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Albert Gates

Greetings, Auto Workers!

(October 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 40, 4 October 1943, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The fourth convention of the United Automobile Workers, the most important since it was founded, will gather in Buffalo on October 4. This is an event of tremendous importance to the entire American labor movement, for the UAW is the largest single union in the country and one of the most militant in the world. Its decisions, whatever they may be, will have a powerful influence upon the whole future of the labor movement. By the adoption of a militant, progressive program, the auto workers’ convention would be in a position to advance a thousandfold the cause of labor.

As a socialist newspaper interested in the establishment of a free society and the abolition of all forms of exploitation, and for the reason cited above, Labor Action is greatly interested in the convention of the UAW.

Since America’s entry into the war, the labor movement has been dealt a series of blows. This is not merely the result of the impact of new conditions, but in large measure is due to the policies and practices which the labor officialdom has adopted at the behest of Roosevelt and his administration.

Under the program of “national unity” and the guise of “equality of sacrifice,” the union movement has surrendered the weapons which guaranteed its existence, its health and its growth. In a recent article on the convention of the UAW, we wrote:

“With America’s entry into the war, the UAW faced a new situation and a series of new problems which affected labor.

“The conversion of the auto industry to war production, and the placing of the whole country on a war footing, exacted its toll of the labor movement in the same proportion that it enriched industry and the profit-bloated bosses.”

Capitulating to threats from the President, the union officialdom gave a no-strike pledge, accepted the Administration’s domestic program, which froze wages, established the WLB operating under the Little Steel formula, upset the struggle for equal wages, strengthened wage differentials, and in general so tied down the unions that big business has enjoyed a veritable holiday of anti-unionism.

In return for these concessions by labor, the President promised that no advantage would be taken of the unions and they would have “maintenance of membership.” Moreover, out of respect for their sacrifices, Roosevelt promised control of profits, barring of new war millionaires, holding down the cost of living, price control and rationing to guarantee equality in the distribution of consumer goods.

After nearly two years of war, it is clear that the domestic program of the Roosevelt Administration has become a program against labor’s best interests.

The no-strike pledge has given the bosses the weapon they have long been looking for. Under it they have sought to break union contracts, the shop steward system, grievance committee functions, and many other instruments for improving the conditions of the workers which the labor movement had won after years of hard struggle.

In turn, the no-strike pledge has been a noose around the neck of the unions. It has prevented them from fighting back effectively.

The wage freeze and the hold-the-line order, coming on top of the absence of consumer goods and deterioration in quality of goods, has lowered the living standards of the people. In seeking to overcome this situation by demanding wage increases, the unions have run up against the wall of the; infamous War Labor Board.

Campaign for Incentive Pay

In opposition to the demands of the workers for wage increases, big business, the WLB, the WPB, the Administration, some labor leaders and the Stalinist union-busters have proposed the nation-wide adoption of incentive pay. Thus, the unions face the danger of the reintroduction of the old-time piecework speed-up schemes which can result only in an increase in the profits of the bosses. These are some of the main questions which have agitated the mass of the rank and file of the union movement.

The dissatisfaction of the rank and file in the UAW has been especially acute. They have seen how the Roosevelt program, adopted by the union bureaucracy, has had one important result: it has enriched big business at the expense of the workers. It has given monopoly greater control of labor; it has weakened the union movement.

Only these conditions can explain the rapid growth of rank and file groups into the auto workers’ union, each of them fighting for one or more progressive measures.

Thus, for example, groups in local unions have gone on record against the no-strike pledge, against the WLB, the Little Steel formula, for recall of labor members on the WLB, against the wage freeze, for wage increases, and almost all have announced their opposition to incentive pay. Michigan Progressives

At the Michigan State CIO convention, a high point was reached in adopting a progressive union program. The decision adopted there, while not everything necessary to a fully organized and conscious progressive program, went a long way in that direction by its unmistakable opposition to Roosevelt’s domestic program. It even took a strong step forward in the direction of independent political action of labor as a means of fighting the boss political parties and the reactionary anti-labor Congress.

So acute are the issues which confront the general union movement and the UAW that the existence of two leadership factions, the Reuther-Leonard and the Addes-Frankensteen groups, reflects, even though partially, the struggle within the union for a militant program. An examination of the program of these two power-caucuses reveals several important things. The Reuther-Leonard faction, except for its, position on incentive pay, could hardly be said to have a progressive program. But most progressives now find themselves in or supporting this group and give it better union character. On all other major questions it is not greatly different from the Stalinist-backed Addes-Frankensteen group. But the latter does not even have the one progressive plank of the former. It follows the Stalinist sell-out political line on all major questions, and the biggest danger emanating from this group is the fact that, if it wins a majority of the convention, it will enforce its reactionary program and increase the power of the worst enemies of militant and progressive unionism, the Stalinists.

The pleas against factionalism now spouted by the Stalinists are merely camouflage. They fear the victory of the Reuther-Leonard group because it is an anti-Stalinist group. They are against factionalism out of fear that the struggle may impair their chances of capturing or dominating the UAW.

On the other hand, it is certain that a victory for the Addes group will give it a better field of operation. That is why, while it speaks against factionalism and calls for unity, it slyly asks for support to the Addes-Frankensteen faction.

[Line of text missing] will give the union what it needs most: a militant and progressive program. And yet that remains the biggest problem before the UAW, as well as the whole labor movement. The rank and file groups, and the mass of the membership, have indicated what kind of program they want. Summarized, this program reads as follows:

  1. For rescinding the no-strike pledge.
  2. For wage increases, against the wage freeze and the WLB.
  3. Against incentive pay.
  4. For organization of the unorganized.
  5. For equal wages; against wage differentials.
  6. For post-war guarantees to labor; the establishing of a post-war wage fund for all auto workers.
  7. For independent political action; for a Labor Party.

This is the kind of program that would revitalize the union movement, guard its strength and prepare it for the post-war period. It would be the means for combating the anti-union campaign of the auto bosses.

But such a program requires the organization of a national progressive group in the UAW. All the elements for such an organization exist in the numerous rank and file groups and in the militant sentiments of the membership of the union.

[Line of text missing] progressive group should begin at the convention and should continue after the convention. We believe that this is the most important task before the auto workers: the establishment of a national progressive group around the above-indicated program.

While the progressives are not well organized at this convention, it would be good tactics for them to ally themselves with any forces on the basis of agreement on one or more of the important issues which will come up before the meeting.

The struggle for control of the convention will be sharply fought. It is to the interest of the UAW to prevent, above all, the victory of the Stalinists, or any group under their influence. This means that the defeat of the Addes-Frankensteen group is a necessary step in the struggle for the national progressive group and a progressive union.

This means support of Reuther-Leonard in a contest with Addes-Frankensteen and the Stalinists. But such support can only be given to them with open eyes and criticism. It means the progressives can support Reuther against Addes in full consciousness that the former is not running on a progressive platform.

The genuine progressive group has yet to be created, and a progressive program has yet to be won for the union. The extent to which the convention proceedings contribute to this development will mark the extent of its success.

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