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Walter Jason

Ford Strikers Bitter;
Co. Insists on Speedup

(16 May 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 21, 23 May 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, May 16 – The Ford Motor Company continued its drive against the UAW-CIO during the past week in a way that has aroused the kind of bitter feeling and hostility among the strikers such as will make any compromise settlement more difficult.

Meanwhile the UAW leadership was beginning to lose hope that it could isolate the strike issue into merely a B building dispute. The negotiations between company officials and UAW leaders headed by Emil Mazey began to sound acrimonious this week.

Rubbing salt into the wounds, the Ford Company announced that another seven Ford Local 600 officials were fired last Friday.

Since the company did this ostensibly under the “company security” clause which was put into the 1946 contract by the bloc between Richard T. Leonard and the Stalinists (and it remained thereafter), there is not much agitation on this point by the Stalinists. In other respects they are trying desperately to exploit the inability of the Reuther leadership either to win a quick compromise victory on the speedup issue or go all-out for the pension plan now.

When a few pickets under the urging of the Stalinists began to picket negotiations, Walter Reuther denounced them, and the newspapers had a field day against the “Communists.” Among UAW ranks this was taken as a matter of course. Everyone knows the CP is trying hard to make a comeback.

Reuther’s Prestige Down

But when Reuther posted in a very friendly picture with John Bugas, the ex-FBI agent who is boss of the Ford negotiations, the reaction against Reuther was noticeable in many shops. There is little question but that his personal prestige has taken a slump downward during the past week and a half. The friendly pose was taken when. Reuther congratulated Bugas on the birth of a child. It was certainly a poorly timed publicity stunt.

For some reason that is inexplicable – unless one delves into the field of psychology – the top Reuther leadership felt late, last week that settlement would be reached. This judgment was wrong.

Ford officials are making a real fight on this question. They insist on the right to speed up the line, through running production schedules as they see fit.

Ford officials likewise are hammering home the fake argument that union politics is the ONLY cause of this strike. Newspaper stories arc also appearing about “Reuther losing control of the ranks,” etc., all calculated to influence Reuther in a conservative direction.

Union publicity and arguments have not been very hard-hitting or effective against the company drive. The top UAW officials do not yet see the political picture clearly, nor are they ready by any means to make the kind of fight required to get the UAW on the offensive and the company on the run.

Today, under the contract, the union could officially begin negotiations on the pension plan and other benefits. But the Ford Motor Company said it wouldn’t negotiate on these points while a strike was on.

Ordinarily when a company pulls that old gag, the union officials bluntly tell them they had better negotiate or else the plants will remain shut down until hell freezes over. The silence of the UAW top officials in the face of this company arrogance is ominous.

In negotiations with Briggs or other companies, Emil Mazey at such points starts getting tough, and before the thing is over the union has won considerable concessions. It remains to be seen if he has either the determination or the power to do so in the Ford strike situation. Reuther is in Washington at a CIO board meeting.

Muffing the Ball

The entrance of the U.S. federal mediation service does not change things a bit. In critical situations like this involving major disputants like Ford and the UAW, the mediators are pretty small potatoes – and the Ford Company has already reminded them that they are.

The great opportunity that the UAW leaders are missing to crack down on Ford and get results for the rank and file can be indicated by merely pointing to some of the things the Reuther leadership has failed to do.

Henry Ford II is a nobody insofar as the actual operations of the company are concerned. He never did a thing to contribute to the manufacture of automobiles. He is a pure and unadulterated parasite whose sole claim to the vast Ford empire is inheritance. Ford’s position is that of a feudal lord, whose very existence (not to speak of his role in society) is a condemnation of society and its injustices. The UAW has been very nice to Ford in its publicity.

The history of the Ford Motor Company is notorious, especially its speedup record. Keith Sward in his book, The Legend of Henry Ford, has enough goods on the Ford Company to expose it everywhere and to everyone’s satisfaction. Instead of a belligerent expose, the UAW keeps asking Ford to be reasonable.

Strike Vote Soft-Pedaled

In the recent strike vote at Ford Local 600, over 30,000 workers approved a strike on the speedup issue, with only 4,000 voting against. This fact has never been emphasized in UAW publicity, even though it would help prove that the issue is a real one, and not caused by factional politics. But since this fact contradicts the “line” that this strike somehow or another was fomented by “Communists,” which conservative Reutherites are busy peddling in Detroit, the truth is ignored or brushed aside.

The UAW leaders have done little if anything to mobilize the rest of the auto workers behind the Ford strikers, under the theory that the strike would not last. Yet only the greatest show of strength of the UAW will impress Ford. This used to be elementary in the UAW, but it appears that many people have to relearn the ABCs they once taught and now have forgotten.

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