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Walter Jason

UAW-Fair Deal Candidate for Mayor
in Detroit Beaten in Racist Campaign

(12 November 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 47, 21 November 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Nov. 12 – Thick gloom permeated many United Auto Workers headquarters here last week after the disastrous defeat which George Edwards has suffered in the mayoralty campaign, which Albert Cobo, Republican city treasurer, won by 309,067 to 203,957.

It was not just the defeat – even the most optimistic supporters of Edwards saw the race as a close one – but the overwhelming character of the defeat that hurt so much. Nor was the pain eased any by looking at the national election results. Elsewhere CIO-backed candidates did win, but in Detroit, where the prestige and the political influence of the Reuther leadership was at stake, the labor movement failed to make an impressive showing as a cohesive political force.

This week there is a great deal of retrospective analysis of the fiasco. Nor will the debate end quickly. For the UAW knows it must commit itself to more and more political action no matter what setbacks occur now. And the easy confidence of the leadership has been shaken sufficiently to permit some real discussion of the problem in the union.

When George Edwards ran a poor second in the September primaries, an altogether unexpected result, the UAW-leaders and Edwards were jostled out of their “politics as usual” routine, and a serious attempt began to give the campaign a direction which might make victory possible. Under UAW pressure, Edwards departed from his strategy of “clean government,” “non-partisan” straddling of all issues and at least spoke once in a while against the “vested interests.”

Not the Fair-Haired Boy

Much pressure was placed on Edwards to give the campaign a real “class character.” A large UAW leadership gathering, with over 3,000 present, endorsed speeches along those., lines which Emil Mazey and Victor Reuther made. But Edwards insisted on calling himself a “Democratic Party and labor candidate,” both at this meeting and during the campaign. CIO members of Democratic Party organizations pushed through endorsements of Edwards, but the old-line Democrats supported Cobo. The Americans for Democratic Action endorsed Edwards, as did the Wayne County CIO Council. The AFL endorsed Cobo.

The Edwards campaign had a dual and .contradictory character to the very-last day. UAW leaders continually sought to make their candidate answer the vigorous attacks of the three Detroit daily papers that the “CIO was trying to take over City Hall.” The UAW leadership sought at union meetings to mobilize its membership for winning a labor victory. But Edwards insisted on playing up the Democratic Party theme, and failed to answer the burning questions hurled at him by the daily press. Behind the scenes of the Edwards campaign there was constant friction between him and the UAW leaders. Any illusions Edwards had that he was the fair-haired boy of the UAW on the political scene were somewhat dispelled during the campaign and shattered after his defeat.

Even Edwards’ ADA cohorts were somewhat embarrassed by his sponsorship of the “loyalty oath” amendment which was adopted in the September voting.

But what disturbed the UAW leaders most of all was what they found to be the real state of the political situation in Detroit and in the shops only a few days before the election. At the national CIO convention, held the week before the Detroit election, UAW spokesmen had assured reporters that Edwards could win and probably would.

In Detroit, when the UAW sent out a vast army of ward and precinct workers,- the facts of life were quickly obvious. The political hostility which many UAW workers found almost shocked them. And the story of the defeat of Edwards exists in those facts of life.

Beaten by Race Hatred

Although Edwards had never made a major speech for civil rights and hardly deserved the support he obtained from the Negro voters (who did vote heavily), his opponents worked a smooth,. not-too-subtle and very effective race-hatred line Which appealed to every prejudice existing in Detroit. It worked.

One of the tricks used against Edwards was the mailing of thousands of copies of a letter to white workers, middle class elements, property owners, etc. This letter was ostensibly addressed to a Negro by a group of Negro religious organizations (it was not authentic). The letter explained why Negroes should vote for Edwards: “He breaks bread with us; if he wins we can move anywhere in the city; if he wins we’ll have, representation everywhere in City Hall.” It was, of course, another version of the technique used in 1945 against Frankensteen when he ran for mayor with CIO support.

Another aspect of this race-hatred campaign was the calling of small meetings of property owners in various parts of the city by numerous and quickly created “real estate committees and property owners’ associations.” Edwards was for public housing. This means Negroes living everywhere, property values going down, no white woman safe in the streets at night, Negro children going to school with white children. “Do you want your neighborhood to look like Paradise Valley [the Negro slum area]?” It was a campaign of fear, of race prejudice and hatred, and it worked.

Incidentally, a dispatch from Washington states that the Dixiecrat national, organization claimed it participated in the Detroit campaign. It may very well be that this racial poison was its “contribution” to the campaign. The UAW found out that this campaign had its effect in the shops, especially among those workers who were homeowners.

The scars and sores of the Detroit race riots remain. The flux of thousands and thousands of Southern workers into Detroit continues to be a post-war phenomenon. They bring with them the prejudices of the deep South. The Edwards campaign illustrates how thin the veneer of unionism is among many of them, how deep the racial prejudices remain, and how difficult the task of the UAW will be to root out these violent passions and blind hatreds. It is also a test of how much more the UAW FEPC department and committees must do.

Red-Baiting By Catholics

UAW leaders apparently privately recognize this factor as a major force in the defeat of Edwards. Not until the UAW makes a drastic improvement in the actual situation in the shops and in Detroit in the acute problem of race relations can it expect to be a cohesive political force in Detroit. For the reactionary forces here have found a technique that brings results. Race hatreds will be fanned even more in Detroit. Stoning of Negroes’ homes will continue. Ku Klux Klan crosses will continue to burn in Michigan, even if the daily ’ press ignores these stories. Unless the UAW tackles the Negro question even more strenuously, its defeats will increase.

“Red-baiting” played its role. Edwards’ denunciations of communism and his sponsorship of the loyalty oath may have convinced some people. But not many. The real attitude of the conservative layers of Detroit’s population was expressed rather bluntly by one old-line Democratic Party district committeeman after Edwards’ defeat: “We kept the ADA Johnny-come-lately socialist crowd out of City Hall,” he declared jubilantly.

Another significant factor was the open intervention of some sections of the Catholic Church against Edwards as a “Communist:” One UAW official, a Catholic himself, told the writer a story illustrating this point. A child came home from a Catholic school and told her mother to vote against Edwards because he was a Communist. A nun had told her that. When the UAW official protested to higher Catholic authorities, he was given a brushoff.

The third factor in Edward’s defeat was his failure to answer the fear campaign on what would happen to Detroit if the “CIO was in power.” Instead of explaining how a labor mayor and a labor government would be in the interests of the majority because the working people were a majority in Detroit, he ducked the issue. To charges of “goon squad terrorism,” Edwards said nothing, except to try to convince people he was not the bear that business interests said he was, but rather a nice, intelligent city servant. Nor did Edwards make a big hit with the men in the shops, for precisely the same reason. It was the UAW workers who got out the union vote for him.

A fourth factor in his defeat was the failure of the CIO to establish a working political unity with the AFL here. Most AFL unions supported Cobo.

Was It “Practical”?

But Edwards was not alone to blame for his defeat. Some deals which the CIO leaders made were not just wrong but utterly ridiculous. Miriana, a councilman, who won city council presidency: was endorsed by the CIO, while he was campaigning for Cobo. Instead of denouncing him, the UAW leaders said they had to pretend he was their friend. Otherwise “it would antagonize the Italian vote if we withdrew our endorsement.” So the UAW was in the absurd position of endorsing “a friend of the people” who told voters that “as a friend of the people” he recommends they vote for Cobo, who the CIO says is an “enemy of the people.”

We cannot resist’ the comment: And yet some people have the nerve to talk about themselves as “practical politicians”!

The election campaign revealed not only how powerful reactionary forces are in Detroit, how tense race relations remain, but also how impotent and futile the present political course of the UAW leaders is in this hotbed of political and social tensions. We do not say that a real labor campaign with a real labor candidate would have brought immediate victory. But at least any defeat would have been for some sound principles and a fighting program. And a cohesive political force would have been created. And the beginning of a change in race relations would have been created on a sound class basis, on the political front, to strengthen the tenuous “solidarity” in the shops.

In a turbulent center like Detroit, The day seems long past when namby-pamby politics based on class-collaboration concepts and symbolized by “statesmen” like Edwards can bring the results necessary for a forwardmoving labor movement. The UAW now faces an even greater challenge.

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