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David Coolidge

Some Final Observations on
the Auto Workers Convention

(8 November 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 45, 8 November 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

At least one unusual event took place at the UAW convention this year. A resolution was brought in by the Resolutions Committee on the question of racial discrimination, which demanded the same social as well as economic and political rights for Negroes as for white workers. This was the first unusual aspect of the question. Next came the debate, where, for the first time, those who oppose Negro equality, took the floor and spoke.

When this resolution was presented. President Thomas remarked that if there were any delegates in opposition they should be honest enough to get up and say so. He said that he had been accused of railroading such resolutions through UAW conventions, and he wanted everyone to express his convictions on the matter if they were in opposition.

Anti-Negro Remarks

A delegate from Local 174, Detroit, took the floor to speak against the resolution. He said that he did not believe in, “social equality” and that there is a natural barrier between the two races. The delegate went on to say that he would never go to a convention and take his wife and daughter where they are to mingle socially with Negro delegates.

The delegate went on in this vein for his full speaking time. It was an interesting instance of the same old story: ignorance, stupidity and arrogance combined to produce the familiar and nauseating pattern of race prejudice – race prejudice practiced by the poor, the exploited and the oppressed white worker.

It probably has never occurred to this delegate that Negroes attending a social affair might never become aware of the presence of his wife and daughter. It is also pertinent to point out that his wife and daughter might not agree with him on this question.

A delegate from Dodge Local 3 also had some remarks on the question. He was also against the resolution but was not so plainspoken and candid as the Briggs delegate. This delegate used the familiar and insulting “Some of my best friends are Negroes” formula. He said: “I ate in public places with Negroes and am proud of it.” He wanted to know if the delegates had the guts to go back to their locals and tell the members that they voted for the colored people to have the same social rights as white people.

It seems that the overwhelming majority were not afraid of the consequences of voting for such a resolution. It carried with only about two hundred of the two thousand delegates voting against it.

Ex-Servicemen and Assessments

Another progressive resolution passed by the convention was for the formation by the CIO of an ex-servicemen’s organization after the war. The resolution pointed put the reactionary character of the American Legion and resolved “to explore the possibilities of contacting all progressive sections of existing servicemen’s organizations with the objective of creating a bona fide progressive servicemen’s organization.”

For the third successive year, the convention voted down a proposal of the leadership to increase the dues. The proposal was for an assessment of fifty cents a month for the duration of the war. The proposal was in the form of an amendment to the constitution providing that thirty cents shall be retained by the local, and twenty cents be forwarded to the international treasurer to be placed in a special post-war fund.

Many good arguments can be made for the establishment of such a fund. However, the delegates evidently felt that this was just another attempt on the part of their officers to increase the income of the international board. And, too, this may be a way the delegates had of voicing resentment and real feelings about such things as the no-strike pledge. If there are no strikes and no strike benefits to be paid, then, in their opinion, there is no need for large sums of money in the international treasury.

The last observation we wish to make in connection with this convention is on the general democratic character of the UAW and the pronounced democratic procedure in UAW conventions. This is a refreshing departure from the usual methods in the organized labor movement and is to be found in no other international in the CIO and, of course, not in the AFL.

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