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Walter Jason

UAW’s Wage Drive Marked by Caution

(27 October 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 44, 4 November 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Oct. 27 – The contrast between the beginning of the great GM strike struggle and the present attempt to obtain a wage increase at Chrysler, and other auto plants, reflects the significant changes that have taken place in the UAW-CIO in the past year.

The obvious conservative approach of the UAW-CIO leadership, the result of the new and important bloc between Philip Murray, CIO president, and Walter P. Reuther, UAW president, along with economic uncertainties in the auto industry have combined to produce an attitude of cautious and watchful waiting on the part of the men in the shops.

“Watchful Waiting”

The crusading spirit of the GM workers is not evident. At Chrysler, a year of sporadic employment with a short work week that meant an average of $29 weekly pay for the workers, plus the big layoffs, have brought about a cautious sentiment among the workers.

The fact that the entire union leadership is moving slowly and conservatively is realized by the workers, and this accounts for the feeling of “watchful waiting.” The UAW board didn’t even discuss important questions of strike strategy, as demanded by the secondary leadership.

The fact that Reuther is “keeping his hands off” the Chrysler negotiations, allowing Norman Mathews, director of the Chrysler division of the UAW-CIO, to handle them, signifies to many workers that “Chrysler isn’t it.” “It” meaning a big fight.

Right now Reuther is basking in the bloc formed with Murray, for his election as a CIO vice-president in the place of R.J. Thomas is considered a cinch. Murray is for it.

In addition, at the UAW board meeting Murray tore into the Communist Party and bluntly told George Addes he would have to make up his mind quickly to support either Murray or the Communist Party. Small wonder that Reuther isn’t anxious, from his bureaucratic point of view, to upset the apple-cart by another strike struggle along the crusading lines of the GM battle.

Meanwhile, the Stalinists are beginning to retreat and duck for some cover, now that Murray has finally made up his mind to come to grips with them. John Williamson, trade -union director of the Stalinists, sounded the retreat in a recent article in the Daily Worker when he declared the “main task of progressives is to unite behind the leadership of Philip Murray.”

In a word, both major factions dominating the UAW-CIO for their own reasons are approaching the Chrysler wage negotiations with extreme caution and care.

Situation Will Change

But this situation cannot continue long. Nor can the GM Program be suppressed. Only today, Philip Murray in a speech before a steel workers’ conference adopted the central idea of Reuther’s GM Program: “Higher wages without a price increase.” It is bound to be a major issue in the coming steel negotiations.

More local unions in the UAW-CIO are taking advantage of the IEB statement to begin wage negotiations. This movement can easily spread beyond the control of the top leadership. Likewise, the national CIO convention will climax the present factional struggle within the CIO and clear the way for some action.

At the special UAW IEB meeting, the board ignored all demands of the secondary leadership for adopting a national strike strategy. However, if Chrysler says no to any wage increases, the whole problem will be posed in sharpest form.

Each major strike wave in American history has its own peculiarities. The next major series of clashes between the workers and the giant corporations will assume new and different forms than the post-war strike struggles, although the basic class content will be unchanged.

The contrast between the GM strike and the Chrysler workers’ struggles is the first evidence of this fact. The almost universal adoption by the CIO of Reuther’s GM Program – higher wages without price increases – is a second evidence.

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