Martin Harvey

Low-Down on
the Chrysler Strike

(5 June 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 23, 5 June 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DETROIT – On May 28, members of Chrysler Local 490, UAW-CIO, voted to end the second strike in two weeks at the Highland Park plant of the Chrysler Corporation. Despite the name-calling, intimidation and dictatorial action of the international officers of the UAW, the men remained firm in their opposition to the no-strike pledge and in their support of their local union officers who had been removed by the International Executive Board.

Cause of the Strike

The dispute began when the company fired two stewards and fourteen other men for preventing the distribution of Pepsi-Cola being bottled in a plant that was struck by the CIO. The company had previously implied that it would not allow the scab product to enter the plant and the men demanded that the delivery man leave and followed him out to see that he did. One steward was fired that day at the end of the shift. The rest were stopped at the gate the next morning by company spotters.

This provocation, combined with previously unsettled grievances, led to the walkout of 6,000 workers at the Highland Park and other plants of the Chrysler Corporation on May 16.

The international officers of the UAW, led by George Addes, secretary-treasurer, immediately resorted to their usual threats to end the strike. Addes issued a statement in which he charged that the walkout was a violation of the no-strike pledge, that the strike was turning public opinion against the union and that war production was being hurt. He threatened that the local would be taken over by kn administrator.

The local executive board, led by William Jenkins, president, made it clear that it was not intimidated by these threats and that any return to work would be decided by the strikers themselves. A meeting was called for May 21 to vote on the question of return to work.

Addes and Walter Reuther, international vice-president of the UAW, addressed the meeting and were roundly booed for demanding a return to work before the sixteen workers were reinstated. The mass meeting voted three to one for continuing the strike. Jenkins said: “It was not surprising to me. The men want the Army to take over.”

Local Stands Firm

When it became Obvious that the rank and file was solidly behind Jenkins and the local executive board, the international officers cast aside all pretense of democracy and called a special meeting of the international executive board to try the officers of Local 490. This unprecedented dictatorial action was taken against the expressed wishes of the local membership. At the same time, Addes demanded that the strikers break their own picket line and return to work. The men, however, had more sense and union solidarity than Addes, and respected the strike vote of the membership.

On May 22, in an attempt to preserve the autonomy of the local, the executive board of Local 490 voted a return to work. This did not stop the international executive board from continuing with their farcical trial. They were out for blood and got it. The international was forced to cancel a meeting that was called for May 23 , over the head of the local union when it became clear that no one would show up at the meeting. But they went ahead with their trial.

The result of the trial was a foregone conclusion. The whole local executive board was removed from office and Leo Lamotte, Detroit East Side regional director and national Chrysler director of the UAW, was appointed administrator over the local for sixty days. Lamotte is the man whose removal as Chrysler director has been demanded by practically every Chrysler local in Detroit as a result of his strike-breaking and union-busting activities.

The day after the decision of the international executive board became known, the workers at Highland Park rallied to the support of their local officers and picket lines once again formed at the plant gates. At once R.J. Thomas and Addes made the front pages with new threats – this time, of expulsion from the union. The men, however, remained out until, at a meeting held on May 28, Which was supposedly called oft by the international, they voted to return to Work.

At this meeting, speakers expressed their opposition to renewal of the no-strike pledge, gave full support to their ousted union officers, voiced their solidarity with the international union and charged that the Chrysler Corp., “by attempting to take advantage of the no-strike pledge, is responsible for the incidents of the past two weeks at the Highland Park plant.”

With their local taken over by the international and with no support forthcoming from other locals in the international, the men had no choice other than to return to work. But they did not go back to work empty-handed.

Lessons of the Strike

They have exposed for all to see the anti-union nature of the no-strike pledge. They, have demonstrated that the policies of Thomas, Addes and Reuther and their dictatorial, strike-breaking tactics are just the wild ravings of men who know they have lost the support of the rank and file. They have shown the road to victory to the whole union movement – removal of the no-strike pledge and the election of international officers who will fight for the union, not against it.

The matter is not yet settled. In sixty days, Local 490 Will again elect its own officers. It .is certain that this election will be a vindication of William Jenkins and’ the local executive board. Local 490 will also elect delegates to the international convention in September. These delegates will know what to do when the no-strike pledge is brought to a vote.

What every member of the UAW must understand is that Local 490 cannot carry on the fight alone. Every local in the international must give its support to Local 490 and the ousted officers. Above all, every worker must prepare NOW for the next convention. Elect delegates who are pledged to removing the no-strike pledge and who will counter the anti-union offensive of big business with a labor offensive.

Last updated on 29 June 2020