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Walter Jason

Labor ’Scope

CIO’s Dilemma – Labor Movement
Faces Prospect of Defensive Fight

(23 May 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 21, 23 May 1949, p. 2
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The following article was received by Labor Action before the Ford strike. We regret it has been crowded out until this issue. With the situation it discusses now highlighted by the Ford strike, it is important for understanding the background of current developments. – Ed.


Although the United Auto Workers, as well as the steel workers’ and the coal miners’ unions, has ambitious plans for pensions and welfare gains in 1949 contract negotiations, the fact of the matter is that these unions are finding themselves in a series of defensive actions to retain what they thought they had permanently won.

While the unions are proceeding on a “demands as usual” basis – and it is very significant and important that the ranks of the industrial-union movement expect gains this year, and are prepared to fight for them – the unions are running into the realities of life caused by the tremendous war-preparations program and the Marshall Plan.

The dilemma of John L. Lewis is apparent. A coal industry which is having a sharp reduction in production this year is hardly likely to accede to Lewis’ grandiose plans, nor are his friends in the Republican Party in a position to help him “gang up” with the operators to raise coal prices again to a level which assures high profits and bigger pay checks with less hours of work. President Philip Murray of the Steel Workers has already announced a “me-too” attitude: “I want what John L. gets” – hardly a bold course of action for a man claiming to be the leader of the industrial-union movement in America. Suppose Lewis doesn’t get anything? What does Murray propose? To fight? Hardly! He has already preferred to tail behind the UAW or the coal miners.

The trouble with the UAW leadership is that it. has not sufficiently taken into account either the situation in the other unions or what the Wall Street rulers of the auto industry are planning and doing. Nor does it take into account what the cost of the Marshall Plan, the Atlantic Pact and other U.S. commitments are. The “guns and butter” theory is having a harder time as each day goes by.

In terms of the national political situation, the UAW leaders have said they believe the political climate is more favorable for the union’s winning demands this year. The mood of the workers is better, far better than it was in 1948 – what is the climate in Washington? For concessions from Truman and Congress? To ask the question is to answer it.

UAW’s Dilemma

Everybody in the UAW expected, for example, that with the introduction of new models the corporations would try to speed up the assembly lines. They have always done it and they always will until labor controls the industry.

But the fight against speedup has far transcended the “normal” struggle. It is not just that over 200,000 auto workers in the past three months have been engaged or involved in “wildcats” or have called strikes against speedup. It is the fact that the corporations aggressively continue this drive, and keep the union fighting a series of defensive struggles – not to win something new, but to keep what they have already won!

The Ford Motor Company provoked the wildcats and forced the union to take a strike vote on this issue – with a huge turnout, incidentally, and with a mood of determination on the part of the Ford workers. Ford obviously wants to keep pressing the union so that when the contract negotiations come up the union will be exhausted or at least weakened.

Yet the union must fight the speedup or suffer a real defeat. So the UAW leaders face a real dilemma and a difficult problem. In most plants quick walkouts have slowed the corporation’s drive toward speedup. But at Bendix, for example, the union has an important strike on its hands to get rehired 47 men fired for allegedly participating in a slowdown and wildcat.

The corporations’ strategy may make defensive struggles more necessary, but they have another effect which backfires on the auto barons. They also keep the men “on edge,” keep the union on its mettle, and keep the ranks in an explosive state of irritation. In fact, it looks as if the companies are determined to make the auto workers become more and more radical, and to help keep the UAW the militant and aggressive union that it has been.

In this general context, it becomes more difficult for the Reuther leadership to “deliver the goods,” as the membership expects. For the first time since it took power in November 1947 the Reuther leadership is on the spot. And the next six months are going to be very decisive for the UAW and its leaders.

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