Martin Harvey

Detroit UAW Asks
National Strike Vote!

(25 June 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 9 No. 26, 25 June 1925, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DETROIT – The mass pressure of the rank and file auto and aircraft workers for militant action to meet the growing problem of unemployment and cutbacks was reflected in a call for a national UAW-CIO strike vote to enforce the union’s demands. The call was contained in a resolution carried by a three-to-one vote at a Detroit regional conference composed of the four top officers of all UAW locals in the area.

The conference was held at the insistence of local UAW presidents who were tired of the inaction of the International Executive Board and top officers of the union in the face of mass layoffs and pay cuts. At a meeting the day before the conference the local presidents demanded an end to all manpower restrictions, a thirty-hour week and, as the first step in that direction, the forty-hour week with forty-eight hours’ pay. As the means to carry out these demands, they called for a national strike vote under the Smith-Connally Act.

These proposals were presented to the conference the following day, representing 400,000 UAW members, by a steering committee headed by Brendon Sexton, president of Local 50, and Matthew Hammond, president of Local 157.

Thomas Empty-Handed

UAW President R.J. Thomas, who admitted that he returned from Washington empty-handed and that no one in the government had any idea of what to do about reconversion unemployment, pleaded with the delegates not to ask for strike action. He called those who favored strike action “rabble-rousers” but could offer no program at all which would protect the workers from unemployment and lower wages. The complete failure of Thomas’s policy of running after government officials and industrialists, such as Henry J. Kaiser, and begging them to do something was so obvious from Thomas’ own remarks that they only served to sharpen the demand for militant union action.

Richard T. Leonard, regional director, who presided over the conference, attempted in his usual blundering, bureaucratic way to prevent discussion of the strike question. He ruled the minority report of the resolutions committee out of order on the ground that it violated the UAW constitution ... Hammond thereupon introduced the demand for a strike vote as an amendment to the majority report. This was also ruled out of order by Leonard amid the boos and catcalls of the delegates. Leonard’s ruling was appealed from the floor and in the vote he was overwhelmingly defeated.

Strike Vote Carries

The strike vote amendment was then carried, three to one. It was an indication of the disgust of the membership with the so-called labor statesmanship of the union bureaucrats, which consists in hanging around the servants’ entrance of the White House, waiting for crumbs to be tossed out. The conference, unfortunately, does not have the power to institute the strike vote itself. The resolution was in the form of a demand upon the Executive Board which the board will undoubtedly try to ignore or water down beyond recognition.

The chief danger is that the proposals of Vice-President Walter Reuther will be accepted in order to sidetrack the militancy apd fighting spirit of the union. Reuther, who is the UAW expert in emasculating fighting proposals, is calling for the rescinding of the no-strike pledge only in plants that are reconverted to peacetime production.

This means, of course, that strike action is prevented until after reconversion has taken place and is prevented even then if one machine in the plant is producing some inconsequential item for the war with Japan.

The need is for strike action NOW when the workers’ living standards and the unions are being most bitterly attacked.

Progressives in the UAW must take care, however, that they don’t jump from one extreme to the other on the question of political action. The completely justified resentment against the alliance between Thomas, Addes and Reuther and the capitalist politicians in the government and in the Democratic Party can result in a movement away from any kind of political action and toward purely union action and wage and hour demands.

Militant union action is essential but it is not enough. The problem of unemployment and reconversion can be lessened by the thirty-hour week and increased wages, but it cannot be solved without nation-wide planning by the government in the interest of the workers. This in turn requires the most active intervention of the workers and their organizations in the field of government and politics, but intervention as as independent class force, not as the tail to the Democratic Party.

To the capitalist politics of R.J. Thomas there must be opposed not “no politics” but workers’ politics, the political organization of the working class.

Last updated on 7 December 2017