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David Coolidge

A First-Hand Report of the UAW Convention

Auto Workers Discuss Vital Union Issues

(18 October 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 42, 18 October 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The eighth convention of the UAW-CIO opened in Buffalo on Monday, October 4, in an atmosphere of tension, conflict of opinions and positions held by the main groups in the convention. This tenseness and struggle between the groups did not abate, but continued throughout the convention to the day of adjournment on October 10.

While the struggle for power, that is, “control of the international,” was a prominent feature of the convention deliberations, only the most superficial observer could say that this was the main aspect of the Buffalo meeting. The struggle for control of the union had its roots in and took its main form from the mood of the UAW membership and the body of 2,000 delegates which represented these million members at the convention.

There was the Reuther group and the Addes group, which had been formed long before the delegates came together at Buffalo. Reuther was the leader of the faction which contained the overwhelming majority of the militants who wanted to maintain an aggressive and independent international union, fighting for the welfare of its members and for a higher standard of living.

There were good American “patriots” in the Reuther group, but in this sense they did not believe in complete surrender to the war-mongers and to the bosses. While the overwhelming majority of them formally supported the war, they could see ho reason why labor should be called upon to make ALL the sacrifices while big business enriched itself off their backs. By the time the convention convened this group or a large section of it had developed some understanding of the experiences they had been through: in their shops, with the WLB, with other government agencies, Congress, the Administration and the employers. This experience and education reflected itself in the program brought forward by the Reuther group and in the tricky and slimy hedging of the Stalinist delegates on all the important questions before the convention.

The Addes-Frankensteen group was definitely the camp of the Stalinist Communist Party. While it was not clear before the convention exactly where these two stood on all the main questions, there could be no doubt about it in anyone’s mind after the sessions got under way and the main issues reached the floor. This was a faction that followed the Stalinist political line with a high degree of consistency under the direct leadership of the Stalinist whips on the floor of the convention.

There was another influence in the convention which might be called tine Murray-Thomas influence. The point of view of this group was complete and unqualified support of Roosevelt and the war. This was the avenue through which the pressure of Roosevelt and his bureaucracy made itself felt in the convention.

The parade of government speakers and pro-war propaganda began on the second day of the convention with the address of Under-Secretary of War Patterson. He initiated the campaign of direct and indirect agitation whose aim was to prepare the delegates to “vote right” on the important issues that were to come up later in the convention.

On the no-strike pledge Patterson told the delegates that “the War Department appreciates full well the fine effort of the patriotic working men who work long hours to keep production going. The no-strike pledge is a measure that is helping our men to win the war. Don’t think for a minute that the effect of that is not appreciated ... We know that we can depend upon the men and women on the production front that you represent right here, in this hall ... We know that you will not fail our soldiers, those men on the fighting front. We cannot and I know we will not.”

Patterson was followed on Tuesday afternoon by Senator Mead. He informed the delegates that “we have as the leader of our government the world’s most powerful and the world’s most popular leader.” And not only this but “we have, in my judgment, in shop and factory, on the railroads and in the mines of America that free worker who in any crisis ... is the best worker and the most durable worker and the worker who will stay in there fighting when the enslaved workers of other countries are all gone.”

The government closed its direct presentation with a report on the state of the war from the production angle and the strength of Germans and Japanese. This report was read by a lieutenant-colonel who had served on the staff of General Patton. He was accompanied by four men who had been in Africa and Italy: a captain and three sergeants. All had been wounded.

The parade of these wounded men across the platform was the most indecent part of the whole sordid show put on mainly for the purpose of “softening up” the delegates so that they would submit to the demands that were coming on reaffirmation of the no-strike pledge and for support of Roosevelt for a fourth term. Working men who had been drafted into the Army and who had been wounded in a war not of their own making were being used in a convention of workers to retard the militant activity of labor.

What About Labor’s Problems?

There was one very interesting side to the report made by the lieutenant-colonel. He said: “Deficiencies did exist in the Sicilian campaign, but they existed not because we lacked material, but just because we couldn’t move enough equipment forward in the assault, and we never did get a chance to catch up.”

His whole description of the African and Italian campaigns demonstrated that there was no lack of material on hand but that the problems were mainly those of organization, transportation and overcoming such difficulties as arise from weather conditions, corrosion, etc.

Despite all the ballyhoo and sobbing over production, no one has yet dared to make the statement that any fault in the military operations was due to supplies not being produced in the factories.

Characteristically enough, none of the government speakers had anything to say about wages, working conditions or hours. All they were interested in, of course, was that labor keep its nose to the grindstone and receive its reward, if any, after the end of the war.

The low point in the “more production” propaganda ballyhoo and “don’t let our boys down” tear-jerking was reached in the speech of Philip Murray. Murray closed his speech to the convention with the statement of seven points that the CIO will fight for, but the whole program can have no meaning whatsoever in the light of the main emphases which Murray put forward in connection with support of Roosevelt and the war.

Murray’s Pious Speech

Murray’s speech was similar to the rantings of a backwoods evangelist; calling sinners to repentance, dangling them over hellfire, calling on them to mend their ways or be damned, pleading with them to continue in the straight and narrow path lest the devil get them and they descend into hell.

The speech was delivered with all of Murray’s whimpering piousness but, at the same time, with direct thrusts designed to overawe and frighten the delegates into keeping up support of the no-strike pledge and Roosevelt’s program.

He began with the statement that “our primary interest for the moment ... is directed toward the winning of this great, noble struggle.” He wished that the delegates could have the opportunity to took inside the war picture as the officers of the CIO have had the opportunity to do.

The CIO gave a pledge that “it was their firm purpose, no matter what may happen, never to indulge themselves in the so-called pre-war luxuries of strikes for the duration of this war.” Murray felt that the story of the soldier dying from wounds while a worker bent over him saying: “Buddy, Buddy, you are dying because I did not give you the tools to fight with,” should be repeated over and over. And Murray added: “That, I hope and trust in God, will never happen in America.”

“Preparing” the Delegates

Then Murray told the story of the death of the son of a member of the staff of the CIO. “He died that the Auto Workers could meet in convention ... He died that you and I could enjoy our freedom ... That is what our boys are fighting for.”

To be sure, this is what this young member of the CIO was fighting and dying for. This is what is in the minds of hundreds of the worker-soldiers. But Phil Murray did not tell the convention that those who started the war, who are responsible for it, who make the policies and who profit from the war, are not fighting the war in order that the Auto Workers may meet in convention, or that labor may be free!

This was the setting of the convention that was to prepare the delegates for continued support of the war and Roosevelt and to hold things in line so that this purpose could be accomplished.

How did the various forces, groups and leaders react to this situation? We have already mentioned, something of the mood of the ranks of the union and the fact that the leadership was compelled to give heed to their pressure.

Incentive Pay on the Floor

Probably the clearest expression of rank and file sentiment was on the question of incentive pay. Not even the Stalinists dared propose outright adoption of incentive pay schemes to the convention, despite the fact that they are known to be the foremost proponents and defenders of this system of piecework wages. Although they presented a minority resolution on the question, it was not a direct proposal for incentive pay. They were for “local autonomy” in the establishment of wage payment plans and they approved the action taken at Columbus on March 9 by the International Executive Board.

The position taken by the board, at this meetings, however, was to reaffirm “its traditional opposition to incentive pay plans. In plants where incentive plans have or have not been in existence and the membership of such plants are desirous of having incentive plans, such plans must be approved by the International Union.”

The whole fight of the Stalinists was made around the point of leaving the decision up to the locals with, as they called it, certain safeguards. The point is that they did not dare to come before the convention with their main position on this question as it was expounded for weeks and months in the Daily Worker, in pamphlets and in speeches by Earl Browder. And the reason, of course, was that the sentiment of the workers was overwhelmingly against them.

The majority (Reuther-Leonard) resolution was outspoken against incentive pay. This resolution forbids the signing of incentive pay or piecework agreements by locals. Where they already exist they may be continued. The resolution directs all officers to conform strictly to this policy and it put the UAW squarely on record against the Incentive pay and all piecework schemes. In this the Stalinists suffered a decisive defeat.


Consideration of the most important questions that came before the convention will be continued in Labor Action in the next two issues. This will include the resolution for a fourth term for Roosevelt, the resolution on the no-strike pledge, the struggle for control of the International, the resolution on the Negro workers, the role of the Stalinists, the part played by the progressives and militants in the convention and Labor Action’s appraisal of the convention as a whole.

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