Felix Morrow

What Should Be the Party’s Attitude Toward
the UAW Arbitration Proposal of November 19

A Statement to the Political Committee

(30 November 1945)

Source: Internal Discussion Bulletin (SWP US), Vol. VII No. 13, December 1945, pp. 21–22.
Transcription & Mark-up: 2019 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Felix Morrow Internet Archive 2019; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

At the November 21 staff meeting of The Militant. I proposed that the next (December 1) issue carry on the inside pages an educational article which would (a) criticise the November 19 UAW arbitration proposal and (b) go on to explain the class-struggle attitude toward arbitration.

I proposed to criticise the November 19 UAW proposal for the following reasons:

  1. That the arbitration proposal was made before there had been a test of strength, i.e., even before the strike was called. There are exceptional cases – primarily to get out of a strike which is doing poorly – when we would accept arbitration. But this was not on November 19 nor is it yet one of those exceptional cases. Therefore our general principle of opposing arbitration applies to this situation.
  2. The progressive points in the arbitration proposal – that the hearings be public; that the company open its books to union inspection; that any wage-increase shall not result in a price increase – do not change the essential fact that it is an offer of arbitration at a time when the UAW leadership should be concentrating the workers’ minds on all-out struggle. The progressive points can be propagandized for by the union without linking them to the non-progressive arbitration proposition.
  3. Tremendous pressure is being developed to force the unions to capitulate to a system of arbitration of one kind or another; that is one of the main points on the agenda of the Labor- Management Conference. Whatever good will the UAW may have gotten from the public by its arbitration proposal is more than outweighed by the harm done in yielding to the pressure for a system of arbitration. Today the UAW leaders offer arbitration with progressive points attached; tomorrow they are more than likely to accept arbitration without the progressive points. This is the real situation, in which the November 19 proposal is thus an impermissible concession, which will lead to further ones of the same kind.

My proposal was rejected. Comrades Dobbs, E.R. Frank and M. Stein spoke against it. Their main arguments were as follows:

  1. The party should not commit itself as to whether this particular arbitration proposal is good or bad. Comrades Dobbs and Frank emphasized the progressive points of the arbitration offer,. Comrade Stein went further, saying the offer was a good proposal.
  2. The first issue of The Militant after the strike begins should not criticise the UAW leadership; it will look as though we’re throwing cold water on the strike strategy. Instead we should concentrate all attention on the strike and assume that it will be fought to a finish.

If argument No. 2 were seriously meant, then a later issue of The Militant should carry a criticism of the arbitration proposal, however, the next staff meeting – that of November 28 – showed that the main argument of the staff against my proposal boiled down to the original position of Comrade Stein: that the November 19 proposal for arbitration was good. Comrade Stein reiterated this position amid general approval.

And Comrade Stein’s position is in fact the position reflected by the December 1 Militant which reports without comment the November 19 arbitration proposal. The editorial on the strike urges the workers not to accept “any phony government arbitration scheme” (my italics) – a formula which obviously absolves from criticism the November 19 UAW arbitration proposal.

I believe that The Militant should have criticised the November 19 arbitration proposal quite independently of the mood of the auto workers. For, even if the auto workers were completely sold on it, it would still be our task to explain to the workers why they are mistaken.

But in addition, it is clear, there are a considerable number of militants who are critical of the November 19 proposal. This is indicated by a letter of November 25 from Comrade Jerry Kirk of Flint to the National Office, in which he reports that a campaign is underway against “any form of arbitration”, that Plant No. 3 policy committee has already issued a statement to that effect, that resolutions to that effect are being introduced in the locals and will be adopted, etc. Obviously such a campaign could not be conducted in Flint without considerable sentiment among non-party workers.

It was after and in spite of these events in Flint that the auto fraction leadership sent in from Detroit the Militant editorial of December 1.

Thus, this is a case not only of tail-ending the militant elements, but of insisting on soft-pedaling the issue raised by the November 19 UAW offer after a considerable section of the militants had declared themselves against it.

Today we have before us the unanimously adopted documents of the Labor-Management Conference. They show how the trade union bureaucracy is edging toward a system of arbitration. They show that arbitration may become general now, not as a government-initiated system but as a “voluntary” one. They show that we must explain to the workers that there is no real distinction between government-initiated arbitration or a system of “voluntary” arbitration.

I therefore make the following MOTION: That the Political Committee accepts the line of Morrow outlined in the above statement.

November 30, 1945.

Motion lost; Morrow voting for.


Last updated on: 19 January 2019