From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 6, 10 February 1941, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Henry Ford, once the undisputed czar of a billion dollar industrial empire, today faces a revolt of the men who slaved and toiled to create his wealth and power.
The flivver king was shaken on his open shop throne last week when the federal government finally withheld a war order from him because of his failure to obey labor laws.
The War department didn’t suddenly go pro-labor when it gave a $10,298,128 order for 11,731 trucks to another auto manufacturer. It was trying, under Roosevelt’s command, to appease the revolt of the Ford workers.
For the CIO is on the march on the sacred grounds of the River Rouge plants. In union there is strength. Ford workers have learned, and the CIO is the union.
CIO pressure forced the government to place the war order elsewhere. And it wasn’t the pressure of. Sidney Hillman, but rather the pressure ON Sidney Hillroan that caused even that worm to turn a little.
Ford was given $150,000,000 in government contracts without the slightest attention being paid to his violations of the Wagner Act and the Wages and Hours law. Hillman made a formal beef, but actually consented to this procedure.
The Ford workers, however, did not consent. Nor did teh autoworkers in general. A national scandal developed. And Ford workers flocked into the autoworkers union.
Such is the forward march of unionism among the Ford workers that a successful strike vote was taken at the Lincoln plant. And CIO members wore their buttons in the shop.
Unless you’ve ever lived in Detroit, it is difficult to appreciate how changed things are when a union man can proclaim himself as one in the Ford factories.
Harry Bennett’s goon squads, his spies, his thugs, his city police stooges, his Dearborn city council combined, couldn’t create a reign of terror strong enough to hold back the Ford workers. And Mr. Bennett never missed a trick from sluggings to murder of unionists.
Each time that the federal government gave Ford another contract, resentment within the plant flared. And resentment among the entire labor movement flared.
Ford’s anti-unionism was too flagrant, his “workers be damned” attitude too provoking, the unrest in Detroit too great for Roosevelt to let the situation get out of hand.
Even silver-tongued Roosevelt couldn’t sell another “war for democracy” to the autoworkers if he openly pats Ford on the back and fills his pockets with war profits while Ford lashes the workers in a vicious speed-up system.
Nor could Hillman be taken seriously by anyone except his office boy if he didn’t get some kind of a bread crumb to throw the hungry Detroit workers. The Ford scandal was spotlighted too well for old fashioned shenanigans to work.
Besides, Ford had climbed out on the limb too far. During Christmas season, other auto barons had given bonuses of one kind of another to their employees where the CIO was strong.
If Ford gave a bonus it would appear to be a victory for the CIO and it was already too strong among his employees. If Ford didn’t give a bonus his employees would resent it and the CIO would have another powerful argument for organization. Ford didn’t give the bonus.
Ford was on the run. He was forced to rehire many CIO men who had been discharged for wearing their union buttons in the shop. Another victory.
Ford’s strategy committee blundered again when it was announced “unofficially” that Ford would never meet with Sidney Hillman to discuss labor policy. (Ford’s anti-semitism came to the fore again with that statement).
A friend of Ford’s explained that Ford would rather shut down his plants and retire than give in to the “closed shop.” Or Ford would rent his plants to the government for one dollar a year for war production..
How can Hillman sell the rank and file of the CIO this line when Ford wouldn’t even let Hillman lick his boots in a conference? Unless Hillman was treated at least like half a man his usefulness to Roosevelt as a labor sell-out artist would be gone.
Ford had made a mistake there. And his talk about never giving in to a closed shop was not taken seriously by anyone. At present that isn’t the main issue in the Ford plants.
But the blunder of blunders was the offer to give the government the factories to run for one-dollar a year. Ford’s friends who made the offer for him didn’t mean to have it taken seriously.
But it had within it the germs of a great idea. Ford has enough money to live on for the rest of his life. Why not have the government take the plants over, some workers asked.
Panic ensued at the Ford strategy committee meeting when those implications came out. Right away, denials were issued about the offer. But the damage had been done. The idea is spreading. Ford workers will like it best. (If the CIO would demand that the government take over Ford and give it to the union to run, they would have something.)
Ford’s bid to manufacture the trucks was turned down in order to get the minds of the workers off the subject of conscripting the war industries, especially under workers’ control.
This rebuff for Ford is a union victory. Everyone in Detroit knows it. Above all, its effect is to shatter once again the myth of the invincibility of Ford.
The autoworkers are doing this for themselves. They’ve had to put the pressure on the government, and Sidney Hillman. They’ll have to keep it up, and intensify it to organize Ford.
While the CIO moves too slowly at times, and its policy temporizes too frequently, the rising tide of unionism in the Ford dynasty is stronger than a breakwater here or there.
Ford’s autocratic grip is shaking now. The very foundations of his empire will overturn tomorrow. Under the banner of the CIO his thousands of vassals are rallying to fight for their freedom. And they have won the preliminary skirmishes.
Last updated: 28.11.2012