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Walter Jason

Meat Price Rise with Labor Offensive!

UAW Launches New Wage Drive!

(20 October 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 43, 28 October 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Oct. 20 – Once again the UAW-CIO has been placed in the position of spearheading the CIO in the struggle to overcome the rising cost of living and lagging wages.

For two days the International Executive Board of the UAW-CIO has been grappling with the problems connected with the formal reopening of wage negotiations at Chrysler, affecting 75,000 auto workers employed there.

The importance of these negotiations was emphasized by the prresence of Philip Murray, CIO president, at the board session, in spite of Murray’s insistence that the UAW drive on Chrysler was in no way connected with national CIO policy, the facts in the case testify to the contrary.

For the national CIO, as well as the entire leadership of the UAW-CIO is on the spot, placed there by the powerful demands of the ranks of the UAW-CIO that a fighting policy on wages and prices be adopted and placed into effect immediately.

Ranks Demand Action

When Walter P. Reuther, UAW president, told reporters covering the conference that “The UAW would have preferred to fight this thing out on the price front,” his opinion was that of the entire UAW Executive Board. The board, including George Addes, R.J. Thomas, Richard T. Leonard and others, did not voluntarily reopen negotiations with Chrysler as was possible under the contract. A delegate conference of Chrysler,, locals demanded this action.

As prices continued to soar, a move began at Chrysler Local 7 to demand a national UAW emergency conference to work out a national strategy of fighting for wage increases to meet the rising cost of living. Over forty local union presidents in the Detroit area joined in this demand.

The special session of the International Executive Board was called as a substitute for this conference. The air, of caution described as prevailing at this board meeting arises from the fact that the entire UAW leadership is on the spot because of the rank and file. Murray’s presence was demanded by both factions on the International Executive Board because neither side was willing to take full responsibility for any course of action.

Wage Formula

In so far as a fundamental viewpoint on wages is concerned, the entire board, Reuther faction and the anti-Reuther Stalinist bloc, voted unanimously for the wage-price policy statement presented by Reuther on August 16 at the board meeting in Washington, D.C.

The key section of that statement is entitled Higher Wages Without Higher Prices. It reads:

“If we are to achieve and maintain an economy of abundance, we must continue to press acceptance of the basic economic fact that mass production power must be matched by mass purchasing power.

“Accordingly, our task is to increase real wages by insisting that wage increases be paid out of the higher profits of industry made possible by the economies of full production and improved technology and not passed on to the consumer in higher prices.

“The rising standard of living throughout the history of American industry proves that this can be done. The much higher standard of living which we are capable of achieving through full production, full employment and full consumption will be realized only when real wages are increased out of the profits of industry to a much higher level than ever before.”

Applying this formula to Chrysler means fighting for higher wages out of the huge profits of this corporation. The total accumulated profits of Chrysler from 1940 to 1945 were $204,000,000 after taxes had been paid. The net worth of the corporation increased from $167,000,000 to $276,000,000. Since 1941 Chrysler car prices have increased 42 per cent, while wages have lagged way behind.

The facts of the situation arc clear and known to every member of the IEB. A fight around the same central slogan of the GM strike, “Higher Wages Without Price Increases,” is indicated. But it is precisely here that the leadership is being conservative, to put it mildly.

Want Aggressive Drive

How the ranks in the shops feel was demonstrated this past week when Chrysler Local 7 held a successful dues drive at the Kerchival plant. There was no difficulty whatsoever in getting the vast and overwhelming majority of the auto workers to support the union drive, and union membership reached a new high in this plant as a result of the drive.

In the current issue of the Chrysler Local 7 newspaper, an editorial appears stressing the need for a fight for higher wages out of profits, and for higher wages without the speedup. There is much concern that the top leadership of the UAW-CIO might settle for a wage increase to come out of an “increase in productivity,” namely the speed-up, instead of holding to the program previously adopted.

Nor has there been any indication, except Reuther’s press statement, of a serious and effective national strategy for the UAW in this situation. Chrysler Local 7 has insisted that an over-all national strategy be adopted, and an industry-wide program be planned, including an industry-wide strike if necessary as a last resort.

Reuther said that between 300,000 to 400,000 auto workers covered by contracts which include clauses permitting wage renegotiations, would be affected by the action taken at this board meeting. The other big two, GM and Ford, were excluded, according to Reuther, because their contracts did not have such provisions.

Cannot Be Limited

The weakness in any union contract failing to have an “escalator clause,” permitting wage negotiations to be reopened periodically as the cost of living increases, has been exposed to the hilt in this situation.

Nevertheless, the drive for higher wages to meet the rising cost of living begins this week. Any hope of limiting it to the UAW-CIO, as Murray desires, or to Chrysler, as the top leadership of the UAW-CIO would prefer, appears doomed to failure.

The first shots in the second major round of post-war battles between organized labor and Wall Street were fired in the Chrysler arena this week. From skirmishes to full-scale battles is a matter of time and developments, neither of which is controlled fully by either side. The inexorable conflict between the organized working class and the capitalist ruling class heads for a new high and sharp point.

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