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Walter Jason

Traces UAW Bad Pay Settlement
to Political Weakness

(12 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 20, 19 May 1947, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, May 12 – Nearly six months ago the Chrysler department of the UAW-CIO opened negotiations for a cost-of-living bonus with the Chrysler Corporation.

Last week, the UAW-CIO membership in Chrysler ratified a contract, settling for the wage pattern set by UE and Steel. It included 1154 cents hourly wage increase, plus six paid holidays and minor classification changes.

In various Ideal union meetings, hot debates over the meaning of the contract, especially the six paid holidays, took place. Nothing was said of the six months’ struggle for a cost-of-living bonus. It had been quietly dropped into the waste paper basket. No provision for retroactive wage increases was included.

The old contract, containing the notorious company-security clauses, was renewed. There was no debate on this subject.

No Strike Sentiment

Some rank and filers advocated rejecting the contract. The so-called left wing criticized it. (Last year they hailed it as the best in the history of Chrysler. Last year they were in office and sold the contract to the membership over the vehement protests of most shop stewards and committeemen.)

But no one proposed going on strike to try to get a better contract! For the UAW-CIO was in a dilemma on this and other contracts, and everyone knew it, but very few people were willing to face the issues squarely,

In a word, the whole conclusion of the wage negotiations resulted from the conservative policies pursued by the CIO leadership, and these policies have reached a blind alley.

After Steel, and UE, settled for a “pattern,” no one expected the UAW-CIO to be able to obtain anything more, with or without a strike struggle.

This is what the ranks in the shops understood, and that is why there was no strike sentiment.

The inflationary cost of living has wiped out all savings, and the workers live from week to week. This fact was hardly an inducement for strike action.

As if to confirm the judgment that a strike, now in Chrysler would be. imprudent, thousands of Chrysler workers are laid off for ten days, ostensibly over a steel shortage, which many people doubt.

Chrysler Corporation, time and again in negotiations, challenged the union leadership to call a strike. This provocative attitude was assumed because Chrysler knew,, as well as the UAW-CIO, that steel, through Phil Murray, was going to decide everything, and that autonomy for the UAW-CIO in this policy question was more of a fiction than a fact. Chrysler also knew the condition of the worker’s pocketbook, and thus squeezed as many advantages as possible without pressing for a make-or-break showdown with the UAW-CIO.

The corporation also referred to Congress and its probable actions on labor legislation, Chrysler knew that in Washington it was their government that was in power, not a labor government. ’

What conclusions should be drawn from this? One of them is that the limitations of economic struggles, of trade unionism, must be understood! The UAW-CIO can’t, through contract negotiations, solve the pressing problems the workers feel.

The instinctive turn of the workers to their union to solve problems reveals a splendid class spirit, but it must be developed properly if the labor movement is to advance.

Far too many unionists “blame the union” for the contract obtained. The primary responsibility is Chrysler’s; As long as Wall Street owns and runs Chrysler, the factories will be run for its benefit, and not for the men who sweat inside them.

The fatal weakness of the UAW-CIO is not in its trade union policies. It is miles ahead of the rest of the labor movement in its militant tradition, spirit and determination. But the limitations of the "old ways” are demonstrated in the current contract negotiations.

The fatal weakness is the political program, the tying of the UAW-CIO to company unionism in politics. The failure of the leadership to drive forward by building a real weapon for labor in the political field, a labor party.

The UAW-CIO is not marking time in politics. It is marching backward, as each day to the 1948 elections comes closer, and the CIO leadership will offer a choice of Strike-breaker Truman versus Dewey or some other capitalist politician.

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