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UAW Breaks Pledge —

Supports Strike of Ward Workers

(8 January 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 2, 8 January 1945, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Once more S.L. Avery, has hit the headlines, and the government has taken over the Montgomery Ward outfit. But this action was not taken because the government is on the side of the men and women who slave for Avery and his bunch of exploiters. Nor was this official move primarily a proud defense of the prestige of the War Labor Board which Avery has consistently flaunted.

The hand of the government was forced by the strike of the Montgomery Ward workers followed by the overwhelming support to the strikers by Detroit labor as a whole.

When one says “Detroit labor” it is almost the same as saying the United Automobile Workers, CIO. This article deals with the connection between the Montgomery Ward

situation and the UAW-CIO balloting on the no-strike pledge now going on.

What the UAW Did

The mass of labor in the auto hub of the nation was not merely in theoretical agreement with the Montgomery Ward strikers. The rank and file was plenty aroused and ready to act in mass support of the strike. This placed the leaders of the UAW-CIO in a tight spot. Either they could stand by and see the rank and file engage in spontaneous sympathetic strike action, or themselves take the lead in the situation which was so full of dynamite.

So, the leadership of the UAW-CIO went to bat for the Montgomery Ward strikers. A committee was organized, strike money was raised, picket lines were organized, UAW-CIO leaders even joined the picket lines.

And these UAW-CIO leaders also did something else. They betook themselves to the speakers’ stands, the radio and their typewriters in a frenzied effort to convince the rank and file that support of the Montgomery Ward strike has nothing at all to do with the no-strike pledge. They beat their chests and reaffirmed this treacherous pledge. R.J. Thomas, UAW president, publicly declared that he would resign his office if the 1,000,000 members of his union should vote to break the no-strike pledge, that the rank and file never made to begin with.

Right here a big question-mark looms up.

Elementary common sense must lead the rank-and-file auto worker to wonder why it is right for the Montgomery Ward workers to strike and be supported by the UAW – AS IT CERTAINLY IS – but wrong for the auto workers themselves to strike. Why should striking auto workers be condemned by the leadership and be punished by expulsions and other autocratic measures!

Can Thomas Answer?

What’s the difference, Mr. Thomas?

Why, for instance, was it wrong for the workers of Continental Motors Corp. – Local 280, UAW-CIO – to stay out on strike after actually being locked out by the company? Why did the president of the local rule out of order a motion to turn the lockout into a strike against the anti-union practices of the company which was using incentive pay to pit department against department and disrupt the union?

Why did you, Mr. Thomas, and Reuther and Addes arbitrarily remove the leaders of Local 235 – Chevrolet – and suspend the local for sixty days when the local and its officers sustained the rank-and-file strike against the company’s speed-up and the firing of members, and officers of the local?

Why did the General Executive of Local 400 break up the strike at the Ford Highland Park plant and not permit the membership to exercise its democratic right to vote on the strike? The management violated the union agreement regarding seniority wages, transfers of employees, and refused to bargain with the workers.

And how about the recent strike at Chrysler – Local 490 – for the reinstatement of sixteen union members unjustly fired? Why did you, Mr. Thomas, deliver your famous “crisis” speech to coerce the workers to give up without redress of grievances – on the basis of the “sacredness” of the no-strike pledge?

So, Mr. Thomas, what’s the difference between the action of the Montgomery Ward workers – so eminently deserving of the support of all labor – and the various actions of your own rank and file to keep their union strong?

The Real Answer

Perhaps you believe that involved in the Montgomery Ward situation is the prestige of the War Labor Board whose orders Avery has haughtily disregarded. Perhaps you are so enamored of the WLB graveyard in which labor grievances are buried that you jump to its defense. If this is your objective in supporting the Montgomery Ward strike, you are certainly in a most ridiculous position. For the WLB rewards your devotion with a slap in the face in this very instance. Two weeks before the strike, union leaders informed the WLB in telegrams of the deadlock between the Montgomery Ward outfit and the union, but the WLB did not even deign to acknowledge these warning telegrams. Is it the function of union leaders to kiss the hand that slaps them?

The Montgomery Ward situation has put the UAW-CIO leaders out on a limb in connection with the no-strike pledge – and it’s a mighty weak limb at that.

The feeling of rank and file labor forced their leaders to take a correct position on the Montgomery Ward strike.

The question has been squarely posed. What’s the difference? The workers of Montgomery Ward are fighting for the life of the United Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union. The workers of Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler who went out on strike were fighting for the militancy and effectiveness of the UAW-CIO.

In ALL these cases the no-strike pledge has given the bosses the assurance of impunity in making their attacks. There is no difference. The no-strike pledge must go. This is what the 1,000,000 UAW members must tell their leaders in the balloting now going on.

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