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Walter Jason

UAW Broadens Demands for
New Contract with Chrysler

(12 February 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 8, 20 February 1950, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Feb. 12 – The United Auto Workers (CIO) committed itself to a major struggle for a union shop and the elimination of the notorious “company security” clause as the basis for settlement of the three-week-old Chrysler strike, involving more than 125,000 workers directly and indirectly.

This commitment was the decision of the Chrysler delegates’ conference, which last week drew up a whole series of important contract improvements it sought with the reopening of the contract. Both Norman Matthews and Walter Reuther had already taken the position that the fight for the 1960 contract (the present one expires in August) must be made now, and it could be made under the five-day re-opening clause in the current contracts.

Chrysler Corporation is trying desperately to confine the current negotiations to the pension question. It has challenged the union’s right to reopen the contract. The purpose of the corporation is clear. If the present walkout can be limited to a dispute over pensions, the UAW would face another major fight at Chrysler this fall. And no one believes that the union could stand two major fights in one year, for already the hardship cases among the strikers are reaching an alarming proportion.

By broadening the struggle, the UAW is also in a position to rally stronger support from the men in the shops. Ford already has a union shop, and General Motors has a maintenance-of-membership clause, while in the Chrysler plants the union has a continuous struggle to get the small minority of less than 10 per cent to pay union dues, since these “hitchhikers” get the benefits of unionism.

Tightened Contract Shaped

Elimination of the “company security” clause – whose key sentences read: “The corporation reserves the right to discipline any employee taking part in any violation of this sec-’ tion of the agreement. The union agrees that it will not oppose the discharge or discipline of anyone who instigates, leads or induces another employee to take part in any unauthorized strike” – would renew the power of the chief stewards and committeemen in the shops. Now they always face discharge if their departments or divisions walk out in protest over some major violation of the contract by the company or at the introduction of speedup.

Another major contract change proposed by the union is the deletion of Section 2: “The union recognizes that the corporation has the exclusive right to manage its plants and direct its affairs and working forces.” Under this clause the corporation has repeatedly put in a nine-hour day and decided overtime on Saturdays without bargaining with the union. The corporation has often taken the attitude: “It’s none of your damn business. Read the contract; it says so.”

A model FEPC is also part of the contract demands.

A sore point in the Chrysler setup is the wage differentials between Detroit plants and out-of-state plants, where pay for the same work is much lower. The vital importance of the demand “Equal pay for equal work at all plants,” is emphasized right now by the very disturbing shifts of production from Detroit area plants to out-of-state sites.

The UAW has a long and bitter strike at Federal Mogul in Detroit over this question. Ford has announced shifting operations from River Rouge to new plants, creating the threat that 25,000 Ford workers here will lose their jobs permanently. Chrysler has in the past two years shifted work from Dodge to its Indiana plant, where pay scales are nine or more cents an hour lower for the same work!

The tricky wording in the holiday pay clauses of the current contract with Chrysler will be eliminated if the UAW has its way in negotiations; also the ambiguities on seniority, including a notorious seven-day clause which gives management the right for that period to lay off workers out of turn!

Many other improvements were suggested at the Chrysler conference. It is rather interesting that before the conference the UAW Chrysler staff had already prepared a list of suggested improvements which were the same as those of the delegates. In fact, it is rather ironic that everyone is trying so hard to outdo the other in “militancy” by suggesting contract changes that the proposed contract is almost a perfect and unrealizable one.

The big danger is that the major and decisive points might get lost in the shuffle with the 60 other important but not decisive suggestions.

Besides the contract proposals, one other question took much time at the Chrysler delegates’ conference. It concerned voting, and it led to a disgraceful walkout on the part of the Dodge Local 3 and part of the Plymouth delegations, thus giving the newspapers a chance to write about “disunity” in the UAW.

Many delegations were elected by Chrysler locals on the same proportional basis as for conventions. Apparently Dodge didn’t elect them at all; instead the top officers and shop committee chose themselves arbitrarily, without consulting the rank and file. Their twelve delegates (they should have chosen at least 26) wanted roll-call votes instead of hand votes, and before waiting for any decision, they walked out in a huff, charging railroading, etc. It was a disgraceful exhibition of petty political maneuvering which is still the curse of the UAW.

Thus the whole conference on the contract was held without Dodge Local 3, the biggest local, being present. Dodge 3 officers are defensive about their actions now; they have put out a leaflet trying to explain what they did. (They had attended other meetings without raising any question of voting.) ...

Perhaps the real explanation can come from reading the Daily Worker, for suddenly it has become fulsome in its praises of Dodge 3 officials and its clique at the Plymouth local. Certainly nothing can be gained in the strike by having some of the secondary leaders play the Stalinist game of “rule or ruin.”

This example is only the most overt case of the political maneuvering – and very dangerous and irresponsible maneuvering – that is going on in this strike by power-hungry, unprincipled blocs of secondary leaders who lack any program, any political responsibility, but are desperately trying to decide everything not on merit but on vote popularity.

The UAW needs badly a resurgence of its old-time spirit and sense of responsibility, above all in the Chrysler strike.

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