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David Coolidge

Rank and File Delegates Seek to Halt
UAW Plunge into Retreat – But Union Officialdom
Triumphs over Leaderless Opposition

(17 August 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 33, 17 August 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The seventh annual convention of the United Automobile Workers of America closed last Sunday. On the whole the convention was a victory for the bosses, Roosevelt and the war-comes-first top bureaucrats of the international: Thomas, Addes, Frankensteen and Walter Reuther.

The chief role of this quartet was to attempt keeping the brakes on so tightt that nothing could be done to halt the plunge of the UAW into complete capitulation to Roosevelt and the bosses. They were, there, all four of them, sweating, cajoling, pleading and maneuvering against any action that might be taken to rescind their beloved “equality of sacrifice” slogan, their “no-strike” promises and their double-time pay surrender.

This wasn’t all that the Thomas-Addes-Reuther-Frankensteen quartet had in mind for the convention. There were such matters as creating two new posts in the international: two vice-presidencies to be filled by Walter Reuther and Frankensteen. Also the little matter of biennial conventions which they tried last year at Buffalo. Next these, bureaucrats were present to push up the dues in the international from $1.00 a month to $1.50. And lastly they came to Chicago with a well-oiled scheme to boost the pay of Thomas, and Addes nearly 100 per cent.

Rival Duets Form Harmony Quartet

These leaders, some of whom were not friendly to each other at the Buffalo convention a year ago, have now kissed and made up. At Buffalo, Reuther organized a bloc, comprising the most reactionary delegates, to support Leonard against Addes for secretary-treasurer. At this same convention Frankensteen, fresh from the North American sell-out, maneuvered between the Reuther and the Stalinist cliques to become vice-president. Addes, very cautiously, blew hot and cold, pro-Stalinist or anti-Stalinist, depending on the needs of the moment, to assure his re-election. Thomas announced his support of the war but came out against an AEF and voted for Addes.

After the convention the maneuvering continued. President Thomas and Frankensteen nestled together and Addes and his erstwhile enemy Reuther cuddled over to each other.

By the time of the Chicago convention, however, all was sweetness and light and what might have become two discordant duets was turned into a quartet of harmony and cooperation. At Chicago, Walter Reuther seconded the nomination of Addes for secretary-treasurer and Addes urged the delegates “assembled here to cast a unanimous ballot for the nominee, Brother Walter Reuther.” Thomas, in a few well chosen words, urged the convention to, “support my good friend, Dick Frankensteen.” Previously Frankensteen had seconded the nomination of Thomas for president.

This accord, of course, was imperative if the leadership was to have any chance at all to control the convention and keep the UAW tied to Roosevelt, the bosses, and the war. They knew that the membership was fighting mad. That grim joke about “equality of sacrifice” which the Thomas-Addes-Reuther-Frankensteen quartet had put over at the April conference had served only to throw the UAW for a loss. The “no-strike” capitulation of Murray-Thomas had made the UAW locals the prey of every plant manager and every little foreman. The double pay surrender of Murray-Thomas had not only resulted in the loss of income for UAW workers but also had worked to the advantage of the AFL, notably the IAM in the Curtiss-Wright elections in Buffalo.

Officers Face a Hostile Convention

These bureaucrats knew they would face a hostile convention that would be difficult to control and keep tied to Roosevelt and the automobile-aircraft bosses. They wanted to consolidate their domination of the international. They wanted to be sure that they would be in position to deliver the international to Roosevelt and the bosses whenever Roosevelt called Thomas and Murray in for a conference.

Therefore it was necessary to do away with annual conventions. This is an ancient trick of all bureaucrats who want to hold on to their jobs, salaries and to continue to wield influence and exercise power. Annual conventions give the rank and file the opportunity each year to review the stewardship of the leaders and to question them as to their delinquencies and failures. If you can postpone this for two years it may be possible later to postpone it for thirty years, as in the case of the. common laborers’ union.

Also it was necessary to have unity in the leadership and the international board if new posts with fat salaries were to be created and if the two leading officers were to get their’ increase in pay. The scheme was to increase Thomas from $5,500 to $10,000, Addes from $5,000 to $9,500, IEB members from $3,500 to $6,000 and to create two new posts of vice-president, for Frankensteen and Reuther, at $8,000 per year each.

The opposition was so strong that, faced with a minority report calling for lower pay, the committee withdrew and clipped $1,000 from each amount. This was approved by the delegates.

All of what we have been discussing could only be effected by constitutional amendment: raising the salaries, creating the two vice-presidents, biennial conventions and raising the dues from $1.00 to $1.50 a month. These matters, therefore, would be handled by the constitution committee.

What the Stalinists Did at Chicago

It is interesting that Lindahl, a Stalinist, was chairman of this important and powerful committee. It is difficult to believe that this was not done deliberately. And it wasn’t done to neutralize the Stalinists. If this were necessary, which it wasn’t, there were other ways of doing this. (In fact, the introduction and passage of the second front resolution the first day of the convention took care of the Stalinists for the rest of the week. They only made one feeble effort after that, which we will mention later.) The fine hand of Brother Walter Reuther sticks out in this.

Since the Stalinists were already in line on all the serious pro-war political resolutions that were to come before the convention – in what better way could they be used than in the necessary maneuvers to push through the organizational and constitutional changes the bureaucrats had in mind. That is, they let the Stalinists take the rap and make the proposals for all changes that the membership was known to be violently opposed to. This would save the inner circle from embarrassment. and let the blow fall on the Stalinists. As we remember it, the chairman of the constitution committee last year was, Victor Reuther, but this year it was Lindahl, the Stalinist.

While we are on the subject of the Stalinists we may as well complete the report. We said above that they were appeased, if this was necessary, when the second front resolution was passed. They came back once again, however, in the attempt to split Region 4 and establish, a new region. Nordstrom is director of Region 4, which includes Wisconsin and Chicago. The biggest war industries are in the Chicago sub-region. The Stalinists planned to leave Nordstrom with Wisconsin and the agricultural areas westward and establish a new region with Chicago as the center. This would have given them control of an important region. The move was defeated and Region 4 remains intact.

The only other remarks necessary on the Stalinists is to say that they were the most blatant patriots in the. convention. They have all reformed and corrected their past “errors.” There were Bridges, Michener and Board Member Montgomery. In a long speech Bridges told the convention how hard he is working to tie his international to the bosses and their war, despite the fact that these same bosses have moved heaven and earth to frame him and railroad him out of the country. Montgomery, once a very militant West Coast aircraft worker, closed a short speech with the following:

“We are coming again, not only with our tanks and our guns, but with our men, the sons of our men who fought at Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood and won the last war. We are coming again. Don’t make any mistake about that. That is our pledge and it is people like Brother Bridges who are going to make that possible.”

What Was Mayor Kelly Doing There?

The convention was greeted by Edward Kelly, the same Kelly who was mayor of Chicago during the Little Steel massacre and whose cops formed the murder squads. In the course of his harangue, Kelly said: “As I sat here I wondered why we could not have more audiences such as this ... I only wish that every city in the country could have this same kind of convention.” The obvious reply to Butcher Kelly, of course, is that if he had his way there would be no militant workers anywhere to hold a convention. For the clear reason that Kelly and his cops would by this time have murdered all the workers who dared fight for a decent standard of living. Of course the chairman, Nordstrom, IEB member, did not make this reply. Nordstrom told this man Kelly that “I think you can count on the UAW-CIO as being a friend of yours.” Of course this is a lie, but Nordstrom said it. In fact there was some protest heard around against Kelly speaking.

Central Debate on “Premium Pay”

Perhaps the most important items to come before the convention were the resolutions on overtime pay and on the WLB, presented by the War Policy Committee. This resolution was presented to the convention on the second day but in the face of very strong opposition the resolution was withdrawn. On the third day the War Policy Committee came in with a revised resolution on overtime pay and a resolution dealing with the National War Labor Board.

The longest and most acrimonious debate of the convention revolved around these two resolutions. There was such violent opposition to the original draft of the resolution on overtime pay that it was withdrawn in the face of defeat and presented the next day in revised form. The wording of these two resolutions made it clear that what motivated them was the sting and the rebuke that the UAW leadership felt at the loss of various elections to the AFL. This was especially true in the case of the election at the Buffalo Curliss-Wright Plant.

The resolution on premium pay was centered on the fact that while both the AFL and the CIO had concurred in the giving up of premium pay, only the CIO had attempted to carry out this promise made to Roosevelt. Not only were the UAW bureaucrats sore at the AFL, particularly the International Association of Machinists, but they were also fighting mad at the employers who persisted in the practice of giving the workers double time for Sundays and time and a half for Saturdays.

They whine and whimper as follows:

“In the case of the Curtiss-Wright plant at Buffalo, by reason of the adherence by the UAW-CIO to its determination to sacrifice and the refusal by the IAM to make such sacrifice and its repudiation of the President of the United States and of the announced policy of the AFL, the workers within the plant were prevailed upon to select the International Association of Machinists as their bargaining agent.”

Also, the resolution says that there are some independent unions and company unions which have refused to follow the UAW and the President. These company unions, says the resolution, are holding out for the premium pay.

But worst of all: “Many employers approached by the UAW-CIO local unions for the purpose of revising their contracts to conform to the policy enunciated by the President of the United States have flatly refused to do so and have insisted upon payment of premium time.”

These practices, says the resolution, have resulted in “dangerous demoralization” in the local unions of the UAW. They have “virtually paralyzed the UAW-CIO in its effort to bring organization to the unorganized workers of the industry.” The resolution complains that the UAW is “penalized” for its compliance with the President’s request. Not only this, but those who have repudiated the policy and defied the President are “being rewarded for their repudiation and defiance.”

Kittenish Resolve Won’t Scare Bosses

Then the resolution resolves that the “no premium pay” policy should be of “universal application” and furthermore, “unless the policy of relinquishing premium pay for Saturdays, Sundays and holidays is universally applied throughout industry within the next thirty days, the UAW-CIO shall deem itself released from its commitment and shall demand and insist upon the abandonment of this policy and the reversion to the payment of premium pay as previously practiced.” This was the first draft of this section.

There was so much objection to the effect that the whole resolution was too weak that it was revised. It was changed to read that unless there is industry-wide application in thirty days, “local unions” will be “legally and morally justified in refusing to recognize as valid any contractual provisions by which such premium pay was relinquished in pursuance of the action of the War Emergency Conference.”

Addes is to notify all employers of this action by the convention. Murray is asked to call the CIO board to consider the matter. Not only this, but the international officers are to initiate a campaign for the putting over of Roosevelt’s seven-point program.

This of course is all just so much twaddle and nonsense. It was presented to the delegates who were prepared to kick the whole thing in the teeth along with two-year conventions, increases in dues and vice-presidents and increases in salaries. The bureaucrats knew this, squirmed in their pants and threw in a few militant but harmless “resolves.”

Not a single manufacturer will be scared by this kittenish 30-day threat of the UAW leaders. The WLB and Nelson will not move an inch. Roosevelt will flick the ashes from his cigarette and soothe the troubled spirits of Murray and poor Thomas. Rounds one, two and three were his and the future rounds will be his. That is – if the UAW rank and file leave the organizing of the fight to Murray and Thomas. The rank and file lost at the April conference and they lost at the Chicago convention.

Pass Whimpering Resolution on WLB

As a further sop to the clamor of the convention delegates, the bureaucrats brought in a resolution condemning the War Labor Board “for its continued failure and refusal to set up such regional boards and such machinery as may be necessary to effect the speedy adjustment of disputes without loss to the workers involved.”

This resolution whimpers around also, because after

“the CIO and its affiliate organizations have voluntarily given up their right to strike for the duration of the war to insure speedy and complete defeat of the Axis aggressors ... in an ever-increasing number of cases there exists a refusal on the part of employers to treat in good faith with the workers ... and it is being made very clear that this attitude on the employers’ part is prompted by their knowledge that labor has committed itself to refrain from resorting to strikes.”

All of the positive representations made by these bureaucrats of course are all too true. The employers and the WLB are doing just as they say. But didn’t these flunkies of Roosevelt, Nelson and the bosses know this when they “patriotically” sold labor down the river in giving up the strike and the premium pay for the duration of the war? At the April conference Manning made the remark that the UAW would be in a queer position if six months later the bosses were forced back to the premium pay by a labor shortage.

Opposition Delegates Leaderless

The tragedy and the pity of the whole situation is not the stupidity, the whimpering of the UAW leadership or their rank betrayals – but the leaderless strivings of the UAW membership. They were against everything that happened at this convention, just as they were in April. They really wanted to repudiate the whole line of capitulations of the leaders. They wanted to withdraw the no-strike agreement which was made for them behind their backs and without their consent by Murray and Thomas. They wanted to take back the premium pay they had been cajoled and tricked into giving up by the same bureaucrats who sneaked into the Chicago convention with a demand for “premium pay” for themselves.

But the mass opposition which really existed was leaderless. It was not organized and it had no program adequate to deal with the real situation.

The real situation was that the leadership very cunningly has, been exploiting the anti-fascist patriotism of the UAW membership in order to chain them to the Roosevelt government in its prosecution of the Second World Imperialist War.

This is the main job today of the “socialist” Reuthers, the “communist” Addes, the shyster Frankensteen, the “democrat” Thomas and the pious but bureaucratic simpleton Murray.

This will go on until there is such a wave of resentment, such determination to go through with a program for the protection of the rights of labor that the bureaucrats will fear to oppose it. The membership of the UAW has not done so well by itself this year. Perhaps between now and the next convention they will learn what a boss is, the meaning of capitalism and its imperialist wars and how to devise a program for labor that will not only defeat Hitler fascism but also uproot their own misery at home.

(Another article on the UAW convention will appear in the next issue of Labor Action. – Editor)

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