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Walter Jason

Workers Show Confident Mood
in Chrysler Tie-Up

(22 November 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 47, 22 November 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT – The walkout at Chrysler involving nearly 14,000 workers last week was especially significant because it marks a beginning of a return to a mood of confident aggressiveness on the part of the ranks, due, of course, to their interpretation of the results of the national elections.

Many speed-up issues have been pressing workers at Chrysler and other plants, but the confusion, demoralization and feeling of isolation that oppressed the union movement prevented any direct action. Griping and. bitterness have been very marked, but there was no evidence of any serious self-confidence and militancy.

However, an explosion was inevitable after the election, for the results were taken as a shift back to the “good old days.” No matter what explanations or rationalizations are offered by the daily press, the men in the shops feel strongly that they, and they alone, were responsible for Truman’s victory. The despair and confusion among editorial writers and radio commentators simply added to the workers’ feeling of confidence.

Last spring, when it was necessary to call a strike at Chrysler for wage demands, the ranks had to be dragged into the struggle. It took a lot of hard work to convince the workers they should strike.

Last week, when the chief stewards went around informing the men that a special union meeting was going to be held at 9:00 a.m. and everybody should walk out to attend, the response was excellent. Spirit at, the union meetings was high. Determination to win was expressed by everyone. The Local 7 Union leadership took a firm position in support of the walkout, in spite of the inevitable pressure for an immediate return to work. Everyone was convinced a demonstration against speed-up was necessary, no matter what the immediate result. For the Chrysler Corporation would think twice before it tried something again, if it saw how quickly the ranks would respond to a call for direct action.

Only among some Negro workers was there a hesitancy to walk out and that was based understandably on their reaction to a rumor that the walkout in the Kercheval plant of Chrysler was in protest of a Negro being broken in on the assembly line, since one of the men whom the assemblers would not break in was a Negro. But the fact is that the union always insisted that utility and relief men, who are paid higher rates to break in new men, should do the job. On the day shift no Negroes were involved. What happened, of course, was that the usual set of petty politicians figured they might get a few Negro votes by spreading a whispering campaign against the walkout, even though it meant playing the corporation’s game of dividing the workers on racial lines.

Fortunately, the hulk of active white and Negro unionists attacked this rumor and put things on a sound union basis where it belonged. Of course, there remains widespread discrimination against Negroes in the shop. The UAW knows this as well as the next man, and it has tried to show why it is basically the corporation’s fault. Of course, the hundreds of new Southern white workers hired into the shops are strongly anti-Negro, and many union leaders don’t tackle this problem seriously enough.

But this walkout was not over that problem. The issue was the speed-up in the machine shop and in the trim division.

Most of the union activists understood that Chrysler wouldn’t settle the issue completely while the men were out, for that would set a precedent that would give the union a real incentive to call a series of “quickies.” So the inevitable compromise was worked out, and it remains to be seen what happened in the shop. The crankshaft men are supposed to do a “decent day’s work,” instead of the jump from 480 to 600 crankshafts a day, as demanded by the company. In Kercheval, the men fired for refusing to break in new men are expected to get back. But that remains to be seen.

This walkout is not the end of the problem. It is just a sign of the days ahead. For the changeover to 1949 model will bring the usual company maneuvers to speed up all work. The big fights are still ahead.

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