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CIO Leaders Retreat from Wage Fight;
Substitute Weak Program Calling for
“Roll Back” of Prices

(10 August 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 32, 10 August 1946, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Just before the adoption of the new OPA bill last month, the leadership of the CIO announced that the workers “need immediate wage raises” to compensate for rising living costs. While offering no program of action to win higher wages, they admitted that there was no hope of halting price rises and that workers’ living standards could be protected only by regaining more wages.

Walter Reuther, president of the powerful CIO United Automobile Workers, on July 15 declared that “if our fight against increased prices fails we will begin a fight on the wage front.” He likewise stated that the UAW would “reopen all wage contracts” if prices continued to mount.

Prices are continuing to mount.

The new OPA itself is daily rattling out new price increases like a machine-gun. The notion that the Big Business government intends to put the slightest curb on rampaging prices is sheer illusion.

It is under these conditions that CIO President Philip Murray and the CIO Executive Board to all appearances have abandoned completely any program for winning higher wages. Instead they are urging the CIO members to turn their efforts exclusively to a program to “roll back” prices.

Principally, the CIO leaders are advocating the so-called “buyers’ strikes,” a campaign of letters and telegrams to Washington to “present the people’s demand for a maximum price control under the law,” and “political action at the polls.”

No Reference to Wages

No reference to wages is made in Murray’s latest statement of policy, a letter sent out to CIO officials on August 2, except to “urge President Truman to call a conference of labor and management to deal with the urgent problem of rising living costs and existing wage levels.”

What the CIO leaders propose as a program is in the main a repetition of policies which proved utterly bankrupt during the war and the immediate postwar inflation.

Throughout the war, while the workers were shackled with the no-strike pledge, the union leaders diverted any fight for higher wages into a fruitless campaign to “roll back” prices. The workers were led to place dependence on the Big Business government to “control” prices.

Wages were frozen, but prices – and profits – soared higher and higher.

Right after the end of the war, the union leaders turned to a government-sponsored labor-management conference, That conference turned into a complete fiasco. The only gains, even though temporary, which the workers finally won were achieved through a militant strike struggle for higher wages.

For years, the workers have been urged to send letters and telegrams to Congress. Congress could afford to ignore them, because this type of appeal was used as a substitute for militant action. The workers have gone through another such experience in connection with the union leaders’ demand for a “strong” OPA.

Workers Can Buy Only Essentials

As for “political action”, by this Murray means supporting more capitalist “friends, of labor” in the Democratic or Republican parties to replace the “friends of labor” the CIO-PAC helped elect in 1944.

The only real program proposed by the CIO leaders for mass participation to combat higher prices is the “buyers’ strike.”

It is misleading, however, to urge such “buyers’ strikes” as an effective method of preventing higher prices. The incomes of most workers are so low, and prices are now so high, that all that the workers can buy now are the barest essentials.

In effect, the so-called buyers’ strikes turn out to be merely boycotts of particular merchants or brands of merchandise. They usually become merely an organized form of shopping around for the lowest prevailing prices. The low-income consumers have to do that anyway.

Militant Action Needed

Demonstrations and picket lines against price-gougers and rent hogs are a good and necessary, form of struggle – but only as part of a program of militant action as described in The Militant, August 3. And they can only supplement the most effective form of struggle against higher prices – the fight for higher wages and the insertion of escalator clauses in all union contracts.

A dangerous slant has been given to the issue of wages and prices by Walter Reuther, president of, the CIO Auto Workers.

He, apparently, has backed down from his threats of “reopening the wage contracts” and has adopted the false argument of the employers that the only way to stop inflation is to get “more production.”

Reuther called for a conference with the auto corporations to discuss ways and means to get more production. The Big Three – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – ignored the invitation and used the occasion to blame low production on “strikes.”

The corporations are always anxious to get “more production” – by which they mean getting the workers to turn out more goods through speed-up and longer hours for the same, money wages.

Together with the program of “more production,” Reuther is reported in the press to be accepting the phoney capitalist economic theory that demands for higher wages will only force up prices.

Higher wages are used by the bosses as a pretext to raise prices. Raising wages merely means to give the workers a greater share of the product and to reduce the fat profits to the owners. Reuther himself proved during the GM negotiations that the corporation could give big wage boosts without increasing prices and still make huge profits.

Fight for Higher Wages

A program of militant action to give the masses themselves the right to inspect corporation records, expose profiteering and fix prices is necessary – but only as a supplement to the fight for higher wages. The milk-and-water program of Murray and Reuther is designed to side-track the real fight.

The effective answer to the profiteers and their inflationary drive is contained in the demand to “reopen all wage contracts.”

The Union ranks must insist on a militant wage policy. And as the most immediate and direct attack on continuously mounting prices, the unions must demand a sliding scale of wages that will rise automatically with every rise in living costs.

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