Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

All-Out Support to UAW
Against the Auto Barons

(26 November 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 48, 26 November 1945, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“For my part, I simply cannot conceive of any tolerable enduring order in which there exists widespread organisation of workers along occupational, industrial functional lines,” writes the union-busting Henry C. Simons, professor of political economy of the University of Chicago.

What has the reactionary Professor Simons to do with the class war raging between the Big Three automobile companies and the United Auto Workers-CIO? Everything – and this is no exaggeration. For at the negotiations between the officials of General Motors and of the union, GM Economist Stephen de Brul quoted the above fascistic approach of the professor as representing the company’s point of view. In a word, the Big Three billion-dollar automobile companies have thus announced their purpose to break the 1,000,000-member auto union, the largest in the world and the most progressive and most militant in this country.

Their union-busting purpose explains all the moves of the corporations. That is why Ford refused to negotiate for wage increases but instead issued to the union a thirty-one point ultimatum, each one of which points is designed to cripple the union or to deprive it of some hard-won achievement. That is why GM most hypocritically offered the union a token ten per cent increase with a forty-five to forty-eight hour work week, thus making no pretense of its intention to abolish the 40-hour week. That is why Chrysler sits by, with bull-headed arrogance proclaiming that the thirty per cent increase demanded by the union to restore its members’ take-home pay is “out of the question.”

These war-enriched corporations absolutely refuse to join in bona fide collective bargaining. They want to force the issue to the picket line.

The union on its part fully understands what is at stake. President R.J. Thomas has alerted the membership to be ready for “a costly and terrible strike” which the corporations are forcing upon the workers. He has declared that should there be a strike, it will be “with full confidence that the du Pont family cannot successfully flout the just demands of the automobile workers.”

As we go to press the two-day meeting of the 200 delegates from the 100 locals in the GM system is not over. The men are conferring with the six-man strategy committee of the union on calling a strike in the GM plants. At the close of the. first day of the meeting, November 19, Walter P. Reuther proposed that the thirty per cent demand of the union be submitted to arbitration, asking General Motors for a written reply by 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 20. Arbitration has inevitably proved disadvantageous to the workers. This move was probably made by the union leaders in order to put the responsibility for an auto strike squarely on the shoulders of the corporations.

The corporations are pushing toward a showdown strike. Take, for instance, GM’s ten per cent offer.

The offer, rejected by the union, was to raise by ten per cent the hourly wages of all workers whose hourly ‘rate’ has not been increased “to match the thirty per cent rise in prices” since 1941. Need any worker be told that the cost of living has gone up pearly forty-five per cent since 1941?

The insulting ten per cent offer goes hand in hand with a forty-five hour week. The union stands firm for three full shifts of forty hours. The largest, richest and biggest money-making concern in the world is planning “to lead the country back to a long work week.” Naturally the union must fight tooth and nail both to protect the bitterly won forty-hour week and to prevent more ravaging unemployment due to longer hours. And GM knows this.

The unrestrained gall of the industrial overlords is again manifested in the Ford thirty-one-point demand on the union. Ford attacks the right of workers to have their union representatives handle their grievances. This union-busting outfit also wants practically to abolish seniority rights. It would extend temporary layoffs from thirty to ninety days. It would stop call-in pay. It would make vacations depend on work done instead of simply on time worked. It would make the union pay damages for work stoppages and strikes. Most of the thirty-one points are along these lines – and the Ford company knows the union will fight this vicious attack.

The UAW hurled back the accusation that Ford had issued “a union-busting, irresponsible and strife-provoking document.” Answering the company’s blather about more production, the union asks: “Does the company think that workers whose morale has been wrecked by low wages and high cost of living will have any chance to achieve peak production?” The union reminded the company that the workers’ production in wartime was no fairy-tale and that when the company got the Army-Navy “E” award it wasn’t “pixies that did the work.” On the question of work stoppages the union replied: “There is a very simple way to avoid work stoppages. That is to stop provoking them.”

Ford’s Ultimatum

To the cry of the poor billion-dollar Ford company for “company security,” the union very aptly answered: “Since the company keeps its financial affairs largely a secret it’s hard to tell how much ‘security’ the company has. We do know that the company’s assets are now well over a billion dollars, having increased during wartime by more than $300,000,000.”

Furthermore, the union pointed out that the “tough policy” of the companies is connected with the provisions of the tax law which are so favorable to capital. Since the government guarantees these companies – so pathetically crying for security – tax refunds in case their profits fall below the 1936–39 levels, any strike losses will be repaid them out of ‘the federal treasury. There are other conditions favorable to the companies. They have the very comfortable reserves of piled-up war profits. Again, the market for cars is such that it has to wait for production as and when it comes.

Another thing that must be understood is that there is a virtual strike on the part of business to defer full reconversion and production till next year. Why? Because there will be no excess profits tax next year and profits will be juicier as a result. Business also hopes that by then the expiring OPA will yield to the blows of business and pass out entirely, thus allowing higher prices and higher profits to prevail.

If these corporations are profit-greedy lions, the United Auto Workers-CIO, on the other hand, is no lamb. It has won its position in the labor movement by hard slugging – and by winning. The sitdown strikes of a decade ago form a most brilliant and militant chapter in labor’s history in any country. The auto workers know how to fight – and so do their wives and children. For example, the wife of a die-maker employed in General Motors told a New York Times reporter: “I’ve got my man and four kids to feed. We can’t do it if we have a cut in pay ... It’s just as simple as that. I’m behind my man.”

The progressiveness of the UAW-CIO and the other CIO unions in the present wage fight must be understood and supported by all workers. Not only do the thirty per cent demands involve the very basic issue of maintaining take-home pay so that the standard of living does not collapse. The unions are also attacking the sacred profits of the companies, as well as their practice of passing wage increases on to the consumer. Furthermore, the unions’ insistence on real collective bargaining involves opening the corporations’ books to public observation. Such jabs as this are typical: “The union again expresses its regret that the corporation persists in keeping locked up in its vaults the arithmetic on which the dispute can be settled peacefully and fairly.”

In a word, the UAW-CIO is out in the front trenches on behalf of all of organized labor, and also on behalf of the unorganized workers, whose only chance of advancement lies in organization. The UAW-CIO now fights for the preservation of progressive unionism itself.

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 27 January 2018