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Mary Bell

UAW Leads in Labor’s Fight
to Win Living Wage

(29 October 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 44, 29 October 1945, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The post-war battle is on between United States capital and labor, between corporate wealth and poverty, between vested interests and insecurity, between profiteers and wage earners. In the van of the army of capital is General Motors Corporation, described in government reports as the world’s “richest and most profitable,” opposed by the United Automobile Workers, the largest and most militant of the CIO unions.

Last August 18, Walter Reuther, head of the GM bargaining unit of the UAW, presented the case for the union. The union wants full employment, full production and full wartime take-home pay, with no increase in prices of cars. The union’s demand for a thirty per cent increase in pay would mean merely a maintenance of the wartime standard which was already being steadily whittled down by rising prices.

The Position of the UAW

To buttress the union’s demand, Reuther stated that the financial position of the corporation because of its war-made profits was so sensationally good that it could not only pay the thirty per cent increase but at the same time could cut the price of one of its cars (Chevrolet) by at least $100 and still earn for stockholders “at least $100,000,000 more than the pre-war 1936–39 average of $180,000,000.” (New York Times, October 22) Reuther added:

“If GM will pay a thirty per cent increase to its salaried workers also, as we think it should, except for the numerous officials who cut themselves in on the GM payroll for $40,000 to $500,000 apiece, it could still cut $60 off the 1942 prices of Chevrolet and still earn profits some fifty per cent above the high GM average of the last ten years.”

Bosses Want More Exploitation

C.E. Wilson, president of the billion-dollar General Motors behemoth, disdaining to meet with the union, has replied to the union’s demands with a defiant “No!”

His counter-proposal is for a lengthened work week of forty-five instead of forty hours and a raise possibly from five to eight per cent in the hourly rate.

As for Reuther’s proposal for the thirty per cent increase, which could cut the price of cars, increase wages and still maintain the super-profits of war, a company spokesman called this an “Alice-in-Wonderland theory.”

The workers want a measure of security – not luxury such as the $200 an hour that C.E. Wilson boasts – and that is compared to a nonsense tale!

The union asks that wages be raised without raising the prices of cars, because profits will remain large in any case. They were met with the statement of Harry B. Coen, GM labor relations director that: “It’s none of your damn business what the OPA does with the price of our cars.”

The workers want a 40-hour basic work week, and Wilson asks for a 45-hour week which would scrap the Federal Wage and Hour Act and according to R.J. Thomas, president of the CAW, “throw 100,000 men out of work.”

Why do the corporations behave in this manner when the workers ask only for the maintenance of their wartime wages which so many returning servicemen found so much lower than they had been led to believe?

Profits vs. a Living Wage!

The reason is that the heart, mind and soul of the corporations and their presidents and managers and directors are profits and high salaries for the officials. These are what motivate the industrial giants in depression, wartime and peace-time.

In a depression, the companies don’t produce even if people are starving because they can’t make a profit. In a war, they don’t produce, even if the fighting has started, until their profits guaranteed by the government. Now, in peacetime, they refuse to grant a living wage to the workers because that would cut into their profits. Riches for a few, poverty for the many – this is the real Alice-in-Wonderland society!

In refusing the really modest 30 percent demands of the UAW for a living wage for its members and the demand of the steelworkers for $2 a day increase, General Motors and U.S. Steel have taken the lead in shouting so that all who are not deaf can hear. We are bankrupt! We cannot afford to pay a living wage to our employees because it will menace our profits! We cannot provide security for workers and their families!

The answer is obvious:

If you can’t afford to pay a living wage, if you can’t provide security for the people, you aren’t fit to own and manage the mills and plants of the country. Get out! Let the government take over! Let the workers manage production! Let’s produce for human needs and not for profits!

All labor must rally to the firm support of the UAW workers in their fight for security and a living wage against these profit-laden corporations who enrich themselves through exploitation of the workers!

The UAW is carrying the banner for all of U.S. labor.

Nationalize the monopolies!

Operate them under workers’ control!

Build a Labor Party!

Fight for a Workers’ Government!

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Last updated: 24 January 2018