Martin Harvey

Back the UAW to Victory!

(3 December 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 9 No. 49, 3 December 1945, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DETROIT, Nov. 25Over 175,000 General Motors workers walked out at 11:00 a.m. on November 21 in the greatest strike conducted by the UAW-CIO since the organization of the union in the 1930’s. The strike was voted by a national conference of delegates from GM locals in Detroit when the huge corporation, swollen with war profits, refused to reply on time to a union offer to arbitrate the issues in dispute.

The union offer to arbitrate the thirty per cent wage increase demand was coupled with the following provisions: that the arbitrators, one from the union, one from the company and one chosen by these two, be given access to company books and records, that any wage increase be awarded on the basis of no price increases, and that the arbitrators be empowered to recommend price decreases if the full thirty per cent wage increase were granted and profits were still high enough to permit price decreases.

The company rejected this offer two days after the union deadline and, in addition, withdrew its two previous offers. These were for a forty-five hour week at straight time with slight increases in pay, and for a flat ten per cent wage increase. Both were understood to be based on price increases to make consumers pay for the wage boost.

Labor Solidarity Demonstrated

The GM strike, which finds the largest and most powerful corporation in the country lined up against the militant Auto Workers Union, was expected to be a long and bitter one. The whole auto industry, which GM dominates, is lined up behind the corporation. Statements issued by the Automobile Manufacturers Association indicated that the corporations were planning an industry-wide lockout to fight the union. George Romney, director of the AMA, provided the public excuse for this action by claiming that GM supplies every other auto manufacturer with essential parts and that a prolonged GM shutdown would result in an industry-wide tie-up. This claim was characterized by UAW leaders as “baloney.” The few parts that GM supplies for most companies could easily be supplied by other parts manufacturers.

This united front of capital against the workers, however, is countered by a most remarkable demonstration of workers’ solidarity. Reports of the walkout from Detroit, Flint and other cities with GM plants indicate unanimous enthusiasm for the strike of GM workers. In Flint, GM stronghold, workers marched out of the Buick plant in a body singing Solidarity Forever. This was repeated in other GM plants over the country. The workers know that this will be a long, tough fight but they have the utmost confidence in their own strength and determination.

Rallying to the support of the GM strikers, the whole UAW is pledged to back them to the hilt, with support from other CIO unions assured. In addition the AFL and other unions have announced their cooperation.

The AFL Building Trades Council in Detroit reported that all its members were called off jobs in struck GM plants. The AFL Teamsters Union is stopping all truck deliveries or shipments to and from struck plants. Completing the picture, the Railroad Brotherhoods have stopped all railroad transportation to GM plants.

Office workers are still being allowed to enter the plants to complete the final payroll. Within a week, however, the shutdown will be complete with the exception of certain maintenance workers who will be permitted to maintain necessary facilities.

Open the Books!

Of special significance in this strike are two demands being made by the union in addition to the thirty per cent wage increase. These are the demands that the company open its books to the union, and the rejection of any wage increases based on price increases. Both of these demands are related to questions that go far beyond the immediate strike issues.

The demand that the company open its books to the workers is being presented for the first time in a major industry. It is based on the fact that the corporation rejects every demand for a wage increase with the cry that it can’t afford it. This is an obvious lie even on the basis of published profit and tax figures. But the real extent of the company’s profits is hidden by all sorts of financial maneuvers and tricky bookkeeping. The company is afraid that knowledge of their swollen profits will spur the workers on to demanding the greater share that they so justly deserve. Further, the company executives are not over-anxious to expose their monopoly prices and shady financial deals to the view of stockholders and public. Hence their adamant rejection of this demand. The corporation reply to the union proposal, presented by Vice-President Walter Reuther, was a blunt and vigorous, “Hell, no!”

This answer cannot be accepted by the labor movement. If the corporations cannot afford to pay higher wages, let them prove it. Let them show their books to representatives of the workers who have as great a stake in the profit as anyone – they produced it! These aren’t competitive business secrets that are being kept from the people. It is common knowledge that the huge monopolistic corporations share their “secrets” with each other, share them in order to be able to unite more effectively against the working class and the public as a whole.

If they can afford higher wages, the workers must know. If, because of years of mismanagement, they can’t, the workers must know that too. That would be additional proof that the capitalists cannot manage industry for the good of all and their “right” to control industry comes into conflict with the needs and interests of the working class and society as a whole. If this is so, then the conflict between the “right” of a tiny minority to monopolize industry and the right of the vast majority which depends on industry, either as workers or consumers, must be resolved by taking from the capitalists their “right” and placing it in the hands of the working class through workers’ control of production.

Last updated on 29 January 2018