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Big Auto Locals Demand
Cost-of-Living Bonuses

Ford, Chrysler Unions Urge UAW Fight on Wage Front

(12 August 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 33, 17 August 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

AUGUST 12. – Two powerful sections of the CIO United Automobile Workers this week urged a renewed fight on the wage front to combat the rising cost of living.

85,000 members of the Chrysler locals and 80,000 members of giant Ford Local 600 demanded that the UAW International Executive Board reopen wage contracts.

They called on the Board to negotiate with the auto corporations for an adjustable cost-of-living bonus to offset all price rises. This demand is a modified form of the sliding scale of wages long advocated by The Militant. It is already being pressed in current negotiations by the CIO United Packinghouse Workers.

The proposal of the Ford and Chrysler workers – which has wide support among General Motors workers as well – came as a sharp rebuff to the policies advocated, by UAW President Walter Reuther and CIO President Philip Murray.

CIO Leaders Retreated

These CIO leaders had endorsed wage increases just before renewal of OPA. Then they retreated and urged the dropping of wage demands. Instead they have been pushing a milk-and-water policy limited to the ineffective so-called buyers’ strikes and to asking the capitalist government to “roll back” prices.

The demand for a cost-of-living bonus was adopted by the Executive Board of Ford Local 600, largest local union in the world. Their proposal provides that the union research staff, rather than the Bureau of Labor Statistics, will determine the amount of price increases on which the bonus will be based.

According to the Local 600 plan, all bonus increases would be permanent until the next regular wage negotiations, except for further upward increases in the bonus with each price rise.

Chrysler Demands

The demands of the Chrysler workers, similar to those of the Ford local, are described in a statement sent by Tom Cunningham, president of Chrysler Local 7, to the meeting this week of the UAW Board. Cunningham’s letter said the Chrysler workers want:

“Either the re-opening of the Chrysler contract for a wage increase based on the increased cost of living, or:

“A cost-of-living wage grant equal to the rise in prices since June 30 or the roll-back of prices to that date. The wage grant can be made directly by the corporation and the price roll-back can be granted by Congress and the Government. The ‘cost-of-living grant’ does not change the basic hourly wage scales in the corporation but is an added amount to weekly pay checks.”

The wage demand, as stated by Cunningham, is weakened somewhat by the alternative proposal of a roll back in price. OPA in its hey-day in 1943, ordered such a “roll-back.” It was never enforced. Any program fostering hope of the capitalist government rolling back prices – even if Washington promises to do so – serves to build illusions.

The major emphasis of the Ford and Chrysler workers, however, is on wage increases. This is in sharp conflict with the policy of Reuther and Murray who place sole emphasis on government “control” of prices.

This conflict was reflected in the heated UAW Board meeting this week. The decision of the Board is not yet public. Reuther stated it would be placed before a wage policy conference of the CIO leaders on August 15.

Short-Lived Program

Reuther’s short-lived program to combat inflation through a union-corporation conference to get “more production,” has already proved a fiasco. GM, Ford and Chrysler ignored Reuther’s invitation, blamed low production on “strikes.”

The auto workers are not falling for the employers’ propaganda – echoed by the CIO leaders – that higher wages mean higher prices. They know that present price rises have meant higher profits. Higher wages means slicing those profits and giving the workers a greater share of the product.

The demand for a cost-of-living bonus is a big step in the direction of the sliding scale of wages, based on a fixed minimum. With a sliding scale of wages automatically rising with every rise in living costs, the auto workers would have real protection against constantly mounting prices.

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