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David Coolidge

UAW Strikers Stand Firm!

But Leaders Make Shameful Retreat at Ford

“Company Security” Plan Means Union Insecurity

(17 December 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 51, 17 December 1945, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

An unholy alliance is about to be consummated between the International Executive Board of the UAW-CIO and the Ford Motor Co. Unless the UAW membership and’ the whole labor movement come down on the heads of the leadership of the UAW, Henry Ford will get from the union itself, and without a struggle, what he was never able to accomplish with his anti-union thugs and company-made blackjacks.

Richard Leonard, Ford director of the UAW, acting for the IEB, has submitted to the Ford Motor Co. the UAW’s reply to the corporation’s demand for “company security.” “In the event of an unauthorized strike ... any employee or employees found guilty of instigating, fomenting or giving leadership to an unauthorized stoppage of work shall be subject to discharge.” For those workers who participate, “and whose guilt has been determined by the umpire,” fines are provided. For “first participation ... $3.00 for each day of the stoppage (or major fraction of any subsequent day). Second participation... $5.00 for each day of the stoppage (or major fraction of any subsequent day). In the event of a financial penalty, the company shall deduct the fine from the earnings of the worker involved. It is agreed that all fines levied under this section shall be donated to the President’s Infantile Paralysis Fund.”

It is extremely difficult to write with restraint about this “plan” which Leonard has been authorized by Thomas, Reuther and Addes to present to the Ford Motor Co. But this must be the procedure because every worker who reads Labor Action must understand the real and full meaning of this corporation “security” proposal.

Content of Reply

The “security plan” is the reply of the UAW leadership to the demands of Ford that before he signs another contract or discusses wages the union must take steps to guarantee security to the corporation.

Ford demanded that in so far as the union and the workers were demanding security and protection from the corporation, the corporation had the right to demand security and protection from the union and the workers.

The notion behind such a demand is nt new. In the earlier days of CIO militancy, this organization was contrasted with the more conservative AFL. The AFL was praised as the more “responsible” organization. The CIO had not reached ‘‘maturity,” it had not attained to the level of “responsible trade unionism.” The capitalist employers and their spokesmen in the editorial offices and in Congress meant by this that the CIO was more difficult to control than the AFL. It was less amenable to persuasion from the employer, it was less likely to compromise, it rejected “sweetheart” agreements; it was more likely to resort to the picket line than was the AFL.

The plans of the employers for the unions took very concrete form. They proposed that their notion be enacted into law. The unions should open their books to the “public.” The International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union was held up as a model of “responsible trade unionism” adhering to the “American way of life” because this organization published its annual financial statement in the daily papers.

Proposals were advanced and an attempt was made to enact them into law, that union organizers should be licensed and that trade unions should be looked upon in law, in practice and by “the public” as in no way essentially different from a corporation. The general position of the capitalist employers was summed up in their attitude that “responsible trade unionism” must mean the settlement of all grievances around the Council table, by the decision of an “impartial arbitrator” or through the intervention of the government. The whole plan was an organized one and directed primarily against the one powerful weapon in the hands of the unions and the working class: THE STRIKE.

This is particularly important for the employers today. Their main concern right now is with WAGES, PRICES, TAXES and PRODUCTION. All of the strikes today and those in the making revolve first of all around the question of wages. Strikes halt production; this is their chief tactical purpose. This is the point at which the working class is in complete control of its own actions and can act in complete disregard of the desires and plan’s of the capitalist employers.

Who Is Secure?

The proposals made to the Ford company by the UAW are in total disregard of the facts and the history of the past few years. The Ford Motor Co. and all other capitalist corporations are already protected and secure. The capitalist ruling class, which owns these vast manufacturing corporations and the big banks, is protected and secure. Any further protection and security which they need, they can give themselves. They are protected and have security because they own all the property: the mines, mills, factories and the land. They own the banks, the railroads, the communications systems, the public utilities, the big stores. They make huge profits and pile up billions in capital, plant and equipment. They distribute billions in dividends and interest to themselves each year.

Added to this, the capitalist ruling class, ‘ which owns all the wealth and property, has its own government in Washington; in every state, county, city, town and hamlet. They own and control this government. They operate it for their protection, for their security and for the protection and security of their property and their profits. Their government in Washington guarantees their profits and protects their property with the police and the army.

For Labor Security

What do the workers have in the way of protection and security? We own no property: no land, mines, mills, factories and banks. WE HAVE NO GOVERNMENT OF OUR OWN. All we have is the millions of us and our capacity for doing the jobs which the capitalist employers give us. Since we own no land, mines, mills, factories, railroads and banks, all we can do is work for the capitalists who do own these things. We make no profits. We receive no dividends and interest. We have no reserves and no capital.

The working class does have its unions, however. They are its security and its protection. Labor can have no-other protection and security except the organisation of the whole working class into unions and into an INDEPENDENT POLITICAL PARTY OF THE WORKING CLASS.

The plan which the IEB of the UAW has authorized Leonard to present to the Ford Motor Co. strikes directly at the Ford union and the whole trade union movement. It says to a powerful corporation that the union and the workers are ready to place themselves at the mercy of a fascist-minded employer who has demonstrated a viciousness in his relations with labor unsurpassed by any employer in the country, Tom Girdler included.

The fines to be levied will not come from the union treasury but from the earnings of the individual workers. The UAW bureaucrats see to it that the International treasury, from which their salaries come, is not molested. The fines will not come from the local treasury, and thus the local officers will have their security protected.

An Attack on Unionism

The plan is a direct attack on the shop steward and shop committeeman system. What decent and militant union man will be a shop steward or committeeman under such a plan? What can they do? Any action in the interests of their men can result in their being charged with “instigating, fomenting or giving leadership” to a strike. Can any plan have been conceived of greater benefit to the employer? Militant stewards can be and will be fired under this plan. Thereby the workers in the plant have their organization beheaded. Under this plan no steward can fight to have any important grievance settled. Any insistence on settlement of grievances can and will result in the loss of his job.

All workers in the plant will have the threat of a fine constantly hanging over their heads. It is possible under this system for workers to lose from one-half to all of a week’s wages. The hypocrisy of the thing resides in that choice piece of shysterism which proposes that the fines go to the “President’s Infantile Paralysis Fund!” What consolation this will be to workers and their families!

The UAW bureaucrats do not dare take upon themselves the collection of these fines. They turn this pleasant task over to the Ford Company. Along with the checkoff which goes to the International office, the company will withhold the fine money which will go to the Infantile Paralysis Fund, and not to the Ford Motor Company which is presumably so much in need of protection and security.

It Is a Blow at the UAW

This proposal of the UAW traitors has no relation in any way to collective bargaining or to the violation of contractual relations. Nothing is involved that has anything to do essentially with collective bargaining or observance of agreements. There is no issue here of the right of the union leadership to invoke union discipline where necessary, nor is the right of the union leadership to invoke union discipline over strikes involved.

This action of the UAW leadership is not only an attack on the Ford workers today but it is a blow delivered at the GM workers who are now on strike. By this act they not only deliver the Ford workers to Ford but they also deliver the GM workers over to the du Pont family. The unprecedented but excellent GM demands are countermanded by the action taken in connection with Ford. While the GM workers are on strike and demanding to see the corporation’s books the Ford workers are told that if they do not submit sheepishly to the demands and attacks of Ford they will be forced to give a part of their earnings to the “President’s Infantile Paralysis Fund.”

What is behind this treachery from the UAW leadership? FEAR, COWARDICE, AMBITION and STUPIDITY. Fear of the increasing militancy of the membership of the International. The pent-up resentment of the workers during the war years is being let loose today in demands such as labor has never made before.

They fear the employers because they have no weapon to fight with unless they can get and keep the support and confidence of their membership. They fear the government at Washington because they know that this government will not heed their pleas.

These bureaucrats fear one another. One might outdo the other and one may get more publicity than the other in the capitalist press.

What to Do

Above all the trade union leadership is afraid of the militant ranks of labor itself. They are haunted by the imminence of mass strike action. Not just the old-fashioned strikes around simple wage demands but strikes demanding the control of profits, prices and perhaps later the control of dividends. This leadership knows in its own stupid way that such demands are not mere trade union demands.

This is the meaning of the Ford “security” plan. This is the meaning of the proposal to arbitrate one day before the GM strike. The UAW plan for Ford is a monstrous proposal. There will be more of these proposals from the trade union leadership. The only way to save the unions for the role which they ought to play is for the militants to assert themselves. The only effective answer to the surrender of the trade union leadership is an offensive against the capitalist employers:

Against GM, Chrysler, Ford, the steel corporations, General Electric, Westinghouse.

Such an offensive can only be carried through effectively if the real militants in the unions band themselves together to push the top leadership forward or to push them out. Such a step must of course be given a correct programmatic base, a correct motivation and must be based on the firm and clear understanding that it it only through the political organisation of labor that the Fords, du Ponts and all the tribe of exploiters can be finally defeated.

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