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David Coolidge

Greetings to the UAW Convention:
Forward to Labor Political Action!

(25 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 12, 25 March 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The United Automobile Workers (CIO) will meet in national convention at Atlantic City from March 23 to March 30. This convention will convene hard on the ending of the General Motors strike and at the end of the general wave of strikes which have been going on for the past three months.

Undoubtedly all of the important aspects and problems connected with the strikes in the automobile industry will come before the convention. There was the matter of what the corporations call “company security”; there were the problems of wages, prices and the rise in the cost of living, arbitration, fact-finding boards, the intervention of the government and the demands of the unions in connection with wages, prices, profits and production.

The most dramatic and far-reaching demand made by any union during the strike wave was the demand of the General Motors division of the UAW that the corporation open Its books for union scrutiny in order that the union might investigate the corporation’s claim that wages could not be advanced without an increase in the price of automobiles. This was in addition to a demand for 30 cents an hour increase in wages. General Motors steadfastly refused to grant this demand, taking the position that corporation financial records are none of the union’s business, that the books are not open even to the corporation stockholders, and that the union was trying to get “a finger in the pie.”

The strike and the negotiations dragged on. The government entered with its conciliators. President Truman initiated the system of “fact-finding” boards. These boards established a new wage formula whloh established wage increases for industrial workers generally of about 19½ cents an hour.

In the matter of “company security,” the UAW, under the leadership of Leonard, agreed to corporation protection clauses in the new Ford contract which were decisively rejected by the membership of Local 600 when submitted to a vote of that local.

While the GM division of the UAW was struggling with GM for the 19½ cents rise which the government had recommended, the Stalinist-led UERMWA settled with General Motors for its GM workers for 18½ cents without consulting with the UAW or without notifying the UAW that they were going to sign up.

General Motors stood adamant against accepting the recommendation of the government that the GM workers be given a 19½ cent increase. The corporation offered 18½ and refused to budge from this figure. Finally the UAW proposed that the company agree to send the dispute to arbitration by an arbitrator to be appointed by the President. The company refused. A week or more later the UAW leadership accepted the corporation’s offer of an increase of 18½ cents an hour coupled with the few minor concessions.

Role of Leaders

These are the outstanding matters in connection with the procedure in the handling of the strike and the wage negotiations. There are other questions, however, which are of paramount importance in connection with the GM strike. In the first place, it is necessary to emphasize that there was no solidarity of opinion among the UAW leadership or the CIO leadership concerning the issues of the strike, the demands or the way in which the strike should he conducted.

It seems clear that Reuther alone among the top leadership defended the demand for opening the books. Murray, Thomas and Addes certainly expressed no enthusiasm about pressing, this demand on GM. There is good reason for believing that Murray was against it. It is reported that Murray took the position that such a demand would put GM on the spot and make it difficult for the corporation to retreat from its position that if could not grant a wage increase without price relief.

It is certain that the top leadership of the UAW was not functioning in harmony in relation to the uniform problems which confronted the automobile workers and which had provoked the strikes. They did not understand that not only the automobile manufacturers but the whole of large-scale capitalist industry was embarked on a campaign for weakening the unions, for holding wages at a minimum while they put pressure on THEIR government for an increase in prices.

These trade union leaders did not understand the significance and the import of the not too subtle demand of Ford for “company security.” This is the best that can be said for them. If they did understand, this issue, then they stand out as the most brazen capitulators and betrayers.

In proof of this charge we can cite the action of Leonard, who was in charge of the Ford division, in agreeing to include the most monstrous company security clauses in the new Ford contract; and at the very time that another group of UAW workers were engaged in the toughest sort of struggle with another automobile manufacturer.

Reuther’s Conduct

It is necessary to say something about Reuther’s conduct also. Although he understood the issues far better than the other leaders of the UAW and the CIO, he acted in a very cowardly manner. He was always ready either to retreat when he should have stood his ground or to remain silent when he should have spoken out. He had nothing to say about “company security.” He did not tackle the question put by GM concerning the attitude of the union if at some future date the company’s books demonstrated that the corporation was losing money. Reuther could not face this question because there is only one answer, and Reuther cannot give this answer.

That answer is: if GM or any other capitalist business enterprise cannot pay wages, decent wages, then the only solution is workers’ control of industry. The only solution is for capitalist industry to come under the control and operation of labor. While this eventuality is inherent in the demand for the opening of the books, Reuther was not prepared to accept the consequences of the slogan which he had initiated. The reason was, of course, that to combine wages, prices, profits and production into one demand is really to transcend the confines of traditional trade unionism and, face the necessity for independent working class political action.

Reuther has given no indication that he is ready for this step. Consequently he had to retreat, resort to arbitration proposals, run to the government, accept whatever the government offered and participate with the others in botching the demands of the workers. The strike was miserably handled both from the side of simple trade unionism, and from the side of the real and important political issues involved.

To the extent that .Reuther permitted the real issue to be obscured, to the extent that he remained silent while Murray, Thomas and others were scuttling the demands of the workers and collaborating with the capitalist government to defeat the excellent program which he has advanced, he must bear the major blame for the failure of the workers under his supervision to win a victory over GM.

Because Reuther failed to stand up and fight for the 30 cents an hour increase, because he failed to face the real implications of the open the books slogan, that is the POLITICAL implications, because he too encouraged the workers to place their confidence in the government of the capitalists at Washington, because be failed to tell the workers that the only road for them is through independent working class political action, Reuther stands out today as just one of the more enlightened leaders in the field of pure and simple trade unionism. But this is not enough and a hundred, a thousand or any number of Reuthers scattered through the labor movement would not be enough to solve the really fundamental problems of the labor movement and the working class today.

Main Problems

This leads into a consideration of the main problems which ought to be the concern of the delegates to the forthcoming UAW convention. Already the faction lines in this international are being drawn. There is nothing incorrect about this provided the factions are prepared to go before the delegates with clear-cut programs which differentiate one from the other. If they are mere “power cliques” organized around ambitious top leaders, then they can have nothing worth while to offer and should be rejected out of hand by the delegates.

A group of officials of certain UAW locals have already declared for Reuther for president against Thomas, who will be a candidate for re-election. Addes will be a candidate for re-election and there will be a scramble for the post of the DESERTER Frankensteen. Up to now Reuther has had nothing to say about his plans or intentions. Thomas has announced with his usual moaning that Reuther is simply after his job. That seems to be his program at the moment: to keep Reuther from getting his job. Addes wants to keep his, and Leonard probably is ready to fight for a pay rise in the post of vice-president. There will be all manner of jockeying, maneuvering and horse trading at the convention. The Stalinists will be present, ready to jump into any opening which will give them the opportunity to increase their dangerous and suffocating influence in the labor movement. As is their custom, they will be prepared to make blocks with any groups; Reuther, Addes, Thomas, the ACTU or the professional “red baiters.”

Philip Murray is probably giving attention to the internal situation in the UAW. He will surely be interested in the struggle over the union leadership, especially with the candidacy of his friend R.J. Thomas. It would not be surprising if Murray should appear at the convention to pour oil on the troubled internal waters and throw his weight behind the candidacy of Thomas.

The Big Job

While all these things will take place, none of them will solve the pressing problems with which the convention should concern itself. Whether Thomas is re-elected or whether he is replaced by Reuther is not really of any basic importance. Whether one man or some other man is made a regional director is not of any basic importance. The problems of the automobile workers or of any union and its members cannot be correctly dealt with by emphasis on such a trivial matter. It would be a very sorry spectacle to see the delegates to this convention wrangling over whether Thomas or Reuther should be president, and engaged in bitter factional dispute and vote- snatching over the question as to which man should be the union’s president for the coming year.

Organized labor and the working class in the United States today has one big job to do; TO ORGANIZE ITSELF POLITICALLY AS A CLASS. That is our task right now. We must subordinate all other tasks to this: THE ORGANIZATION OF AN INDEPENDENT WORKING CLASS POLITICAL PARTY, a National Labor Party based on and organized by the trade unions.

Through its own LABOR PARTY the working class could establish a WORKERS’ GOVERNMENT in the nation to replace the present CAPITALIST GOVERNMENT at Washington. The WORKERS’ GOVERNMENT would begin to solve the problems of the working class just as the present CAPITALIST GOVERNMENT at Washington attempts to solve all the problems of the capitalist ruling class.

This is the really important and serious problem before the labor movement today. This is the important and serious problem for the UAW convention to deal with. This is the question which indicates what kind of program the UAW and all of labor needs. This is the question around which the whole convention should revolve: THE ORGANIZATION OF LABOR FOR INDEPENDENT CLASS POLITICAL ACTION.

This is the criterion by which all candidates for office should be judged. To all of them the question should be put and put directly: “Brother Thomas and Brother Reuther, are you for independent working class political action now? Are you ready to break with the Republican and Democratic Parties and support a motion in this convention for an Independent Labor Party? Are you, Brothers Murray, Thomas and Reuther, ready to start now to TURN THE PAC INTO A LABOR PARTY?”

For a Labor Party

The experiences of labor during the war and their experiences following the war give all the evidence needed for this position. Labor fought the war for the ruling class capitalist imperialists in the U.S. and the world as a shambles today. Starvation, misery, nakedness and the threat of a third imperialist world war. In the U.S., right at the close of the war, a concerted drive by the capitalist ruling class to make the unions mere appendages of the big corporations: a sort of luxury for big business, so long as the unions act in a “responsible way” and grant “security” to the big corporations.

The CAPITALIST GOVERNMENT at Washington has demonstrated that it stands ever ready now, and will in the future be ready, to come to the aid of its wards: the big corporations. This government has demonstrated what it is and to whom it will guarantee “security.”

Under the CAPITALIST GOVERNMENT at Washington, whether Republican or Democrat, the working class and the unions will be faced with new trials and tribulations. Higher and higher prices for food, clothing and shelter. This means lower and lower real wages. Price rises granted by the government of the capitalist ruling class, tax reductions; protection and security. Mounting profits, mounting dividends and bigger interest payments to the gilded loafers who hold the bonds of the big corporations.

In such a situation, and every delegate to the UAW convention knows that this is the situation, the one way out, and the only way out, is for LABOR TO MOVE, INTO WASHINGTON: into the White House, into the Capitol, into every government department and bureau.

The one way out and the only way out is for labor, through its own political party, to take over in the country; to assume the POLITICAL, ECONOMIC and SOCIAL leadership of the nation. This is the real problem for the UAW convention; this is an issue worth fighting over, to organize caucuses and factions around. It is essentially a part of the GM program which we discuss elsewhere in this issue. This is a program to run for office on. Any other program today is a waste of time and the union’s money. More than this, any other program is a program of defeat for the labor movement.

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