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Walter Jason

Chrysler Strike Front Is Firm;
UAW Heads on Spot

(13 March 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 12, 20 March 1950, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Mar. 13 – As the Chrysler strike goes into its eighth week, the United Auto Workers (CIO) leadership has begun the kind of counter-propaganda campaign against the corporation which may build up the morale of the embittered workers and may win concessions from Chrysler.

The Reuther leadership has never been quite on the spot as much as it is in this strike, among other reasons because of the action of John L. Lewis in offering to help the auto workers and because of the victory of the coal miners’ union.

Within UAW ranks, the longer the strike lasts the more critical the rank and file is for evidence that its sacrifices are not in vain, even though these same ranks fervently desire a quick ending to the strike.

At the first major strike rally held last Tuesday at the State Fair Coliseum with over 20,000 Chrysler workers present, the mood of the workers was clearly seen. They had hoped to hear news of progress in negotiations and were disappointed when UAW leaders told them the company was standing pat.

They cheered the mention of John L. Lewis when Norman Mathews, UAW Chrysler director, told them: “I take my hat off to John L. Lewis.” The spontaneous tribute to Lewis in the ranks was not lost on the UAW leaders sitting on the platform.

Although the UAW leaders made militant speeches, the applause at best was perfunctory, because the disappointment over not getting a pension plan without a strike has by no means disappeared. The failure to prepare the ranks for first the possibility and then the probability of strike action has been costly to morale.

The purpose of the sharp attacks on the corporation now – as shown in a full-page advertisement in the Detroit papers today by the UAW-CIO – is to build up the spirit of the strikers, and it is already succeeding.

Front Is Still Firm

The failure of the UAW leaders to explain a thousand times over where the nationwide strike assessment is going has had widespread repercussions. At some local unions where tha yearly elections have been held since the assessment began, the leadership has been defeated because they were for the assessment to help Chrysler strikers!

Among the strikers, incessant demands for more and more welfare from the “millions we are collecting” tends to emphasize the fact that they have not been educated either to what strikes involve. or how the union functions. Since it seems the popular thing to do, some local union politicians keep demanding that the international union give cash grants to all strikers, in the manner that small craft unions are able to do.

Of course, the welfare setup is by no means adequate in many locals and this aggravates the problems, so that the dissatisfaction with the international union mounts as the strike continues.

These difficulties of an internal character indicate that the Reuther leadership is no longer on the solid ground it has held since it assumed power at the 1947 convention. They will reflect themselves in the internal politics of the UAW.

In terms of the settlement of the strike, the UAW is so strong – and any dissatisfaction with the conduct of the strike so confined internally – that there is no possible excuse for it not to gain major concessions from Chrysler.

Before the auto workers stands the picture of John L. Lewis and the victory of coal miners, who faced far greater difficulties and odds. His entrance into the picture has been helpful in putting more backbone into the strike.

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Last updated: 8 March 2023