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Susan Green

GM Can’t Break Union
Say Linden Auto Strikers

(3 December 1945

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 49, 3 December 1945, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

LINDEN, N.J., Nov. 27 – To this reporter’s question: Do you think the company is out to break the union? strikers and members of the strike committee gathered at headquarters of Local 595, UAW-CIO, in this city, shouted a resounding Yes! To the question: Can they do it? the rafters rang with 4 thunderous NO! One striker put it, “They have as much chance as that snowball in hell.” A member of the strike committee thinks unionism is as indestructible as the worker himself. He said:

“I can remember when my father was a union man striking for things the workers demanded. He remembered his father doing so. I expect my son and his son to do so. There will always be more good union men.”

While the Linden General Motors plant is the largest in the east, the UAW men on strike number only some five hundred. This is due to the fact that the plant is in process of reconversion from airplane production to auto production. At the height of war production 14,000 working men and women were turning out 300 planes of the Wildcat type monthly. When reconversion is finished some 5,500 workers will slide Buicks, Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles off the production lines. What about those 8,500 workers for whom there will no longer be jobs at the Linden division of GM? Six thousand women workers have been fired, along with the other 2,500 deemed dispensable.

The UAW-CIO men have been joined by about a thousand AFL ironworkers, tinsmiths and others engaged in reconverting the machinery, and the plant is shut tight as a drum. The pickets have permitted entry only for protection. Office workers have stayed away. The union has offered to pass some fifty office workers to allow the payrolls to be made up, since the company owes the workers substantial back pay. However, the company declines to unbend, even to the extent of arranging to pay workers their earned wages.

At each of the plant gates groups of pickets were on the job under their strike captains. Strike buttons bore the slogan: “30% or Fight” Placards much in evidence read: “We fought the Axis – now we fight GM for a living wage.” “Mussolini, Tojo, Hitler learned we were tough – soon GM will say they had enough.” “You. supported us in Pacific, Africa, Europe – back us now against GM.” It is noteworthy that the strikers put GM, economically speaking, in the same category as the Axis and their thoroughly discredited dictators. The last slogan applies to the veterans of World War II on strike who joined the picket line.

In one section of the plant yard about three hundred brand new trucks squatted on their motionless wheels. These are en route from Baltimore to New York to be loaded on ships and exported – evidence of GM’s bid for post-war foreign trade. The trucks will keep the pickets company until the strike is won.

The strike committee and the men are confident of themselves and of the strength of their case. Asked if there was a chance- of accepting the company’s high-handed terms for reopening negotiations, namely, that the union recede from the demand for a thirty per cent wage increase to be paid out of profits, not higher prices, the chairman of the strike committee, John Connolly, said: “Emphatically no! We believe that we are running this strike, not the company.”

It was the opinion of the men at union headquarters that they have plenty of evidence in their own plant that GM wouldn’t mind breaking the union. They said that real negotiations never took place with the Linden division of GM because the company kept stalling on trivial issues. Before the present controversy GM’s anti-union tactics were shown in their refusal to have grievances settled through shop committees, thus letting the accumulation of grievances bring the workers to their wits’ end. One member of the strike committee attributed such provocations by the company to the no-strike pledge.

Attitude of Workers

The men well understand why the Big Three auto companies now come out in open combat for a show-down. The men know that industry is in a most favorable position, due to tax rebates, to great reserves from war profits, to the opportunity to buy government machinery and plants for a song, etc. The workers are in no such position and definitely cannot expect government money and privileges, as can the companies. The most the workers get is unemployment doles – and not even that when they are on strike. As to the backlog the workers have accumulated out of their “fabulous” war wages, Chairman Connolly referred to the survey made by the United Steel Workers-CIO showing that the average savings in cash and bonds is $300 per family.

All the men were most anxious to talk and answer questions put by this reporter. Asked if they thought the company has the right to keep its books secret, the answer came back: “Not when a company becomes as large as GM. Then its business is everybody’s business – the workers’ and-everybody else’s.” Ford’s demand for “company security’’ was treated with grand derision. “We have no security from Ford,” they said. “What about a guaranteed annual wage? What about reinstating workers’ seniority? What about eliminating physical examinations that put workers of forty on the scrap heap?”

The workers in the Linden division have suffered at least a thirty per cent cut in take-home pay due to reduction in working time to forty hours, due to down-grading of skilled workers, and for similar reasons.

Asked whether the families of strikers are ready for a long fight,

Chairman Connolly replied that they were. He said that with take-home pay now averaging $32 and $33 a week, their wives are right behind the men, joining the picket line and giving full support. He also said that the town of Linden was very sympathetic to the strikers, judging by contributions. The people realize that unless the workers make enough to buy a decent standard of living, the town as a whole cannot be prosperous.

The strike committee was very emphatic on the point of taking care of every striker. None shall want for food and shelter. At union headquarters the culinary department was replete with coffee, sandwiches, soup and stew. At the plant gates were little cupboards for coffee and soup to keep the men on four-hour picket shifts satisfied.

Everything, in short, points to the ability and determination of the men out in-Linden to fight the good fight to a good finish. It is up to all organized and unorganized labor, and to all who realize that labor is fighting for a better life for all of us, to give unstinted evidence of solidarity – and material support!

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