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Walter Jason

Cites Growing Sentiment in UAW
for Political Action

(7 February 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 6, 7 February 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT – In its symptomatic importance, the tone, atmosphere and political trends revealed at the recent UAW-CIO national educational conference have much weight, for this union remains a most sensitive barometer of advanced working class thinking and political development in America.

Although this conference lacked the formal authority of a union gathering, such as a national convention, nevertheless its surprising character – and its response to political questions was surprising to everyone from Walter Reuther down to the ACTU people there – is bound to have an important effect on the coming July convention of the UAW-CIO.

For all politically-wise circles in Detroit are talking about this conference: the ranks who returned by and large praise it highly, and the politicians estimate it with an eye to the national convention. The conference didn’t fit into the pigeonhole it had been assigned, after the Truman victory last November. Quite the contrary.

Readers of Labor Action know the way the pro-labor and/or third party sentiment, shown in the delegates’ responses to Robert Lynd’s speech and to George Baldanzi’s references to “democratic socialism,” marked the high point of the conference. What does this signify?

In our judgment, the tempo of developments toward a labor-third party movement is faster than first seemed the case after the Truman victory, although still slower than appeared the case in event of a Truman defeat (as seen in everyone’s pre-November prognosis).

A brief review of political events in the UAW and the CIO after Truman’s victory can serve to bring us up to date and provide us with a sound vantage point to view the period ahead.

Right after November 3, Gus Scholle, Michigan CIO president, kissed all third party movements goodbye, and prepared for a long and comfortable stay in the Democratic Party. Certainly this was popular among the ranks, and perhaps no one was more surprised than Scholle when he was privately called down by Reuther et al. for making himself the spokesman for the UAW-CIO. After all, even before November 3, the Reuther political sharpshooters knew that Governor G. Mennen Williams was not going to be their boy, and it would be a mistake to put all their eggs in one basket.

As a matter of fact, this fear of taking responsibility for the course of the Democratic Party both in Michigan and Washington is one of the important reasons why even the national CIO now speaks of “keeping PAC independent,” and “building our own political machine.”

For both the UAW-CIO and national CIO leaders have fewer illusions, in our opinion, about the possibility of realizing a “Fair Deal” than the ranks, many of whom are taking Truman at his word. In 1945–46–47–48, the CIO top leaders have had their fingers burned many times by Harry Truman, and while they publicly make no mention of the past, it rancors in their memory.

Only this week, President Truman announced his “improvements to the Wagner Act.” What are they? The cooling off period and fact-finding boards, which President Murray of the CIO denounced on December 4, 1945, over a nationwide radio broadcast, after Truman recommended them to Congress.

Fact-finding boards? A rather sensitive point in Reuther circles. Remember when President Truman’s fact-finding board first cut down the GM strike demands from 30 cents to 19½ cents, and then the Truman administration let GM ignore them, and President Truman permitted a steel price increase and broke the principle for which the UAW was fighting?

Build Political Fences

Another important aspect of the idea of “building our own political machine” comes from the realization that the union movement could have done more. More exactly, an impetus toward participation and voice in politics was inevitable after November, for the class power shown then built up a badly needed self-confidence.

A concrete illustration, of some importance. Perhaps the unhappiest man over his personal misfortunes last November, next to Thomas Dewey, was George Edwards, the UAW’s ambitious front on the political scene. If he had only taken a chance, like Humphrey of Minnesota, he would now be in the Senate! But, like a good Reuther man, he played it safe and now he is sorry.

Nevertheless, the time has come, and Edwards is going to run for mayor of Detroit next fall! Labor’s political power and future look good enough for the cautious Edwards to take a chance! In preparation for that event, the UAW is building its political fences in wards and precincts and getting ready for a campaign that will make the Frankensteen-for-mayor fight look like the kind of amateur affair it really was.

In our judgment, the conduct and results of the coming Detroit mayoralty campaign will be important in influencing the whole labor-third party development. A victory for Edwards will be interpreted as a triumph for the UAW-CIO, and his defeat as a blow at the union. No matter what kind of a campaign Edwards puts on – and it is highly likely that he’ll try to play down the class angle – the capitalist press will insist on making it a class issue.

Of course, the kind of campaign the UAW puts on will depend on the actions of the active unionists. Their sentiment at present was reflected at the Milwaukee conference.

Although Edwards would like personally to run as a Democrat, for he is a member of that party, the present incumbent, Van Antwerp, is much more likely to get the backing of the Democratic Party machine because he was elected by it, while the UAW backed ex-Mayor Edward Jefferies, a Republican.

Two years ago, at the Wayne County CIO convention, various proposals were made to have George Edwards, run for mayor on a labor ticket. Or at least as an independent, backed by labor (the Detroit elections are “non-partisan”). This idea was sneered on as “impractical,” “dividing the liberal vote,” and other stale arguments were used.

Yes, the political consciousness of the UAW has increased considerably since that convention. It’s political self-confidence is higher. George Edwards is going to take a chance.

Gosser’s Success

Within a few weeks, the tactic of “capturing” the Democratic Party will be put to a severe test. The State convention will show whether or not the UAW succeeded. We doubt it very much. Furthermore, we think that the recent “order” from top UAW leaders to their followers “not to take a job with the Democratic machine,” is as much a recognition of the failure of this tactic as it is a step in the direction of independent political action.

It’s almost ironical, and certainly amusing, that down in Toledo, Dick Gosser’s bailiwick, the UAW has succeeded in building a political machine and in establishing a working coalition with the AFL which not only elected Thomas Burke, Local 12, UAW-CIOn, to Congress, but also created a permanent labor political force. This force knows it can win by its own power, while in Detroit, where all the “smart” Reutherites figure out the policy, the UAW is just beginning along these lines!

There is one thing Dick Gosser seems to understand better than the many Reutherites. To have power you’ve got to build a machine. He built one in the UAW-CIO and he built one in politics. The purpose of said machines is not to put friends in office but to exercize power in labor’s interest and to control your own destinies.

Tempo Gains Speed

We doubt if the Toledo UAW-CIO spent one-fourth as much time, money or energy behind Thomas Burke as did Detroit’s East Side locals in getting Louis Rabaut back in Congress.

And for what? So that Rabaut will fight for labor’s ideas, program and policies? No one ever made that claim for him. “He votes right on many issues,” was what the UAW said. But why should the UAW spend thousands of dollars to put a man into Congress to do a job that any child could do, namely, vote once in a while?

Especially since the UAW won the election by its hard work, its terrific organization, its expenditure of funds. In retrospect this seems incredible, but the UAW man who did the job of directing the election campaign on Detroit’s East Side has twice the qualifications and ability – in addition to being a working man! – as Rabaut. The UAW man, Ed Carey, goes to Lansing as a state representative, where he becomes “assistant floor leader of the Democratic caucus.” While in Washington, where the UAW needs its own spokesman in Congress, Walter Reuther’s lobbyists have to run around putting pressure on the men the UAW elected three months ago?

These ideas are percolating more and more in the UAW-CIO. For ten years the UAW militants spent most of their time building political power within the union because they understood control of the machinery was necessary if you “wanted to do things your way.” The virtual collapse of the anti-Reuther faction signifies the end of that kind of epoch. Now the period has arrived where the central job is building political power in government “to get things done our way.” From November’s taste of power to building labor’s political machine, to transferring the experiences and lessons of the faction fights of the old days into political struggles of tomorrow – that is the UAW’s problem today. Far more union activists understand that than most people thought. The Milwaukee conference indicates ... [sentence incomplete]

The tempo toward a labor-third party movement, retarded seriously in November, from a short-term point of view, already gains speed.

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