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Union News in Brief ...

(22 November 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 48 (should be 47), 22 November 1943, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

[NLRB at Chevrolet, Flint]

The National Labor Relations Board recently conducted a strike vote at Chevrolet in Flint. The vote was on the question: “Do you wish to permit an interruption of war production in wartime as a result of this dispute?”

Despite the phony and tricky formulation of the question, the workers at this plant voted four to one, in favor of strike: 8,099 for to 2,070, against. This is, over 8,000 workers, who knew they had long-standing grievances and who also knew the best way to have those grievances settled, refused to be intimidated by the NLRB. They were not influenced by an NLRB blackjack wrapped in the United States flag.

The strike vote had nothing to do with the “war effort” or “war production.” The 8,000 who voted for the strike were not expressing their opinion on the war, but rather on how they felt about their low wages and working conditions in the plant.,

The problem of the Flint Chevrolet workers is similar to that of labor all over the country: how to get enough food, clothing and decent homes to live in. In the factories, the workers are surrounded by tanks, munitions and airplanes. But they can’t eat them. It isn’t like working at a sandwich counter where you can eat what you are making.

The worker’s wife has to have money to go to the store. She has to pay five, six or seven cents apiece for eggs, fifteen cents for four ounces of butter if she can find any, about the same for a quart of milk, and forty-five cents a pound for bull neck at the corner market.

There isn’t enough money to go around. And so we have to take a strike vote. And after the vote, if the grievances are not settled, we have to strike. That seems simple enough. That’s nothing new. Labor has been doing that for a century or more. To date no one has found a substitute.


On the Miners’ Fight

The miners are back at work, but the WLB, the capitalist press, the bosses and the Stalinists are still having the jitters. There is also a little unrest among the top leaders of the CIO and AFL. The “public members” of the WLB charge the UMWA with “cynical and repeated violations of the no-strike policy” and with “sowing confusion” among union members. The three “public members” are Davis, Taylor and Graham: an obscure patent lawyer, a college professor and a university president.

It is extremely difficult to grasp what Davis, Taylor and Graham are talking about. The UMWA was “sowing confusion” among union members? What union members? The members of the UMWA? A strange kind of confusion!

The miners have a tradition and position that they “do not work without a contract.” At the expiration of their wage agreement they asked for a $2.00 a day increase. There was no confusion about this, except in the ranks of the coal operators and the WLB. The miners understood it and so did millions of other workers.

I know of two union locals that were so clear on the matter that they promptly passed resolutions; supporting the miners and demanding the same pay increases for themselves.

As an illustration of the absence of “confusion,” the miners, when they did not get a contract, refrained from trespassing on the property of the coal companies. There was the kind of clarity and lack of confusion in which virtually every miner from Pennsylvania to Alabama, to Arkansas, to Washington and back to Wyoming, through Iowa to Ohio, stayed at home and waited for the contract. When instructed by their policy committee, they returned to work. When the truce expired, they refused again to trespass on company property. When another truce was declared by their elected representatives, they returned to work. A third time they came out and then returned: As October 31 approached they began the fourth retreat from the mines. By this time the WLB, the capitalist press and the coal operators were beginning to see the light – just a little.

The miners had been in and out of the mines, in solid ranks, for a period of six months. The UMWA hadn’t lost a man except by death, or to the Army, or to some other industry. Furthermore, other workers and unions were beginning to get ideas into their heads, very clear ideas about wage increases, and the additional idea that the way to get more wages was to follow the example of the UMWA.

Is that what Davis, Taylor and Graham mean by “sowing confusion”? When the miners maintain the most superb discipline they are supposed to be confused. When they fight to the last ditch, united to defend and protect their union, they are confused, say these “public member” of the WLB. When other workers learn from the miners and begin putting pressure on the Greens and Murrays, these workers are “confused” also.

It’s all the miners’ fault, say Davis, Taylor and Graham. When the shipyard workers or the aircraft workers strike, it is because the UMWA has spread “confusion” in their ranks. The college president, the obscure little professor and the previously unknown patent lawyer couldn’t possibly think of any other reason for the recent strikes and demands for wage increases!


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