B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Walter Jason

UAW Adopts Compromise Formula

(18 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 34, 26 August 1946, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Aug. 18 – A major showdown in the top CIO leadership on vital policies was averted at least temporarily through the adoption of a compromise formula on a wage-price policy as announced by Walter P. Reuther, UAW-CIO president, in behalf of a majority of international executive board members.

One important aspect of the wage-price policy that has been virtually ignored in the papers was the adoption by the Board of Reuther’s proposal for higher wages without price increases as the central slogan in any wage renegotiations that are going to take place.

The crisis in the UAW-CIO leadership reflected a similar situation in the national CIO leadership which is widely split into separate camps on a real program for the CIO.

Reuther announced that the UAW would re-open wage negotiations at Chrysler corporation – as demanded by a national delegate conference recently – and other companies where contract provisions permit. However, actual wage demands would “depend on what action the government takes to control prices."

Since no one in the UAW-CIO top leadership seriously expects the Truman administration to do anything of the kind, this Reuther formula would be meaningless if one didn’t understand what has been going on in the CIO leadership.

In spite of the terrific rise in the cost of living, Philip Murray, CIO president, has continually put strong pressure on the UAW-CIO leadership to prevent them from carrying out the original 5 point program recently adopted at a city-wide union leadership meeting in Detroit, as reported in Labor Action.

However, events proved too strong for even Murray to stick to his completely hopeless “do nothing” views. Especially since real rank and file pressure in the UAW-CIO for a wage raise was felt by the entire international executive board. In this connection, the whole campaign in Chrysler has been dominated by the Stalinists who are utilizing this situation to the hilt.

So for two weeks in Detroit, the UAW-CIO executive board has been meeting in secret sessions, trying to figure out an answer to the problem of inflation. In this connection, the precarious financial position of the union due to extravagant pork-chopping and machine building, weighed as a serious factor in deciding policy.

The executive board members maneuvered and tried to make deals, and shifted positions, and finally went to Washington to consult with Murray and others on policy. R.J. Thomas, vice president, stood by Murray’s “do nothing” policies, and thus broke with his Stalinist supporters. Richard T. Leonard, vice-president, likewise stood by Murray, and emerged as the genuine right wing leader of the UAW-CIO.

Behind Policy Maneuvers

Before the board meeting, Reuther had agreed more or less to go along with Murray, but when he saw an opportunity to utilize the clash between Murray supporters and the Stalinists, he did so. In a bloc with supporters of George Addes, secretary treasurer, and second dominant figure in the UAW-CIO, Reuther authored the compromise wage-price statement that bridges the gap between Murray and the Stalinists.

In all this maneuvering, the pressure of the rank and file, or more exactly their deep discontent over present policies, played a big role. In a sense, there is a race between Reuther and the Stalinists for leadership of this rank and file movement. The next test of strength will be the Wayne county CIO convention, which should duplicate the recent Michigan state CIO convention in importance as a battle ground between the Reuther caucus and the Stalinists.

Behind this maneuvering on policy in the UAW-CIO, and one of the reasons why Murray had to retreat in his stand against any fresh wage demands is the fact that he has the problem of a strong Stalinist bloc in the national CIO leadership, and Reuther is trying to utilize this situation for his own ends, namely to consolidate his control of the UAW-CIO.

Indications of the mood of the workers in the plants were reported to the UAW-CIO board in session, and to the national CIO leadership in Washington. In many auto plants, veterans walked out on V-J Day, either simply as a protest against their lot, or in organized expression of their resentment against the raw deal the big corporations are giving them in the factories. In Pontiac, Michigan, for example, veterans who are members of the UAW-CIO shut down the whole town in protest against General Motors refusal to give them back pay for vacations lost during military service, and which the GI Bill of Rights guarantees them. In Detroit, the biggest Chrysler plant Dodge, was shut down by veterans, and in other Chrysler plants production was crippled by a spontaneous walk-out of veterans.

Likewise, the series of quick shutdowns, 24-hour walk-outs, and slowdowns continues in many plants. These facts were known to the UAW-CIO leadership when it was meeting.

Out of all this maneuvering and confusion displayed in the top leadership of the CIO, one thing is certain. The growing pressure of the workers in the shops will not cease. The compromise formula of Reuther may become the wedge heralding a second strike wave.

In all these developments, one other thing stands out like a sore thumb. The entire UAW-CIO leadership is revealed as not standing up well before the major problems of the day. Every one of them, including Reuther, fears taking up seriously the question of real political action to supplement the economic war. The CIO leadership is going to try again to sell the ranks of labor the idea of wasting their vote by supporting capitalist politicians. This policy is a tragic blunder.

And the problem of meeting the new line of the Stalinists in the CIO, calling for strikes and militant action, has only been postponed by the Reuther formula, not settled. The big struggles inside and outside the CIO lie ahead.

B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 3 April 2020