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Walter Jason

Reuther Takes Union Situation to Ranks

(26 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 5, 3 February 1947, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Jan. 26 – Isolated in the top leadership of the UAW-CIO, Walter P. Reuther, union president, finally has gone directly to the ranks for support in his serious situation.

At two well attended meetings on the west and east sides of Detroit, Reuther outlined the story of the bitter factional struggle raging on the international executive board, at which every important suggestion he has offered has been disapproved by the George Addes-R.J. Thomas-Richard T. Leonard-Stalinist bloc. Even when the majority bloc agreed on policy, they turned down his motions, and made their own, Reuther declared!

Proposed Conference

The main charge he made was that this bloc put factional interests above the union interests, and Reuther gave a series of examples to prove his point. The reduction of important departments under the guise of economy at a time when heavy expenses were occurred in less essential work, was one example. One special example was the request of Reuther for another person in the important unemployed compensation department. Even though a majority of the Addes bloc agreed to the idea, it was vetoed because two members of that bloc were against it. “Anytime anyone in our caucus is against a proposition we are pledged to vote against it,” Addes said, according to Reuther.

Reuther told his audiences of a special offer he made months ago to the anti-Reuther bloc. He proposed that both sides hold a joint national conference attended by rank and filers, and both sides debate their differences and a program for the union. He pledged in advance he would abide by what the majority of the rank and file advocated. This proposal was turned down.

Promises AC Story

Reuther also told of a bid made to him by the Stalinists. When he spoke for unity at a board meeting, an important Stalinist intermediary told him: “If you want to talk over unity, don’t bother with them (IEB members) but see us.”

This incident was part of the attack Reuther made against the Communist Party. He repeated his attack against “outside interference,” “party guys,” the. CP stand during the war for incentive pay and the speedup, the flip flops before and after the Stalin-Hitler pact. He criticized “people who put political interests before union interests.” The ambiguity of his stand indicates that Reuther hasn’t fully made up his mind what kind of tactics he is going to use in fighting the Stalinists. It is significant that he spoke of his bloc with Philip Murray, CIO president, in all his moves.

Reuther did not deal at length with the Allis-Chalmers situation, although it is a well-known fact that he holds the Stalinists primarily responsible for the prolongation of that long-drawn out strike. He promised a full and complete story on that soon.

Ambiguous Program

Insofar as his own program is concerned, Reuther reiterated his fundamental idea of higher wages without price increases, and outlined as a must in the next period a national united labor conferences of the CIO, AFL and independent unions, to adopt a basic labor legislative program, a united defense fund, and to solve jurisdictional disputes within labor.

At one of the meetings, in response to a question as to why he didn’t support a labor party program, he repeated his time worn alibi of “the time is not ripe, etc., etc.” Reuther was rather ambiguous on the matter of defining “honest trade union policy” vs. “politics,” and he left doubt in the audiences mind just what he was talking about.

The enthusiasm of both audiences to his talk showed that his popularity among the rank and file remains high, for most of the audiences consisted of workers from the shops. Another significant indication was an incident in region 1-D where Kenneth Forbes, regional director, switched from Reuther’s camp to the opposition. At a meeting of executive board members and officers of local unions in the Grand-Rapids-Muskegon area, Forbes’ new policies were rejected by an overwhelming vote, with a few abstentions.

The coming local union elections next month and March in which Reuther and anti-Reuther slates will compete in most elections, will show the trend in the UAW-CIO. Reuther urged his followers to concentrate on that problem in the next couple of months.

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