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David Coolidge

Thomas on the No-Strike Pledge

(5 June 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 23, 5 June 1944, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

During the past week two international presidents of CIO unions, the United Automobile Workers and the Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers, have appealed to their memberships to close ranks behind the leadership and to abide by the no-strike and other decisions made by the international conventions. These appeals were made by R.J. Thomas of the UAW and John Green of the IUMSWA.

Thomas’ statement pertained to the strike at the Chrysler Highland Park plant. The last strike came after sixteen workers had been fired by the company and fourteen officers of the local had been ousted by the international executive board. Picket lines were established and all the gates to the plant blocked. George Addes, following the Communist Party line, was not satisfied with the official action taken by the board. He advised the workers to “break through the picket lines if necessary to get your jobs back.”

Nature of Union Crisis

The Thomas statement said that the UAW “today faces one of the greatest crises in its history. On the outcome of this crisis will depend the possibilities of our survival in the post-war period.” And what is this crisis? Thomas says what in his opinion is the nature of the crisis, but he misses the point completely. He says that the crisis arises from the failure of a minority of the union to “abide by the democratic decisions and mandates of our constitution and our conventions.” In practice, however, the crisis arises because of an increase in the number of “unauthorized strikes” in spite of the no-strike pledge given to President Roosevelt.

Labor Action is for democratic decisions and we believe that workers should make every effort to abide by all decisions democratically arrived at. But the agreement on the no-strike pledge was not arrived at in a really democratic manner. The pledge was given by Murray, Green and ethers before the millions of AFL and CIO members were consulted. This pledge of the top leaders was passed on to the international presidents, who went into their unions and by begging, pleading, threatening and sobbing, dragged the rank and fileinto passive acceptance.

The trade union membership right from the beginning was skeptical about the pledge. Today they are openly and positively against it. They have good reason to be against it. They have learned from their experience that they were taken in by their leaders and sold down the river. They know now that when Murray and the others gave this pledge they were not representing labor’s interests but the interests of the employers and the employers’ government. Labor knows now that tire employers and the government have been and are taking advantage of the no-strike pledge to the detriment of the labor movement and its interests.

Labor was promised that collective bargaining would continue, that there would be no anti-union legislation and that no attack on the unions by the employers would be condoned or tolerated. Not a single promise made by the government or the employers has been kept, not one. Virtually every working class right has been violated, openly and with design. A concerted government-employer drive against the unions has emerged and is in full swing today.

The trade union leadership does nothing to halt this attack. They continue their toadying to Roosevelt and to the WLB, and run like scared rabbits every time some anti-labor demagogue from the backwoods of the South bellows in Congress. In such a situation what can the loyal and militant union members do? Submit quietly and permit the whole labor movement to be disembowelled and thrown to the capitalist vultures and their deputies in Washington?

Thomas’ Statement

Thomas hasn’t changed his argument one bit: “Public opinion has become inflamed against our union,” he bleats. What is this “public opinion”? The millions of workers in the AFL and CIO? Not so. The “public opinion” that is inflamed against the UAW today is the same “public opinion” that has always been inflamed against this militant union. It is the same “public opinion” that will be inflamed against the UAW when and if, after the war, Thomas carries out his promise to “authorize” strikes again.

In his statement, Thomas, following Murray, descends to the lowest level possible for a labor leader when he whimpers that “already more than 35,000 of our American brothers have been killed in action.” What responsibility does labor bear for the present imperialist blood bath that has caused the death of thousands of human beings? None whatsoever. But Thomas will not be moved: “... these figures will be increased many-fold in the months to come. Does any reasonable and responsible person believe that, in the face of these terrible facts, our union can tolerate wildcat strikes in war plants and still survive?”

The only inference that “any reasonable and responsible person” can draw from the inane remarks of President Thomas is that labor has some responsibility for the number of dead and maimed in the present war. Also we ask Thomas to remember the Anaconda Copper Co. and its defective Wire, the U.S. Steel Corporation and its defective steel plates, the defective parachutes, the cartel agreements between Standard Oil of New Jersey and Hitler’s Nazi chemical trust, which the Justice Department said verged on treason.

In his statement Thomas has an answer to this: a coward’s answer, a poltroonish answer: “This war must be won. If management will not sincerely work toward that end, then labor must do so. We may have to take it on the chin here and there for a time, but if we can present the nation and the returning soldiers with a clean record, we will gain after the war for the sacrifices we are making today.”

This is the most reprehensible nonsense. It is desertion of the workers and their interests. Labor has a perfectly clean record, if one gets clean from making sacrifices while capitalist corporations pile up their millions in blood profits. This is the story told by the 35,000 dead American youth. Furthermore, the labor leaders are not taking it on the chin. They have no personal wage problems to settle. They have no income tax problems. The 43 per cent rise in the cost of living works no burden on them. Thomas’ $9,000 and Addes’ $8,500 take care of that. They don’t operate under the Little Steel formula.

A Clean Record

The best way to present the returning soldiers with a “clean record” is to fight the Little Steel formula, the WLB and the designs of the employers against the unions, so that the worker-soldiers will have jobs at high wages when they return, and strong, militant unions to defend these jobs and wages for them. If this is not done, the reward of the returning soldiers will be doughnuts and coffee, confetti and promises that there will be no more war.

These are the facts. Thomas is perhaps too dull to understand. He is not dealing with simple violations of convention decisions or of the union constitution. He is dealing with loyal but angry and militant union members who are alarmed at the situation they. face. All the stupid statements that Thomas can make, all the threats of the UAW international board, all the tear-jerking over the no-strike pledge, will get Thomas, Murray and Green exactly nowhere with a working class that is becoming increasing dissatisfied with the retreat ordered by its leaders.


(The statement of President Green will be dealt with next week.)

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