Martin Harvey

Detroit UAW Rank and File
Faces Reconversion Fight

(30 April 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 9 No. 18, 30 April 1945, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DETROIT – May Day 1945 marks a turning point for the Detroit labor movement. For the UAW-CIO in Detroit, this May Day is V-E Day and the immediate problem it faces is reconversion and mass unemployment.

During the years of war the primary object of the workers of Detroit was to maintain their living standards and their union against the dual onslaught of the auto corporations and the government. To do this they had to fight the vicious regulations and restrictions of the Roosevelt war government and the power of the profit-swollen corporations.

They were aided in this fight by the serious shortage of labor for war production, a shortage which labor could have used to excellent advantage. This favorable strategic position, however, was more than wiped out by the sell-out policies of the labor leadership – R.J. Thomas, George Addes, Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen. The struggle during the war years turned naturally, because of this, against the leadership which voluntarily surrendered the right to strike and accepted compulsory arbitration from an employer-packed War Labor Board, the leadership which voluntarily retreated from the most favorable bargaining position labor had ever held.

Out of this struggle was born a new rank and file leadership, the UAW Rank & File Committee, which organized and led the fight for a militant and fighting UAW. It was this committee which pressed for and won a membership referendum on the no-strike pledge and rallied over thirty-five per cent of the vote against the pledge. It was this committee which obviously reflected the interests and desires of the rank and file of the union, a rank and file which established a stirring record of strike action against the anti-union offensive. There was hardly a day that one or more Detroit plants, large or small, was not shut down by strike action.

This fighting spirit reached its peak in the recent Dodge and Briggs strikes and the Kelsey-Hayes strike just ended which won substantial concessions from the corporations and the WLB.

With the war in Europe reaching its end, however, a new and more threatening enemy is faced by the auto workers. The Army has announced that the contracts for the huge Willow Run bomber plant will not be renewed. This means the dumping into the streets of over 21,000 workers from that plant alone. Affected in addition are substantial numbers of workers on aircraft engines at the Ford Highland Park and Rouge plants, and aircraft workers at Hudson, Murray Body and Buick in Flint. The minimum layoff, in the Detroit area from this one contract cancellation will surpass 50,000 workers.

Add to this the tens of thousands already laid off and the layoffs to follow and a rough idea is presented of the seriousness of the situation and the urgency of the problem.

The auto workers can take two roads in the coming period. They can follow the timid, vacillating program of the UAW leadership – and achieve nothing. Or they can for a bold, uncompromising program that will meet their needs.

The minimum that is required in the present situation is the following:

  1. An immediate reduction in working hours to thirty hours per week with no reduction in weekly pay.
  2. A minimum annual guaranteed wage of $2,500 for each worker.
  3. All government owned plants that are not needed for war production must be continued in operation with the production of needed peacetime goods. These plants must remain government owned and their management turned over to the union, which is the only organization interested in the maintenance of peak production.
  4. All privately owned plants which shut down in whole or in part must be taken over by the government and operated under trade union control.
  5. Any deficits which arise out of such operation to be met by taxation of current or previously accumulated war profits of the big corporations.

Last updated on 7 December 2017