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Walter Jason

UAW Fight Key to CIO Wage Victory!

Nationwide Union Support for UAW Strikers
Can Break Government-Boss Offensive

(24 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 21, 24 May 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Wall Street might well be said to be operating under a new slogan, “Two down and one to go,” for its government in Washington broke the coal strike and the threatened railroad strike by means of governmental injunctions.

The “one to go” is the UAW-CIO, America’s most aggressive and democratic union, with an excellent tradition of spearheading the labor movement ever since its great sit-down strikes built the CIO in 1936 and 1937.

Wall Street made a fool out of Philip Murray, CIO president. The steelworkers got nothing in their negotiations and Murray capitulated, fearful of taking on the vast struggle indicated by the events. John L. Lewis bowed before a governmental injunction. So did the railroad unions, cursed with craft unionism and a hide-bound leadership. And the Stalinist-dominated UE-CIO silently retreats in its previous demands for wage increases to meet the inflationary cost of living. One CIO union, the Packinghouse workers’, finds itself in a life and death struggle.

These events raise important questions for the entire union movement. Does the American labor movement continue to retreat under the blows of Wall Street and its Washington administration? Does the American working class continue to bear the brunt of inflation and the high taxes for government expenditures in war preparation? When does the retreat turn into a counter-offensive?

Within the framework of this increasing triumph of reaction, in which the labor movement retreats and retreats, one major CIO union has just begun to fight. It is the UAW-CIO.

GM Is Next

The UAW-CIO leadership and ranks could not, by their whole history, just go along with the wage freeze policy that has been imposed on the Steelworkers. The UAW-CIO could not be intimidated by the retreats and defeats elsewhere. When Chrysler Corporation tried to follow the steel pattern and said “No” to all UAW-CIO demands, the workers responded readily to the union’s call for strike action.

But this is just the beginning of the struggle. Chrysler Corporation provoked the walkout. It turned down all union demands, because its Wall Street owners want to test the UAW-CIO to see if it can be weakened or destroyed during the course of the strike struggle.

General Motors is next. GM has taken the same adamant attitude toward the union as Chrysler. Among the rank and file GM workers the response is already indicated by the strike votes that are now being completed. The UAW-CIO leadership expects a hard fight in GM, according to Emil Mazey, acting president of the union, in his speech to the Chrysler delegate conference Tuesday night May 11.

On Sunday, May 16, the Ford Motor Company added its weight to the Wall Street campaign. In reply to union demands for wage increases and other concessions, the Ford Motor Company insolently proposed wage cuts and the introduction of piecework.

The spectacle of a billion dollar corporation making millions of dollars in a period of inflation and demanding that the union permit a cut in. wages is something that should give every union man and woman pause for thinking. Such arrogance on the part of the corporation can be explained only as Ford’s way of informing the world that this giant corporation will do its part in Wall Street’s anti-labor campaign.

The insulting character of the Ford corporation’s proposals is emphasized by the fact that this corporation claims it wants to lower wages so it can give “the public a break,” when every ten-year-old child knows that Ford just raised its prices on all 1949 models by hundreds of dollars.

War Against Labor

The united front of Chrysler, GM and Ford should serve as a warning to all UAW-CIO members. It signifies that the auto barons are united in their determination to defeat the UAW-CIO. Victory over the UAW-CIO would be decisive one over the entire labor movement precisely because of the militant tradition of this great industrial union.

All these events testify to the fundamental fact that Wall Street is fighting a class war against labor. Wall Street is class conscious. The capitalists know what they want. They are united. The next main battlefield is the auto industry, and this is the challenge before the UAW-CIO and the whole labor movement.

Study these excerpts from a letter sent to all employers by Earl Bunting, chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers. Read them and reread them. For they indicate the kind of struggle ahead:

“These Socialistic windbags and Leftwingers of the labor unions are obsessed with a bitter hatred of private business. They care nothing about the fact that salaries and wages do not depend on arbitrary decision. They care nothing about the fact that the consumer is the lifeblood of business. They care nothing if your business is doomed – if its operation brings losses only. What these spellbinders do want is to strike down property rights to the level of Socialism ...

“So I say, let’s turn on the heat and go to bat, let’s defend your rights and miner-rights to make a profit – rights to manage our own business. Let us go all out in these crucial months ahead with the utmost expenditures of energy and manpower and purpose, before the public, showing up those who would destroy our free economy in their true blood red color ...”

In event some union member does not know whom the NAM means by “Socialistic windbags,” we must remind you that it is the Reuther leadership of the UAW-CIO.

The Wall Street campaign against labor is easy to see and its mode of operation is crystal clear, it expects and will get full support from its government in Washington. It has the newspapers, the radio and other means of propaganda to use against the workers.

Hurt by Disunity

What about the labor movement? It is a tragic fact that labor has seldom been as divided as it is today. Not only are the CIO and AFL and the railroad brotherhoods separate organizations, and that is bad enough. The fact of the matter is that even the CIO is not united. Philip Murray and the steelworkers union let down the UAW-CIO. The Stalinist-dominated UE-CIO leadership is hardly on speaking terms with other CIO leaders. The most elementary strike strategy demands unity of forces and purpose. The UAW-CIO by itself cannot whip Wall Street, although it did and will put up a terrific struggle. Against a united capitalist class there must be a united labor movement. Extending the strike of the Chrysler workers will not answer the question. It will serve primarily to throw the additional forces of the UAW-CIO into the struggle.

But what is a far greater need is that the entire CIO throw its resources into this struggle. The coalminers had a nationwide strike but a government injunction stopped it. The railroad workers threatened a nationwide strike. The government injunction stopped it. The UAW-CIO can and might in the course of a period of time find itself in a general strike. This just begins the struggle. It does not end it. Only the unity of the entire labor movement behind the struggle assures victory for the UAW-CIO and the union movement as a whole.

To outline the coming struggles and the problems involved indicates what progressive unions throughout the nation must demand and fight for. Strike struggles, especially when they concern a powerful union like the UAW-CIO, cannot be lost on the picket lines. They are lost in conferences in Washington and in courtrooms or by the failure of the union movement to stand solidly behind a great strike struggle.

Neither John L. Lewis by himself nor Walter Reuther nor Philip Murray nor any other leader can hope in this period to defeat the united Wall Street even in an elementary economic struggle. United action, UNITED STRATEGY and a recognition that this is a class struggle in which either Wall Street or labor will triumph are indispensable prerequisites to victory.

In the final analysis, this is the responsibility of the ranks – of everyone of us in the shops. We must DEMAND the immediate convocation of local and national inter-union conferences at which our actions can be combined, our joint strategy planned. We must raise this DEMAND at every local meeting!

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