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Jack Wilson

GM Vital Issue for UAW

(4 March 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 9, 4 March 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Feb. 25 – Prolongation of the General Motors strike into its 96th day has posed questions which will appear as major issues at the forthcoming convention of the UAW-CIO.

Contrary to the hopes of R.J. Thomas, UAW-CIO president, and George Addes, secretary-treasurer, their intervention in the negotiations with GM officials failed to bring a satisfactory settlement of the strike last week.

Instead, these two UAW-CIO officials joined with the entire executive board of the union in unanimously condemning the arrogant corporation. The telegram blasting GM was sent at the insistence of Walter Reuther, UAW GM director, who presented it for adoption by the executive board at a special session this weekend. It went to all locals.

The endorsement in the telegram of the views of Reuther who insists on a 19½ cent wage increase, and no company security provisions, was a victory for his faction in Reuther’s drive to replace Thomas as president of the UAW.

The action of the UAW-CIO executive board in standing by Reuther’s demand that the corporation accept a 19½ cents increase, the inclusion of the good provisions of the old contract plus awards of the War Labor Board, was also a blow at James Dewey, federal conciliator. Dewey’s role has been greatly magnified by the press. In reality, his efforts have been mainly directed towards pressuring the union through releasing false statements of negotiation progress, the idea being that this would force the UAW to retreat some more. But Dewey’s efforts have failed.

Now Dewey has threatened to go to Philip Murray, CIO president, for support. In the steel negotiations Murray had accepted 18½ cents an hour, plus a price increase for steel.

GM officials, of course, are willing to meet with Murray to talk that kind of terms.

Reuther’s insistence on wage increases without price increases has become more than an issue in the GM negotiations. It is a major plank in his program for the coming UAW convention. Only yesterday a slate at Chrysler Local – R.J. Thomas’ own Local – was elected as delegates to the UAW convention on this program, and a Reuther-for-president slogan.

This action was the closest to an outright declaration by Reuther that he is aiming at Thomas’ job. The Reuther faction also insists that he has always been against the company security provisions. The Reuther faction intends to present to the UAW convention a better contract for GM than other UAW officials obtained at Ford or Chrysler. Also, to slug the Stalinists for the UE-GM settlement of last week. And to appear as outstanding opponents of company security provisions.

The inevitable jockeying for strategic, posts and positions at the convention goes on full force, with many an ambitious eye on the vice-presidency vacated by Richard Frankensteen’s resignation. It is entirely too early to predict what the results of the convention will be. It is very possible, for example, that Phil Murray will put enough pressure on to keep Thomas as president even if Reuther has enough votes. An Addes-Stalinist-Thomas bloc might coalesce and defeat Reuther. The election of delegates is just taking place and no one knows exactly what strength the various factions have.

Unlike last year, there will not be a powerful rank and file caucus united on a basic issue as the abolition of the no-strike pledge. This issue, of course, has disappeared and the entire UAW is in a process of realignment of forces, programs and groups. The lessons of the GM strike are just beginning to be understood. They point, however, to a program for militants in the UAW. Briefly, this might be described as the GM Program – linking wages with prices and profits, demanding that the corporation Open the Books, opposing company security, and adding to it the obvious necessity of a Labor Party. The GM workers performed an invaluable service to the labor movement in the demands they made of the corporation. Reuther, as head of the GM local, initiated the strike on the proper basis, but the fact remains that he permitted real issues in the strike to be pushed into the background. He did not stand up against the Phil Murrays who allowed labor’s wage gains to be stolen in Washington-granted increases. Precisely because he demonstrated a better understanding of the situation than other labor leaders is it necessary to subject his role to severe criticism. (In coming issues of Labor Action we shall, along with other articles discussing the issues before the UAW convention, specially evaluate the role played by Reuther in the GM strike. – Ed.)

An indication of the future was forecast last week in the public announcement by Larry Yost, chairman of the famous rank and file caucus, that a large bloc has been reformed at the Ford local to fight against “company security” and for a Labor Party. However, Yost is not a delegate to the convention, nor are many other rank and file leaders, so the fight among main factions in the UAW will probably occupy the center of the stage.

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