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Jack Wilson

OPM Bungling Causes National Crisis –
400,000 Workers Lose Jobs

Nationalize the Auto Industry Under Control of the Workers

(January 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 2, 12 January 1942, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The beginnings of a real national upset loomed in America as the disastrous costs of the bunglings of the Roosevelt regime through its Office of Production Management in going over to war economy became painfully evident throughout the country.

For the American people, especially the workers, are learning through their own experience the results of the bankruptcy of the Roosevelt regime, whose mistakes go far beyond the ordinary dislocations or difficulties expected when war came.

Besides the military reverses, two brutal facts stood out like sore thumbs, burning: up the people every time they think about them.

(1) Over 400,000 auto workers are either jobless now or soon will be on the soup line, facing a hard winter with only meager and inadequate social security benefits to exist on temporarily. All their valuable manpower is going to waste at a time when the newspapers talk about a “shortage of labor.”

And the CIO Economic Outlook predicts that even with triple war production, the number of unemployed will reach a total of 7,500,000 by October.

(2) While America’s military forces are demanding a flood of war supplies and materials, the auto industry, which has to produce most of the planes and tanks and other equipment, is largely idle, its present facilities and plans unable to cope with the job!

Months of Stalling

After months and months of stalling on these problems, the Roosevelt regime was forced to call a conference last week in Washington of CIO auto workers union officials, the auto barons and the Office of Production Management directors, William Knudsen and Sidney Hillman, to face the issue, because the unemployment crisis assumed the proportions of a national scandal.

Aware of the widespread resentment against its mismanagement, its pig-headed greed and its “business as usual” policies which meant profits at the expense of workers’ interests the auto industry officials published full page advertisements in leading newspapers in which a violent attack on unionism was featured and the CIO auto workers’ leaders were declared to have plans to take control of the auto industry.

In reply, the CIO, as a national body, and the auto workers union, printed large advertisements which placed squarely on the shoulders of the OPM and the auto industry the blame for the present crisis in unemployment and production.

The CIO charges were a mild accusation based primarily on more serious charges recently hurled at the OPM boss; Knudsen by Walter P. Reuther, director of the General Motors division of the United Automobile Workers Union, and author of the Reuther Plan for plane production.

Reuther’s Charges

Reuther recently pointed out, in a national radio broadcast, that

  1. Knudsen sabotaged the Reuther Plan (for building 500 planes a day) without studying its merits because the auto magnates preferred “business as usual.” (Knudsen, as former vice-president of General Motors, is the big business spearhead in Washington politics.)
  2. A high ranking cabinet member admitted that the plan was practical but warned Reuther it could not get a fair hearing from industry because “it comes from the wrong source.” (The cabinet member was Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury.)
  3. Nearly 94 small automotive parts plants in Detroit and scores of others like them in other areas have virtually no war work because Reuther’s plan was pigeon-holed. By January, as a result, over 150,000 auto workers in Michigan alone will be unemployed and thousands of others will be jobless in February.

For over a year Reuther has pressed his plan, bucking up against the Washington crowd without the slightest success, for President Roosevelt supported Knudsen and together they pampered the big business interests in their “business as usual” policies.

Like all other CIO officials, Reuther fails to mention that direct orders by Roosevelt could at any time have placed the Reuther Plan in operation and the crisis could have been avoided.

Big Business Stranglehold

So today, because big business has a stranglehold on Washington, because the President is their, ally and because the CIO officials didn’t put up a nation-wide struggle against the Washington-Wall Street combination the crisis is here.

The unemployed auto workers in. Detroit, sizzling at the incompetence of the war machinery, sore at the loss of their jobs, are demanding that the government take over the auto industry. Resolutions to this effect have been adopted by the West Side Local. The rank and file auto workers are displaying the right instincts in their demands for nationalization of the auto industry, as against the top CIO officials who, once again, joined in another advisory board, following the Washington conference, which has power only to give suggestions. This new ten-man board, five from the industry and five from labor, can take under its consideration such proposals as the Reuther Plan. But it has no power; it is merely an adjunct of the big business controlled Office of Production Management. Even if it had power, it would be dominated by the very force which has proved to be outmoded and unnecessary for production, namely, the industrial: magnates.

If the auto workers combined their demand that the government nationalize the auto industry with the vital demand for union control of the nationalized industry, then they would be one step forward, and a big one at that, toward the solution of their problems.

The need of the hour in Detroit and other auto centers is for the militant workers to raise the cry and mobilize to fight for “Conscription of the Auto Industry under workers’ control.”

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