Muste Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

A.J. Muste

Heed the Call of Toledo!

(4 May 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 20, 4 May 1935, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

TOLEDO, April 30. – As this editorial is written on the eve of May Day in Toledo, the picketers march up and down on the line at the Chevrolet plant where not even a telephone operator is permitted to work. Every few minutes the telephone in our headquarters rings and a new and exciting report comes in from the rapidly extending battle-front: Norwood General Motors Plant Out One Hundred Per Cent. All Cleveland General Motors Plants Shut Down For Lack Of Transmissions. Flint Balks Plan To Take Toledo Work There. Will Take Strike Vote Tonight. The Mechanics Education Society Of America (independent union) Will Not Work On Scab Material.

Not since the Haymarket year of 1886 has there been a May Day as significant for the American labor movement as this May Day of 1935, marked by a strike which already involves 15,000 automobile workers, by the prospect of a general strike against at least one great automobile corporation, by the beginning of the show-down fight over the recognition of unionism in the basic industries of the U.S.

How does it happen that the workers of Toledo again act decisively and take their place in the vanguard of labor’s battle? How explain the differences between the constant postponement of action in Detroit and in the steel centers, the “sell-out “ of the strike of rubber workers in Akron before it got under way, and on the other hand the brilliant achievement of the Toledo workers in shutting down the key plant of General Motors and within one week bringing out over ten thousand G.M. workers in other centers with them? Such things do not come by accident.

On May Day 1934 the Auto-Lite strike in Toledo was dead on its feet because the officers of an infant Federal union passively submitted to an injunction and the leadership of the A.F. of L. could and would teach them no other course. By militant defiance of that injunction the Lucas County Unemployed League and the branch of the Workers Party of the U.S. cooperating with activists in the union revived the strike and paved the way for that night in May when ten thousand workers of Toledo stormed the Auto-Lite plant, drove the sheriff’s deputies to cover, fought the militia. Thus a partial victory was wrung from defeat. In the succeeding months that victory was made complete, the union got a signed agreement with the firm, and the company union was smashed.

The comrades of the W.P. did not go to sleep after that great effort or become arm-chair philosophers trying to live on the glory of the fight that was past. Patiently they gathered a few progressives in the unions around them. Tirelessly they threw themselves into every struggle that occurred. Eagerly they read and talked with more experienced comrades in order to deepen their knowledge both of the theory and the practical tactics of the revolutionary movement. Steadily their conviction of the fundamental role of the revolutionary party grew.

Thus the tradition of militancy was built up in the Automobile Workers Union in Toledo and to a large extent in other unions. As Oliver Myers, business agent of the Electrical Workers Union in Toledo, stated at the recent A.F. of L. conference in Washington which was passing resolutions as usual and letting it go at that: “We don’t do things like this in Toledo. We strike the damned job. We don’t come down to Washington, we go on the picket line. “

Distrust of trade union officials who try to make the workers believe that their hope lies in “cooperation “ with the bosses, and government agencies such as the Automobile Labor Board, was built up at least among the more progressive workers. Local union officials like Ramsey who played a questionable role in the Auto-Lite strike were undermined.

Week after week demonstrated that a revolutionary party such as the W.P. with a sound trade union policy is a tower of strength to the workers. Not one strike was lost in Toledo this past year. The Auto Workers Federal Union 18384 alone gained thousands of members, signed contracts with every important automobile parts plant in Toledo, and substantially improved conditions.

That is the background of the strike that broke the apathy and peace of the automobile situation last Tuesday and made it impossible for Wm. S. Knudsen himself to get into the Chevrolet plant until strike chairman, Jimmy Roland, granted permission.

To the crucial struggle which has now begun the Workers Party pledges anew its fullest support. (As I write these words, a union member comes into the room to report that the strike meeting tonight cheered and cheered again when the telegram of Morris Lewitt, N.Y. District Organizer of the W.P., pledging support and telling about the picketing of General Motors offices in New York by the W.P., was read.) Well do we know that if this strike attains its objective and brings General Motors to its knees a great step will have been taken toward that day when the giant American working-class rises in its might to smash capitalism.

The Strike Committee has outlined a sound policy:

We call upon our Party throughout the land, upon the unions, the unemployed leagues, all working-class organizations, to provide genuine, constant and enthusiastic support to the strike. Respond to every call from the union for help! Assist in manning the picket lines! Call upon any General Motors plants still working to come out on strike! Picket the salesrooms and offices of General Motors! Refuse to buy any General Motors products, automobiles, Frigidaires, etc.!

Muste Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 28 July 2015