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Walter Jason

Half-Million Detroit Workers Down Tools

UAW-Sponsored Three-Hour Stoppage and Mass Rally
in Cadillac Square Protest Hartley Anti-Labor Bill

(17 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 18, 5 May 1947, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, April 17 – The profound changes in the labor movement since the great strike wave of 1946 were reflected in the important events that have taken place in this industrial center in the past few weeks. However, the full impact of these events has not yet sunk into the consciousness of the ranks, nor is there a clear understanding of the new situation even among many active union militants.

On Thursday, April 24, over 500,000 workers here downed tools for three hours in protest against the Hartley anti-labor bill in a walkout sponsored by the UAW-CIO. Over 200,000 poured into Cadillac Square in a demonstration acknowledged by everyone to be the mightiest in the history of the CIO here.

Here was an event to stir the hearts of every good union man in America. Once again the UAW-CIO was showing its strength. “Just like the good old days,” many militants declared proudly. It was a fine demonstration. Only, it wasn’t just like the “good old days.” And that’s the point.

Something Wrong

While labor showed at Cadillac Square how mighty it was fundamentally – every important plant was shut down – something else was going on in Detroit. It was what the newspapers called “negotiations between the UAW-CIO and auto manufacturers.” But that is wrong. For negotiations usually mean bargaining, a give and take process, in which the corporation and the union participate.

But these weren’t negotiations. General Motors announced its offer, 11½ cents an hour increase, plus six paid holidays, and Walter Reuther was told to take it or leave it, and if the UAW-CIO didn’t take it by May 1, the offer would be withdrawn.

In another part of Detroit, Chrysler Corporation officials finally said they would give as much as GM. Up to that point they had been demanding virtual wage cuts. To any argument of the union officials, Chrysler officials replied coldly: “If you don’t like it, hit the picket lines.”

Does the picture begin to become clear? While 500,000 workers, mainly from auto shops, put on a demonstration of power, the auto companies challenge the UAW-CIO to call a strike!

A final detail, but important to round out the picture: at the GM national delegate conference, after Reuther’s report, a delegate called for a strike. He was roundly booed! This was coincident to the mass demonstration.

The truth of the matter is that the threat of congressional action, the wiping out of gains won in 1946, and the economic uncertainty before the entire' nation have affected the outlook of the auto workers. The UAW-CIO militants are still militant, the dissatisfaction in the shops is deep, the men want results, but they don’t want a strike. More exactly, the overwhelming bulk of the men are against a strike now, be it Chrysler, Ford or GM, above all, GM.

It is necessary here to bring up to date another change, symbolized in the language of the men, that has occurred. In the “good old days,” a good rough standard of classifying unionists was to call a man conservative who was against strikes, and a militant was one who advocated strike action.

This rule no longer applies. Today, the vast bulk of auto militants, who have not gone conservative by a long shot, are against strike action now! This is not because they have fallen for the arguments of bureaucrats who are always against strikes. What is different today is that wider and wider strata of auto workers understand, to one degree or another, the limited character of strike action to solve the problems of the day! Picket lines are necessary, indispensable. Strikes are not “out of date.” But the effectiveness of just strike action, its limits, are more and more clearly understood. And that is why the GM and Chrysler offers will be voted overwhelmingly by the rank and file.

The crying need to supplement economic action, the burning need for explanation to the ranks of what is different in the situation today than a year ago; that is terribly lacking. It was the fatal weakness of the Cadillac Square demonstration. The workers came; they wanted answers. Instead they got a scolding from Richard T. Leonard, UAW-CIO PAC director, a smug bureaucrat. “It’s your fault. You should have voted.” As though voting for capitalist politicians was an answer.

Before the rally, one UAW-CIO top leader, Emil Mazey, co-regional director of District 1, spoke at various local unions. His call for a labor party now received a good response. But at Cadillac Square no one spoke for genuine independent political action. None of the bureaucrats dared admit the blind folly of their course of supporting capitalist politicians. Quite the contrary. They are seeking to justify it more and more, precisely because, the failure of that policy is more glaring.

There was no summons to struggle at this demonstration. In the excellent slogan of higher wages without price increases, Reuther was left alone in the CIO leadership, the Stalinists, having pulled a fast one in the contract covering 30,000 GM workers under UE-CIO domination. Philip Murray,, CIO president, told Reuther that the USA-CIO would not settle for less than 19 cents. The steel settlement was the same as URWA and UE, and set the pattern for UAW-CIO. None of this was explained to the auto workers, because the Addes-Thomas-Leonard-Stalinist clique was trying to cover us its pals in UE.

Last year, the GM workers were left alone fighting for a magnificent program. This year, the pressure of the entire CIO was put on the UAW-CIO not to spearhead the “second round.” It succeeded under the theory that a “united strategy” was better. Yes! But the united strategy ended up in a “one at a time” business, with Wall Street picking the weak spots in the CIO armor and signing contracts with those unions, thus forcing the others ’in line. The brochure on wages, prices, profits, prepared by the staff of Reuther to fight GM once, again, became a museum piece the day. it was published, the day UE signed a contract. The 20 cents an hour that Reuther confidently expected .to win became a mockery.

All these things, the auto workers at Cadillac Square wanted to know. Instead they got either silence or nonsense about supporting the Democrats again. In the good old days, a few concessions were obtainable by a mighty demonstration. A wonderful union movement was built by fighting on picket lines. The blunt facts of life say today that more is necessary. New kinds of struggles, new ideas, a new kind of militancy is required. It comes on the political front, primarily, and not on the economic front. The crucial issue must become the labor party.

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