fact that Standard Oil of New Jersey was practicing equality of sacrifice by maintaining a relation with Germany that was called “treason.” Even those workers who support the war must realize by now that they have been cheated; that the sacrifices they have made have absolutely nothing to do with winning: the war. These workers must know by now that this was not an effort to win the war but a concerted and well organized drive against labor: by the bosses, in Congress and by Roosevelt. Murray, Thomas and the other CIO leaders were caught in the net of the bosses. A delegate to the Special UAW conference in April said: “Last August in Buffalo we elected officers to negotiate for us. Now they are negotiating with our enemies against us.” What this worker said is substantially correct.

What Are the Plans?

What are the plans of Thomas and the other UAW leaders for this convention? Do they have plans for halting the retreat and ordering an advance of the UAW? This is not probable unless the mass of the delegates stand their ground (as they did not at the special April conference) and demand an about-face.

It is probable that the leadership will come in with proposals to increase the dues and their own salaries! This will be a miserable spectacle in the light of the actual situation. Increase dues! For what? A leadership does not need more money in order to continue a retreat. It is not retreat that costs money but in order to repair the damages and devastation of retreat.

If there is to be an about-face, a command for double-time forward, then the membership should be willing to make any sacrifice. But they must be sure about this. They cannot afford to vote an increase in dues to a leadership which rides along with Roosevelt and the bosses at the very time they are expected to be marching at the front of the columns of labor.

What about the increase in the pay of the officials which this convention will be asked to grant? Why should the pay be increased? Are the wages of Thomas, Addes and the regional directors sub-standard?

They are not. Thomas’ pay is $5,500 and Addes’ is $5,000. The Heller Committee of the University of California says that an annual wage of $2,589.87 is required to maintain a family of four: man, wife and two children, in health, decency and moral well-being. Granted that this is low, these brothers have around 100 per cent more and that is enough. They are the leaders of workers, not capitalist corporation officials.

What have these leaders done to warrant an increase in pay? Do they seek reward for leading a retreat, and a disorderly retreat at that? Do they want to be paid for the rout of the UAW by the bosses?

In the light of all the facts known to every member of the UAW, this convention, in our opinion, has the task of calling a halt on retreat and capitulation. It might be well for the UAW members to remember that the steel workers asked for a dollar-a-day increase and got forty-four cents, The miners demanded a dollar-a-day increase and got it. Not only did the miners get a dollar-a-day increase but they wiped out the differential between the North and the South. This meant for the Southern miners an increase of more than a dollar a day.

The miners didn’t get their dollar-a-day increase, however, with any such slogan as “Victory through equality of sacrifice.”

Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 1.1.2014