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Mary Bell

Back UAW 30% Demand!

(24 September 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 39, 24 September1945, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Among five million members of organized labor who are now demanding a thirty per cent increase in wages, the United Aut oWorkers Union is spearheading the post-war drive of labor against the profit-swollen auto industry. A strategy board of the UAW is petitioning the National Labor Relations Board for a strike ballot in all plants of the automotive “Big Three.”

The union has airtight arguments in its case for the wage increases. Cutbacks have reduced the average straight time reconversion pay to $1.17 an hour, which amounts to $46.80 per week in contrast to the $60 which forty-eight hours would bring.

In addition, the union spokesmen have shown what an enormously profitable business the war was to the automotive companies, putting them into a position where they eminently can afford to pay at a minimum the wartime rates of pay (which weren’t high, what with taxes and high prices) without putting more than a slight nick in the companies’ profits.

But when labor touches the profits of a corporation, it touches its soul. Chrysler, General Motors and Ford have already stated privately, if not officially, that they will not grant a thirty percent increase. The thirty per cent increase would not advance the wages of the workers substantially. It would rather keep them at the wartime par. Anything short of the thirty per cent increase would mean a cut in the take-home pay of the workers compared with their wartime take-home envelopes.

The achievement of this demand is the least the UAW leadership should strike for, given their “moratorium” on fighting for labor’s rights during the war, their adoption of the no-strike pledge, their sacrifice of the workers’ standards for “victory,” etc.

“Victory” was the business and what a lucrative one! – (see top of page one) of the auto barons!

Originally, Walter Reuther, vice-president of the UAW, announced that the General Motors corporation was to be singled out as the first target under the strategy of “concentrating your fire,” and would be struck singly if it did not accede to the demands of the union.

This would presumably put GM, the largest corporation in the industry and the bell-wether for it, in a bad spot to compete in the post-war car market, since its competitors would be in production. There is some evidence to indicate that this policy has not been settled and that any one, or all three, of the major corporations maybe tackled.

Kelsey-Hayes Strike

A strike has been in progress at Kelsey-Hayes Wheel Co., supplier of Ford parts, for over three weeks, provoked by the company’s firing of union officials and general offensive against the union. The day before the strike policy of the international was announced, the international executive board suspended the executive board and officers of Local 174 for failing to end the “unauthorized” strike. An administrator is in charge of the local. The reason given by the international was that the strike was holding up reconversion and that such lack of discipline jeopardized the bargaining position of the union vis-à-vis the corporations which have charged the union leaders with failure to keep their membership in line.

As we go to press, after all other pleas of UAW officials have failed, Richard Frankensteen, so-called labor candidate for Mayor of Detroit, is being called to try to persuade the Kelsey-Hayes strikers to go back. A fine preview of what this “labor” candidate’s administration would be!

However the Kelsey-Hayes strike meshes in with the intentions of the international leadership, there is no doubt that the international acted in a high-handed manner with the strikers of this militant local, who were fighting hard to preserve the elementary rights of the UAW itself.

The international’s behavior provoked the picketing of the rooms of R.J. Thomas by UAW militants who were opposed to this cracking down by the top officers. There is no question but that the regression of the rank and file by the UAW officialdom throughout the war, their servile acceptance of the no-strike pledge while labor’s gains were being steadily whittled away by the auto magnates, topped by this latest action, makes many a rank and filer distrustful of the manner in which the leadership will carry out its present campaign.

Further, the leadership should recognize that it is going to have to arouse and depend upon the courage, initiative and sacrifice of its ranks, such as was displayed in the Kelsey-Hayes strike, to win its fight. And still further, it should take a tip from the class solidarity of the companies against which it will have to fight.

Whatever their individual rivalry, they are united against organized labor. When Ford closed his shops throughout the country and fired some 50,000 workers, using the Kelsey-Hayes strike as an excuse, he was acting in the interests of all the capitalists, who are seeking to destroy organized labor.

While the UAW heads have announced their preference for settling the issue over a conference table, there is little likelihood that the matter will be solved in this fashion. The companies are now appealing to President Truman and Secretary of Labor Schwellenbach –who has just reorganized the Department of Labor, largely precipitated by the Detroit situation – to intervene in their behalf. Their plea will be that any strikes now would cripple their “reconversion effort,” just as during the war it was that strikes would cripple the “war effort” and just as in the future they will cripple “peacetime production.”

Only labor is crippled by yielding to such argumentation.

The role of government agencies in this strike will be what it has been during the war. In return for unkept promises of “equality of sacrifice” labor was to maintain peaceful relations with industry and give up its strike weapon for the duration. Now, in return for a quick reconversion and the promise of “full employment” labor will be asked to hold its punches again. The government, in whatever form it intervenes, will effect a“compromise” – of labor’s interests, in the“national interest” – of the capitalist class.

President Truman has already indicated, in his recent address to congress, that he stands for some kind of reorganized conciliation or arbitration through the Department of Labor. The companies are calling for compulsory arbitration of all labor disputes and permanent outlawing of the right to strike.

An all-out struggle for the thirty per cent increase is indicated. The rank and file of the auto workers will see that such a struggle is waged.

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