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David Coolidge

Some Further Observations on the UAW Convention

(24 August 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 34, 24 August 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The leadership of the CIO and the UAW are slipping farther and farther into the ways of thinking of Roosevelt and the bosses. Thomas had the brass to say in this UAW convention that “the people of the country are going to look toward you and wonder what sacrifice we are willing to make for the war effort.”

This to delegates representing workers who have consented while their leaders gave up the right to strike for the period of the war, who have given up their double pay for Sundays and holidays, who have been given the run-around by Roosevelt and the various government boards, who have just seen the WLB render a decision in the Little Steel case welding the standard of living to January 1941, while corporations profits go higher and higher and who are members of a union that has just lost an important election to the AFL.

Murray Takes the Floor

Murray announced again that “this is labor’s war” in the same speech that he informed the delegates that “we find the almost terrifying debacle in the standard of living conditions in the United States during the past fifteen months ... I have consistently contended that the only kind of rationing which we now have in the United States is the rationing which enables the fellow with the most money to buy the most goods.” Murray then went on to talk at length about a “derelict Congress,” the “swollen war profits” and the big increases in salaries that have been voted corporation executives.

Fearing that some delegates might get the wrong impression, Murray explained that “we may have our misunderstandings, we direct our shafts of criticism at certain of the leaders in the Administration, but want the nation to distinctly understand that no matter what shafts of criticism may be directed against certain individuals in government or in industry, that American labor stands shoulder to shoulder behind the President of the United States of America.

Thus Murray is completely satisfied with Roosevelt. Roosevelt was opposed to the steel workers having the $1.00-a-day increase, Roosevelt sent the Army to break the North American strike, it was Roosevelt who demanded the no-strike agreement and it was Roosevelt who insisted on the workers giving up the “premium pay.” But Murray is satisfied. It is not Roosevelt who must be opposed – but Henderson, and a few members of Congress.

The CIO workers accept this twaddle from Murray and Thomas and fail completely to understand that this is the source of much of the difficulty they face. It is Roosevelt who is the head of the government, not the underlings, Henderson, Nelson, Davis, McNutt, Knox and Stimson.

What do Murray and Thomas mean when they whine that the WLB is not carrying out Roosevelt’s seven-point program? The WLB says that it is and that the Little Steel and the subsequent wage decisions have been based oh this program. The latest CIO News proudly announces that the national headquarters has been moved and that now it is “ONE BLOCK FROM THE, WHITE HOUSE.” Why doesn’t Murray go over and ask Roosevelt for clarification oh this point? Why did he not do this before he came to the UAW convention? Was he afraid that Roosevelt would win this round also?

On the Second Front

An interesting point in connection with the “second front” resolution were the speeches of Walter Reuther and Frankensteen in support of the resolution. The resolution itself was very cautiously and innocuously worded. The resolution said that the timing must be determined by the military and government leaders but that preparations must begin at once for launching such a front.

The resolution was a little too tame for “Socialist” Walter Reuther. He wants a second front right now. That is, he wants the boys who feel that they already have too many fronts to be ordered to begin dying on another front. And not only this, Reuther is ready for the speed-up in the plants. He says:

We must go back into our shops and there we can do more than pass resolutions; we can help build those guns, ships, planes and tanks that will do the job; and the sooner we build them the sooner that second front will be opened.”

Brother Frankensteen was even more positive than Brother Reuther. He doesn’t believe that the question of the second front is one to be determined by the military experts. That is true; the question of when to open the western front will be decided by the political leaders, Roosevelt and Churchill. But this wasn’t what Frankensteen meant when he said:

“First of all, we did, not ask for military experts or production experts when we came out in favor of conversion of our industry. The industrialists and leaders of this nation were way behind labor, way behind labor’s thinking when labor said it was necessary to convert our industry.”

What does this mean? Only that Frankensteen’s opinion is that it is the business of labor to decide the political questions in connection with the prosecution of the war. The leaders were behind on conversion and labor had to take the lead. The political leaders are behind on the question of the second front and labor must show the way.

But Frankensteen and Reuther, are not so hot for labor making political decisions on the questions that are really the concern of labor. On the matter of the strike, double time pay, arbitration, wage stabilization, on breaking the workers away from the Republican and Democratic Parties and leading them on the road to independent working class political action, Reuther and Frankensteen are totally silent.

Reuther closed his second front oration with these stirring words: “And a lot of us here are going to have to do some hard working, and dying before that second front and that victory can be won.” But not Reuther and Frankensteen. These two $7,000-a-year UAW vice-presidents are going to do their hard work trying to keep the UAW workers chained to the boss war machine. The convention addressed an Open Letter to the German workers. In this letter the UAW officers said to the German workers:

“You have two clear alternatives. The one is to continue what you are doing now, sacrificing yourselves and your children, dragging Germany and the whole of Europe with you into an ever-deepening brutality, until Germany and all of German hopes will lie buried upon the battlefields of the world.”

This is what the German, workers are doing, say these self-righteous and stupid bureaucrats. The German capitalists, the German political shysters of the Stalinist and the Social-Democratic Parties evidently had no part in bringing about the present plight of the German masses.

But the German workers have another alternative:

“A worker’s alternative – to make your inevitable suffering and sacrifices meaningful to the ultimate realization of a free and decent world for yourselves, for your children and for the workers of the world ... for the workers anywhere there is but one side in this war ... we are sending you this message to ask you to rejoin the ranks of the workers of the free nations of the world ... even when workers have been stripped of their political power and deprived of their organizations, they still have their overwhelming and crucial power at the point of production ... in this fateful hour we call upon you workers of Germany to join us – the workers of the world – in our struggle for a workers’ victory and a workers’ peace.”

Yes, properly meant and understood this appeal for a workers’ victory would be fine. But, in the intentions of the UAW bureaucrats, this so-called message to the German workers reaches, the height of stupidity, brazenness and insult. When they speak of “one side in the war”, they do not mean the side of independent working class action.

Has it occurred to these people that one of the reasons that Hitler holds the German masses in line is that they fear another Versailles peace? Do the writers of this disgraceful “open letter” expect the German workers to rush out joyfully with song and roses to welcome the victorious imperialists of the First Imperialist World War?

What are the German workers doing different from what Murray, Thomas, Frankensteen, Addes and the Reuthers are doing? The German workers did not submit willingly to Hitler. They were willing to fight against Hitler and destroy him and all his black shirts. They were sold down the river by the Murrays, the Thomases, Reuthers, and Browders of Germany. That’s why today they are under the yoke of Hitler. The UAW bureaucrats would do well to keep quiet altogether, rather than talk the way they do.

The German workers will rise and they will fight for democracy and for workers’ freedom. And so will the American workers and all other workers. No worker, German, American, English or French, can fight to victory under a trade union or political leadership that in every crisis capitulates to the bosses. This is a lesson for us, the American workers, to learn.

Labor Needs Leadership

We have gone through the proposals of the leadership at this convention to demonstrate and emphasize the complete incompetence of this leadership in the present situation. They were fairly good men for a certain period in the development of the CIO. That period has passed.

Labor today needs a leadership at least as advanced as the rank and file: politically and from the standpoint of trade union militancy. Labor needs a leadership that will reflect the correct desires of American as well as world labor for power, freedom and security. The workers know instinctively and in a primitive way that freedom and security can be secured only in determined and persistent struggle against the boss and the boss class. The workers know that they cannot gain their freedom and security by one capitulation after the other. They have learned this in the factory, the mine and the mill. They have learned it on the picket line. Every shop steward knows this and every man and woman in the ranks above the intelligence of a beetle knows it.

The delegates to the UAW convention demonstrated every single day that what was going on was not to their liking. They did not know what to do. They spoke and spoke and spoke. They protested and protested. But when the smoke had cleared away they could show few victories against the bureaucrats.

They will have to learn. They will have to learn to organize against the bureaucrats and to oppose them with a program, not merely with speeches. They will have to learn to come to conventions with a working class program, organize around that program just as the leaders organize around their program. They must put up candidates who accept their program and support those candidates right through to the end, even though they are defeated. They might be surprised some day at what they can do if they adopt this procedure.

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