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Jack Wilson

UAW Caucuses Dispute
GM Strike Strategy

(25 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 12, 25 March 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Mar. 17 – Ending of the nation-wide General Motors strike last week removed the last restraining force to the pent-up differences in the UAW-CIO leadership over policies. A bitter dispute involving GM strike strategy and control of the UAW flared wide open, with the national convention beginning March 23.

Spearheading the reckless campaign to divide and confuse the auto workers and to discredit at any cost Walter Reuther, UAW director of the GM division, the Stalinist clique has begun a major drive to gain controlling influence in the UAW.

The Stalinists are being aided by the bloc into which they have maneuvered R.J. Thomas, union president, and Philip Murray, CIO president, who are supporting the wild and dangerous charges which the Stalinists are pumping into the ranks of the UAW.

The source of this alliance between the Murray-Thomas wing of the top CIO leadership and the Stalinists is their joint responsibility for the dissatisfaction of the GM strikers over the isolation and prolongation of the strike, the failure to settle any major plant grievances and the retreat from the excellent original strike demands of the GM workers.

The sensitivity of Murray to his role in the whole strike wave revealed itself in his speech before the CIO executive board meeting yesterday in Washington. Murray heatedly denied a report that he had interceded with the Truman fact-finding board to urge them not to recommend more for the GM strikers than he had obtained for the steel workers, namely 18½ cents an hour wage increase. Charles Wilson, GM official, had said as much in negotiations with the UAW leaders.

Fishing in troubled waters, the Stalinists have attributed the spreading of this story to the Reuther faction and have done everything possible to intensify the factional heat among the leaders of the CIO.

As a matter of fact, both Murray and the Stalinists know that the dissatisfaction and widespread criticism of Murray’s role in the GM strike does not stem from any such company-inspired story. It was not taken very seriously by anyone. The chief criticism of Murray is the undeniable fact that his terms for settlement of the steel strike were a direct blow at the whole demands and fight of the GM strikers. His formula: “Higher wages, higher prices for the corporations,” was the direct opposite of the GM strikers’ demand for higher wages without an increase in prices.

Murray likewise knows, just as R.J. Thomas knows, for he was in on the GM negotiations, that GM officials challenged the UAW negotiators to bring Murray to the conference table, because “Murray will settle for 18½ cents, just like he did in steel.” Murray is reasonable, Reuther is unreasonable, the GM officials chanted.

Nor can Murray explain away his silence on the GM strike in its last few weeks, his failure to come out strongly in support of their just demands. This policy lent support to the talk among auto workers that Murray was afraid for his prestige if Reuther got a better contract with GM than Murray got in the steel strike.

There is another big question that remains unanswered yet about the GM strike. What was Murray’s role in the secret deal made by the Stalinist leaders of the United Electrical Workers Union covering 25,000 GM workers organized in the UE? This secret pact shocked the whole labor movement, coming as it did in the middle of the GM strike and carried out brazenly by the Stalinists. Even R.J. Thomas denounced it in blistering language.

The Daily Worker, in defense of this deal, stated on Friday, March 15, that “UE leaders worked closely with Murray in line with general CIO strategy.” It is also known that Lee Pressman, Murray’s general counsel, was here the week that the UE signed the pact with GM officials, though UAW leaders did not know of his presence. Was Murray a partner in this secret deal, as the Daily Worker says? Auto workers want to know the answer.

The Murray-Thomas-Stalinist bloc is trying to evade these major issues or any real discussion of GM strike strategy, by asserting that Reuther was responsible for the prolongation of the strike. Thomas now claims the GM strike was called six weeks too early and that it was prolonged because Reuther was “unreasonable.”

Thomas and Reuther

This ignores the fundamental fact that the major, Reuther policy, higher wages without higher car prices, rested four-square on the overwhelming desires and needs of the auto workers in general and the GM strikers in particular. In his own blundering and weak fashion, Reuther, tried to stick by the policy which everyone knew the vast majority of GM strikers wanted. He refused to settle the strike on the terms and policies which Murray and Thomas favored, for it would have meant a real defeat in the strike!

Of course, everyone knows that Thomas, worried about his job as president of the UAW, is just hitting blindly at Reuther, picking up his arguments from the Stalinists because he has no program for the auto union. He denounces “smart strategy” and “people with a message” and “strategists” as though this were the issue. He ignores the well-known fact that at every turn of events in the GM strike he signed joint declarations of united policy with Reuther, and that, as president of the UAW, and the man mainly responsible for policy, he was a total bankrupt.

Thomas and the Stalinists ignore the fact that at every important crisis in the strike, the national GM delegate conference approved the strike policies pursued, and that the only real criticism of Reuther was his constant retreating from the original 30 per cent wage increase demand, and the settlement of all issues.

In the vote on the terms of the settlement of the GM strike 18 delegates voted against accepting the settlement because it wasn’t sufficiently good. The chief weakness of the settlement was the failure to eliminate the major grievances still existing. Thomas and the Stalinists wanted Reuther not merely to retreat but to capitulate before GM.

The first wave of enthusiasm and cheers that greeted the settlement dampened somewhat when the GM strikers learned that the grievances were not adjusted. In fact, there is every possibility that some locals might not go back to work, according to Thomas, because there are so many issues left unsettled.

Only two weeks ago the UAW top leadership admitted that the local plant grievances were a major point of difference between the corporation and the union. These grievances included elimination of outmoded speed-up piecework systems in 15 plants, the elimination of the so-called “merit spread” in 35 plants, safety and health problems, in 41 plants. Since the strike is settled, the local unions must now try to get these grievances adjusted on a local scale, and obviously they can hardly call strikes after the workers have already been out 113 days.

The fact that the national strike settlement did not include “company security” proposals, gives the GM Workers a weapon which other UAW locals do not have, for at Chrysler and Ford the whole shop steward system is jeopardized by the signing of company security proposals which are a direct threat to militant action by workers under the direction of shop committees.

There is every indication that most workers in the auto plants are more directly concerned with their plant problems than the factional dispute raging in the top leadership of the union. The burning, issue of seniority in the plants is creating heated dissension and violent argument, because rehiring is not being done on a straight seniority basis, and the corporations are inciting the differences among the workers.

Unless these major union problems, as well as the whole strategy of the UAW in GM and at Ford and Chrysler are discussed and settled, the UAW convention may degenerate into the kind of dirty, unprincipled politics which is the hall mark of the Stalinists, and which furnishes the most fertile field for their insidious policies.

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