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GM Workers Get First
Sliding Scale Pay Boost

(6 September 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 36, 6 September 1948, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Thanks to their sliding scale cost-of-living wage contract, some 330,000 General Motors workers will get an additional three cents an hour wage increase starting September 1.

This, added to the original 11-cent raise put into effect May 30, gives the GM workers a total pay boost so far of 14 cents, or a cent more than the flat wage increase won by the Chrysler and Ford workers.

According to their escalator agreement, the GM workers every three months receive an automatic hourly raise of one cent for each 1.14 point rise in the Bureau of Labor Statistics cost-of-living index.

For the first three-month period on which the sliding scale was calculated, from April 15 to July 15, the BLS index jumped from 169.3 to 173.7, or 4.4 points. This figures out to an average one-cent wage increase for each month.

If prices continue upward, as they have since July 15, the GM workers stand to gain another wage hike next Dec. 1, based on the Oct. 15 index.

The first test of the GM escalator clause has pretty well silenced those union leaders and elements like the Stalinists who attacked the sliding scale feature of the GM agreement.

When the GM contract was signed last May, the Stalinist Daily Worker misrepresented it as a “wage-cutting agreement.” The Daily Worker last week mentioned the GM sliding scale wage increase in a tiny, obscure item, and without comment.

Weak Clause

It is true, as The Militant pointed out last May, that the GM escalator clause is weak in a number of respects. It permits a reduction in the wage scale of up to five cents an hour for comparable decreases in the BLS cost-of-living index. However, it places no ceiling on the possible amount of automatic wage increases.

The chief weakness of the GM wage clause is that it started at too low a base wage. Moreover, the contract allows the company to raise production quotas almost at will. Now the corporation is putting on a speed-up drive to squeeze more production out of the workers. This weakness has always been a notorious feature of recent GM contracts, however, and has nothing to do with the sliding scale clause.

Undoubtedly, many workers and unions will start to investigate closely the advantages of the sliding scale clause as a result of the benefits already gained for the GM workers. Although the GM contract by no means contains the ideal escalator clause, it has demonstrated the possibilities of such clauses in protecting real wages during an inflationary period.

CIO Position

In spite of this fact, the CIO leaders, for instance, are trying to belittle the value of the sliding scale wage program. The Aug. SO CIO News greets the GM wage increase with the headline: “GM Workers Know Cost-Of-Living Bonus ‘Does Not Raise Their Living Standard.’”

That’s true. But it does enable their living standard to keep better pace with prices—and that’s all an escalator clause is intended for. Certainly, the CIO workers who obtained only limited flat increases last Spring are having their living standards reduced daily by inflation.

The CIO News tries to counterpose to the sliding scale wage program the fight to halt inflation. But the sliding scale program is the first immediate and effective measure in that fight. If all wages were protected by escalator clauses, the corporations would hesitate to raise prices knowing it would mean an automatic and equal wage increase.

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