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Walter Jason

UAW Cracks Boss Front in GM Pay Settlement

(25 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 22, 31 May 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, May 25The snake dances, the excitement and the grins on the large Chrysler picket lines today after the announcement of an eleven cent an hour wage boost in the GM settlement were a good indication that such an agreement would be overwhelmingly approved as satisfactory, under the circumstances.

This reaction is sound, considering the terrible difficulties that faced the United Automobile Workers-CIO in its wage struggle. Not only did CIO President Phil Murray settle for nothing in his wage negotiations with the steel industry, but at no time did he make a public endorsement and pledge of support of the UAW-CIO wage fight! The retreat in packinghouse, and elsewhere, also tended to isolate the UAW-CIO. Above all, there was no common goal, no unified strategy and genuine solidarity among the CIO unions to back the UAW-CIO.

In addition, the UAW-CIO negotiators went into last minute conferences with GM with the knowledge – and the company made the most of it – that key unions in the GM set-up voted against strike action. Besides the big Buick Local 599 in Flint, the key tool and die local 23 voted against strike!

However, the whole militant tradition of the UAW-CIO was sufficiently strong – and the picket lines at Chrysler were indisputable testimony to the fact that Wall Street was in for a real fight, if they refused any wage concessions, no matter what the overall situation of the American labor movement might be.

Although an eleven cent wage increase, with a modified escalator clause, hardly meets the problems of the inflationary cost of living, the wage settlement in the auto industry is a real tribute to the kind of unionism the UAW-CIO stands for, and it does mark the first time that Wall Street’s current anti-labor offensive was met, and that a major union in America did not retreat!

UAW-CIO negotiators expect a similar pattern in negotiations with Chrysler that began Wednesday. The crack in the “no wage increase” policy of Wall Street is wide open, and the UAW-CIO expects to improve wage clauses in most of its contracts.

Contract Provisions

What does the GM agreement call for? It must be remembered, incidentally, that the entire GM contract was up for renegotiation, and that most of it has been extended for another two year period.

GM workers are obtaining an 8 cents cost of living boost, plus a flat 3 cents “basic wage increase” for a cash total of 11 cents an hour. One year from now the GM workers obtain another “basic wage increase” of 3 cents an hour.

The modified escalator clause in the new GM contract operates in this fashion. There will be quarterly adjustments for the cost of living factor, based on the official Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, provided there is a change, either way, of 1.14 points in the index reflecting living costs. In no case, however, can there be a reduction in the immediate cost of living increase below five cents an hour, for the first year.

In other words, if there is a real price reduction, the UAW-CIO limits any wage reduction it would take in the next year to 5 cents an hour. If prices continue to rise, wage adjustments upwards will follow each quarter, according to how the price increases affect the cost of living, as determined by the government statistics.

No Union Shop

The UAW-CIO agreed to withdraw its petitions for elections to the NLRB for a union shop in GM plants. It retained its voluntary dues check-off system, and a “union security clause” which we have not yet been able to obtain and study.

Although ambiguous language covers the status of the pension plan and medical insurance plan demands of the UAW-CIO, it is very probable that these have been either dropped or postponed for a long time.

There has been no mention of a “company security” clause in the new contract, but neither has there been any mention of adjustment of other clauses such as the limited time committeemen have for bargaining. A report on all these questions will be made at the conference of GM delegates this Friday to ratify the new contract.

Of course, discussion in the UAW-CIO over the new GM contract, and any Chrysler settlement will take on, at least partly, a factional character,as the anti-Reuther forces will try to find a way to capitalize on these events. It is very unlikely that any such “capital” exists. Contrary to the expectations of the anti-Reuther forces, the UAW-CIO leadership did obtain a satisfactory agreement.

Drawing the important political lessons from the present wage struggle will not be helped by the factional contributions of the Stalinists and their allies. Quite the contrary. They will only serve to obscure the basic issues involved. Next week we shall report more fully on this aspect of the situation.

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