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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(8 August 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 57, 8 August 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Fisher Body

CLEVELAND, OHIO – An auto worker on the picket line told me the story of the role of Homer Martin, president of the A.F. of L.-U.A.W., in the strike at the Fisher body plant of General Motors.

When the CIO called the strike, and the great majority of tool and die men walked out, Martin rushed into this city with a thunderous roar that “No CIO minority is going to keep the AFL majority out.”

Martin announced a big mass meeting for the AFL. Exactly 20 workers from Fisher plant attended. Stung by this rebuke, Martin left town.

Incidentally, one of his chief assistants in Cleveland is scabbing during this strike, and was in the plant when the pitched battle was on.

Gratifyingly enough, Martin and his Cleveland assistants are hardly less unpopular with the AFL rank and file and even some leaders, than they are with the CIO.

Strike Issues

The radio speech of William J. Schwed, member of the executive board of the Fisher local of the CIO-UAW, besides blasting the city administration, did a good job of explaining the real strike issues.

The strike was called, he declared, because General Motors refused to negotiate on demands by skilled workers at Fisher body, for a wage increase of 15 to 25 cents an hour so they would receive the same standard of pay as prevailed in the Detroit plants; for more job security and for a proper apprentice system.

General Motors made $100,000,000 profit for the first half of 1939, or three times as much as the profit for the first six months of 1938.

“Who produced this profit?” Schwed asked. “We General Motors workers. Are we entitled to a share of this huge profit in the form of higher wages? Certainly we are, and no one but the heads of the corporation will say ‘no’.

“The newspapers try to make grown-up Cleveland citizens believe that we go out to create violence on the picket line – that we want to fight the police. What could be more insane?

“Does any worker in his right mind want to fight 450 armed police? Does anyone believe we enjoy getting our heads cracked by the clubs of Mayor Burton’s police?”

“The police provoked violence!” he emphasized, and told how they began slugging pickets. The struggle of the workers was purely a defensive one to protect their rights against police terror.

Riot Zone

“We find that Safety Director Eliot Ness has illegally established what is called a riot zone around the plant,” Schwed continued. “He has ordered that the only Clevelanders who dare enjoy American liberties within the now extended empire of General Motors – that is, the streets of Cleveland around the plant – are strikebreakers and scabs.”

While the union maintains a minimum picket line at the plant gates and scattered forces usually stand nearby, the device of picketing the homes of all prominent scabs has been added to put heat on the company.

At a special meeting of the strikers, following the battle, a union official read off the names and home addresses of 27 of the leading scabs, much to the dismay and chagrin of the company and the police, not to mention the rats themselves.

Since the settlement will be negotiated on a nation-wide basis, each local unit of strikers has as the main task keeping the plant shut down. Negotiations are out of the hands of local committees.

AFL Feeling

An attempt to obtain support of the Cleveland AFL movement against the brutality of the cops met with official rebuff, although all progressive AFL leaders are in strong sympathy with the strikers.

Antagonism of the AFL building trades leaders is the reason given for the failure of the AFL to aid the CIO. “These CIO guys are out to get us, why the hell should we help them?” an AFL building trades leader snarled.

Actually, smart strategy would dictate that even from a selfish point of view the AFL building trades should go to bat for the CIO. Then they would have a case against the CIO invasion of the building trades later on.

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