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Albert Gates

UAW Convention Faces Issue of No-Strike Pledge

(August 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 35, 30 August 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One of the most important questions now before the locals of the UAW and one which will undoubtedly come before the eighth annual convention in Buffalo on October 4 is the issue of the no-strike pledge In the opening article of this series We pointed out that the no-strike pledge was obtained from the labor movement en the basis of a series of PROMISES made by President Roosevelt, none of which has been carried out. The labor officialdoms readily assented to the President’s request without prior consultation or vote of the rank and file unionists.

In some cases, only after the labor leaders had already given their word to the President that they would adhere to his request did the matter come before any local unions. But then it was not so much a matter of bringing the issue before the membership as it was to obtain RATIFICATION by the rank and file to an action already accepted by the leadership.

In the UAW, the rank and file was immediately suspicious of this proposal made by Roosevelt. It took a great deal of persuasion to convince the membership to accept the no-strike pledge. As matters have turned out, the sentiments of the rank and file were correct, because the, no-strike pledge has turned out to be a noose around the neck of the whole labor movement, and especially of the automobile workers. It has served as the wedge by which the basses have sought to open the way for a destruction of unionism in the auto industry.

Who Gave Up What?

In return for the no-strike pledge, President Roosevelt promised many things: no lockouts by the bosses, limitation of profits, no war profiteering, no war millionaires, control and ceilings on prices, maintenance of collective bargaining, no union busting campaign by the bosses and control of the cost of living.

In each case, however, these have turned out to be empty promises.

While the workers have really given up something, the bosses have surrendered nothing.

Someone might object and say: Haven’t the bosses agreed not to lock out the workers? The answer to this objection contains the key to the whole problem.

The bosses, that is to say, industry, monopolistic big business and all the lesser lights who fatten on their crumbs, are making a. good thing out of this war. Every worker knows that the boss is in this game for only one thing: PROFIT. He profits off the labor of his workers!

War contracts keep industry going at a steady pace every day in the week and every week in the year. If the boss were to lock out his workers that would mean a loss of his income and profits.

Why, then, should big business, in this period, when it is overstuffed with war contracts on a cost-plus basis, i.e., WITH GUARANTEED PROFITS, lock out workers, under any conceivable circumstances. No, its interest is to keep labor working all the time.

The Workers Have Sacrificed

The boss is willing to forego the lockout, because it means giving up nothing in order to keep the worker’s nose to the grindstone: If this were a period of economic crisis and the boss agreed to keep; the worker on the job, that might be called a “sacrifice.” Even then, the worker would only be getting his just due.

Or, if the boss agreed to pay the worker an additional sum as a post-war “contingent wage,” that might be construed as a sacrifice, although then too he would be giving the worker only what was produced by his labor. But to intimate that the boss has sacrificed something in giving up the lockout is a grim joke indeed.

It is quite otherwise when the worker agrees to give up his strike weapon. Why? Because that is the only real weapon which the worker has to fight for his needs and to defend what he has. If he gives up the strike he has no other weapon by which to fight for wages, conditions and hours, and he has no way to defend what he has won after long years of struggle. Without the strike weapon, he must rely on “aid” from some other source – in this case, the President.

But the lesson of the past couple of years is that labor can get nothing substantial and important in that way. On the contrary, all that the worker received from that source is the Wage freeze, the Little Steel formula, the job freeze, threats of induction into the Army, and the notorious WLB.

The strength of the worker, however, lies in his organization, his program and his will to struggle unitedly with his brothers against a common enemy.

Equally as important, however, is that the bosses see in the no-strike pledge a means to break the power of the union movement, especially industrial unionism.

A Blow at Unionism

Armed with the knowledge that the labor leaders were enforcing the no-strike pledge and that the President had insisted upon its loyal execution, no matter what provocations faced the workers, the bosses have done everything in their power to violate agreements, hinder collective bargaining, harass the shop steward system, uphold down-grading reclassifications, stall on rate increases, and a hundred and one other grievances which the unions have.

Their aim is to “provoke” the unions into what they call “drastic” actions in order to proceed with their plans to weaken the unions now, and lay the basis for their destruction in the period ahead.

The fact that the no-strike pledge has weakened the labor movement, held it back from organizing the unorganized, retarded its growth, handicapped its struggle for wages, hours and conditions of work, has forced the ranks to fight for rescinding what is clearly a straightjacket built to order for big business.

Big Business Wins – Workers Lose

In addition to the fact that the no-strike pledge has strengthened the hand of the reactionary industrialists, it had laid the basis for the following situation:

Big business has made a good thing out of the war. Its profits are enormous and even the high tax bills have in no way affected the enrichment of monopoly industry. Not only are the companies being enriched by the war (government orders on a cost-plus basis), but the individual bosses, the officials of the great monopolies have jacked up their salaries by tens of thousands of dollars.

War profiteering is the rule and it is accompanied by the growth of a crop of new war millionaires!

The price situation is truly a great but tragic joke to millions of workers. The President insists upon an absolute application of his hold-the-line order on wages, but prices mount higher, with no prospect that they will cease their climb or be controlled. Every worker knows that there has been no genuine price control.

The high cost of living has outstripped the incomes of the American workers. It is true that some workers in manufacturing industries have-increased their earnings, but that has come primarily because of their increased work day and longer week. But so far as the workers as a whole are concerned, the cost of living has passed beyond the point where their earnings suffice for their livelihood.

The fact of the matter is that the standard of living of the American workers, and this every auto worker knows, has dropped considerably.

In addition to the rise in the cost of living, the absence of price control and freezing of wages, the quality of goods has greatly deteriorated. Thus, in still another way, the enrichment of big business takes place.

Meaning of the Miners’ Fight

The first union organization to face the facts squarely was the United Mine Workers. They broke the no-strike pledge and made a real fight against the reactionary band of profiteering coal operators. It is true that the miners faced not only the operators, but also the Administration and the attacks of stupid labor leaders who, instead of allying themselves with the workers, joined hands with the operators and the Administration.

Everybody was arrayed against the miners. But, in fact, the miners were carrying on the fight for all the workers in the country. And the miners are now getting some of their demands and will get more. The only reason for this is that they stood up on their feet ready to slug it out with anyone who dared try to keep them in their poverty.

But it isn’t only the miners who have awakened to the real meaning of the no-strike pledge. Thousands of rank and file auto workers who have themselves experienced the real meaning of this suicidal pledge have denounced the pledge and call for its abandonment,

The issue came up at the Michigan state convention of the CIO. It is before every local union now electing delegates, A large number of local slates have demanded rescinding the no-strike pledge (rank and file slate in Hudson Local 154 and rank and file of Dodge Local 3, for example). Even those who, while they agree with these unionists, are not ready to go so far for a variety of reasons, have demanded certain guarantees in exchange for continuing the pledge.

The issue cannot be postponed. Rescinding the no-strike pledge is a life and death question for the auto-workers, as it is for every other union in the country. Certainly, the Administration is for it. Certainly, the bosses are for it. Certainly, the yellow press, the bosses’ organizations, their lickspittles in Congress and their conscious and unconscious spokesmen are for it. Certainly the labor leaders, who spend their time getting a run-around in Washington, are for it.

But all of that should only point to how harmful this pledge is to the labor movement and the working class in general.

One of the first steps to an improvement of the position of labor, its standards and its organized existence, is rescinding the no-strike pledge.

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