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David Coolidge

UAW Board Issues Anti-Strike Ukase

(6 March 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 10, 6 March 1944, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Cringing before the anti-labor blows of a Congress dominated as always by its big capitalist masters, the international board of the United Automobile Workers lashed out last week against its own locals and membership.

The New York Times tells the story in exultant mood in a two-Column, head: UAW Adopts Drastic Strike Ban; Provocation No Excuse for Men. And then: International Board Orders Penalties in All Unauthorized Stoppage’s – Needs of Invasion Are Cited.

The New Ukase

In the new statement of policy the board says: “This union is determined to fully meet its responsibilities in the prosecution of the war – responsibilities which are all the greater by reason of the employment of our members in the critical war plants of the country.

“The constitution of our international union is clear that there shall be no strikes or work stoppages except upon authorization of the international executive board or the international president. The convention ... held in Buffalo in October 1943 resolved ... to reaffirm its no-strike pledge without any qualification.
“The considerations which prompted the action of the convention are even more compelling at the present time ... The overwhelming majority of our membership has scrupulously complied with the constitution of the union, its no-strike pledge and its policy ... However, an extremely small minority of our members have ignored their solemn pledge and have indulged in work stoppages ...”

The international board then painfully and almost apologetically admits that “an increasing number of corporations have taken advantage of the patriotic resolve of our membership and have deliberately pursued a course intended to deny them their rights under their contracts and to provoke them into engaging in work stoppages, the object being to discredit their union in the eyes of the public, to demoralize the union membership, to inspire repressive legislation against unions, and ultimately to destroy the organized labor movement.

“Difficult as is the situation thus created, the winning of the war nevertheless remains the all-important objective of labor; and the resort to work stoppages in response to the provocative acts of management not only had the effect of impeding the war effort, but plays into the hands of these corporations and provides them with the ammunition which they seek in pursuit of their invidious objectives.”

Let Us Consider the Above

Before we go on to discuss the penalties which the international board plans to take against UAW members who go on strike, we want to discuss the motivations of the board as expressed in the quoted parts above.

In the first place, the question is not whether or not the board has the right and duty to administer the affairs of the international union, to exercise control over the actions of members and locals and to exercise the veto power when deemed proper and correct, in the case of strikes or proposed strikes, as provided in the constitution and the decisions of the several conventions of the international. The authority of the international board is unquestioned and at times it is imperatively necessary that such authority be exercised against individual members and locals. We can think of two important cases immediately.

On the basis of the decision of the last UAW convention to disapprove of incentive pay schemes it becomes the duty of the international board to proceed against any officer or member who advocates or attempts to install such piecework schemes in any UAW contract. Or, again, the international board would certainly be expected to take drastic action against any local which discriminated against Negroes or other groups in any way whatsoever.

The Essence of the Question

The formal right of the board and its duty to carry out the decisions of of the UAW constitution is not, as stated above, the real essence of the situation which the board is attempting to deal with in the matter of strikes. The matter goes far deeper than any formal right to restrictive action or punitive procedure.

Workers are forced to strike because of real grievances – which the leaders cannot hocus-pocus out of existence by giving a no-strike pledge.

President Thomas and his associates on the board will discover this in the days to come when they find themselves faced with the problem of lifting a few charters or of expelling some of the most loyal, competent and militant of the UAW membership because they have refused to submit to the attacks of the Fords, duPonts and Chryslers.

Thomas and the board say that the considerations which prompted the no-strike pledge are more impelling today than at the time of the last UAW convention. And what is the reason for this? The Allied nations are poised for the invasion of continental Europe. But the very fact that the actual invasion is being arranged means that the Army is already supplied with the necessary materials, and that more material is on the way. This shows that labor has produced, that the strikes have not hampered the conduct of the war in any way. Nobody has had the “brass” to make such a statement, not even bone-headed Atherton who heads the American Legion.

On the Subject of Production

According to reports which leak out, the country is piled over with tanks, munitions, guns and planes. It is only common sense to assume that the British Isles are strewn from end to end with English and American war materials. Thousands of cargo ships certainly are not being made for the mere purpose of supplying work to shipbuilding workers but to transport the mountain of foods produced. Production has been so great that many manufacturers of war materials are talking about conversion of some plants to civilian production.

Furthermore, it is childish to attribute to labor any desire not to produce. That’s what workers get paid for: producing the things manufactured by the company they happen to be working for. Labor has no control over what is produced.

Under capitalism the worker just takes a job where he can get one and fights for the highest wage he can get, along with the shortest hours for that wage. That’s all that labor is doing today: working hard and long to keep high taxes and profiteers’ prices from reducing them to the level of emancipated slaves.

All this talk about labor and production is just so much eyewash: tragic eyewash when it comes from responsible labor leaders.

Of Course, Bosses “Take Advantage”

It is good to read, however, that the UAW board recognized that their members have some grievances and that the recent strikes may have had some distant connection with these grievances. The corporations have taken advantage of the no-strike pledge, says the board. Of course they have. The employers are only looking out for themselves, their business enterprises and their profits. That’s what they are in business for. Many workers must wonder at times what Murray, Thomas and Green are in business for.

And what is this, claptrap about corporations taking “advantage of the patriotic resolve of our members ...”? The corporations and their government are using the no-strike pledge given by the labor leaders behind the backs “of our members,” in order to kill the unions and strengthen the system of capitalism and private profit. The corporations don’t give a damn about the “patriotic resolve of our members.” And why should they?

Capitalist corporations are run for profit and wartime is only a season for making those profits bigger than ever. If Thomas and Murray haven’t learned this yet, they should return to welding and coal digging and start up through the ranks again.

A Peculiar Conclusion

After the UAW board admits the workers have a few grievances, they come to the conclusion which must spread joy in the breast of every capitalist employer and every government bureau: No matter what the grievance, no matter what the provocation of the employer, labor must lie flat on its back and permit the heavy boot of the employers and the government to knock its teeth in. And why?

The answer, according to the UAW board, is that the winning of the war “remains the all-important objective of labor.” This statement, of course, is in line with the usual infantile thinking of Thomas and other leaders. Thomas said at the Buffalo convention that even if the employers did not do their duty, labor must carry on – because “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

The all-important objective of labor, however, should be to carry on the struggle for higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions. The all-important objective of labor remains the organization of the working class and the conducting of the struggles of the working class for economic security and political power. The class struggle goes on in wartime just as in peacetime. Does not the UAW board know this?

What do they think Roosevelt is doing when he demands a national service act and wage stabilization arid the freezing of workers to their jobs? What do they think he was doing when he sent the Army against “our members” on the picket line at the North American Aviation strike? In these wartime acts Roosevelt prosecutes the class struggle in the interest of the capitalist class which he represents.

Do the UAW board and other international boards think they can stop strikes and dam up the militancy of tax-burdened, exploited and sorely harassed labor by such fool pronouncements as this one of the UAW? They know better. They have witnessed the failure of their babbling and moaning and wailing. Their boot-licking of Roosevelt has produced only a demand from Roosevelt, Congress and the employers that they bend a little lower, eat a little more dust and do a little more licking. They oblige the employers, Roosevelt and Congress by preparing for a crack-down on the UAW locals and “our members.”

The Cause of Labor Discontent

The UAW board doesn’t concern itself with the cause of the discontent: low wages, profiteer and monopoly prices, long hours, grinding taxes, money out for war bonds, anti-labor bills, the insolence of management and its hirelings, etc.

They ignore the fact that labor has become disillusioned with Roosevelt. At last the working class is finding him out.

The UAW board and other labor leaders also seem not to understand that labor is beginning to catch on to what the employers are up to, with the aid of Roosevelt, Congress and the government bureaucrats. Labor reads about the agreements existing between duPont, General Electric and other firms in the United States with Nazi corporations to control prices. The workers learn that these agreements are in effect right now while the war is going on. They read about the Rockefeller Chase Bank being indicted for helping the Nazis – not ten years ago, but right now. They read about the powerful Anaconda Copper Co. sending “our boys” defective wire to use against the Nazis.

In the face of all this, here comes the board of the UAW talking about the main objective of labor remaining the winning of the war.

The Ax Will Fail

Despite all this, despite all the “provocations,” the UAW locals and members will feel the ax if there are any more “unauthorized” strikes. Whenever members are identified as the persons who advocated or caused strikes, “all services to such members and any intervention in their behalf in the event of disciplinary action against them by the management” shall be withheld by the international and its officers. In such cases the local union is instructed to file charges and prosecute such members. If the local fails to do so, the local may be summoned to appear and show cause why its charter should not be lifted.

The statement of the board also provides that whenever management is caught provoking a work stoppage, this fact shall be reported to the international board by the local involved. We presume that when the corporation heads read this part of the statement they will be frightened into reforming their ways and that they will sin no more.

All this decision does is to place the UAW international and local officers in the position of being cops for the employers and the government. It is an attempt of the leadership of the UAW to enforce a pledge given to Roosevelt and a pledge which the overwhelming majority of the UAW and of the labor movement is opposed to.

The workers have demonstrated that they are opposed to this no-strike pledge. They have had to violate it. Neither the government nor the trade union officials have left them any alternative. They have none now, and the recent order of the UAW board will hot change the situation one bit, except to create disorder, disgust and resentment in the international.

We can assure Messrs. Thomas, Addes, Reuther and Frankensteen that their latest piece of pro-war whimpering will benefit no one but the capitalist exploiters of “our members.” This is, if “our members” submit – which we seriously doubt.

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