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Walter Jason

UAW Strikes Chrysler for Pension Demands

(25 January 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 6, 6 February 1950, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Jan. 25 – Refusal of the Chrysler Corporation to grant a minimum package of 10 cents per hour to the United Auto Workers (CIO) has brought a shutdown of all its plants by the union, representing 79,000 production workers.

The events which led to the latest turn in the situation are these:

As the strike deadline of January 25 neared – following six months of protracted and fruitless company stalling and negotiations – the UAW brought every possible pressure on the corporation to make a peaceful settlement.

Last Thursday UAW President Walter P. Reuther entered negotiations personally and did a real job of presenting the union’s case for a pension and medical health program financed by the company at a cost of about 11 cents per hour to the corporation.

Chrysler made no serious effort to answer Reuther, but simply stuck to the phony offer it had made previously. The company had the nerve to present a pension program whose total cost would be less than 3 cents per hour, with so many qualifying clauses (including exclusive company management) that no one in the union took it seriously.

As a matter of fact, this Chrysler offer, which was advertised in the Detroit papers, was so clearly unacceptable that for the first time some of the union ranks and the men in the shops began to see that perhaps a strike might be inevitable. Chrysler’s insistence on having 1,800 credit hours per year for pension eligibility was a case in point. One major Chrysler department worked only a total of 1807 hours in 1949. If a man was sick one day, or absent for any other reason, he would be denied a year’s credit, under Chrysler’s pension proposal! And 1949 was a good year, the kind no one expects to see again.

This very simple gimmick in the Chrysler plan did more to expose the company than any union analysis or action.

All for Reopening Contract

The first important reaction of the men in the shops came Sunday when Chrysler Local 7 held a huge membership meeting. A motion to reject the Chrysler offer as totally unsatisfactory was adopted unanimously and then a motion was adopted to urge the UAW leaders to reopen the whole contract and make this fight the big 1950 fight, if Chrysler forced a strike on the union. Again the membership voted unanimously for such a broadening of the struggle into one which would directly and immediately affect everyone; for the widespread dissatisfaction of the ranks with the present contract is known to everyone.

This idea was also the answer to a company proposal that, if the UAW would accept its pension proposals, the company would ask for a FIVE-year extension of the present contract, and expect the union to agree!

At the top level of the UAW the same general idea prevailed, for Reuther informed management that if it forced the union to strike to get a pension, the union would utilize the situation to make an all-out fight for a better contract.

Norman Mathews, Chrysler UAW director, told the company that “we wouldn’t extend our present contract for five minutes, let alone five years!”

As against this sound strategy of putting the heat on Chrysler by threatening and making (if necessary) an all-out fight on the contract now – the contract does not expire until August 1950 but the union may reopen it after a five-day strike – the Stalinists at Plymouth and Dodge locals advocated dropping the pension fight and going for a straight wage increase. Of course the main purpose of this proposal, made in wires to the negotiators, was to embarrass the Reuther leadership. It was a typical irresponsible Stalinist adventure and it did not get far with the ranks.

On Monday, January 23, the top United Auto Worker leaders made an important shift in their tactics because of the confusion which Chrysler’s propaganda had created in the ranks and in the city as a whole.

The Chrysler management has tried to get across the false idea that all that separates the union and the company is argument over “technical details,” that the company is ready to give a pension plan as good as Ford’s or the steel industry settlement.

Puncture Company Strategy

In a shrewd move to expose this fakery, the UAW leaders took a gamble. They announced to the company and to the ranks through full-page ads in the Detroit papers, that the union would settle for a flat 10-cent package – at the same cost to Chrysler as to Ford or steel!

This 10-cents-per-hour package could be given in one of three ways:’ (1) a pension plan costing six cents per hour, plus a medical plan costing four cents per hour; (2) a different ratio of the funds for a pension-medical plan if Chrysler had one to offer; (3) a flat 10-cent hourly wage increase.

The purpose of this move was to prove to the ranks and to the public that Chrysler was not concerned with “principles” and that the union was not calling a strike on “technical details,” but that Chrysler did not want to give any of its fabulous $100 million profits of 1949 to the workers, in any form whatsoever.

On Monday night, a national conference of delegates from all Chrysler shops was held and Reuther reported on this situation, clearly telling the ranks that this last offer was a rock-bottom one and that if the union was forced on strike, the UAW executive board was for the policy of reopening the contract now.

A delegate from Chrysler Local 7 made the policy motions which carried almost unanimously, the Stalinist clique voting no. These were (1) to reject the last offer of Chrysler as totally unsatisfactory; (2) if Chrysler refused to accept the ten-cent minimum package, the plants would be closed at 10 a.m., Wednesday, January 25; and (3) if the plants were shut down, the union was to reopen the contract for major improvements, including elimination of “company security,” strengthening the seniority clause, wiping out the clauses which deprive the men of holiday pay, elimination of wage inequalities and other vital changes.

The fear of a real coal strike, the protracted character of the Chrysler negotiations, the widespread belief which prevailed that Chrysler would give in without a real fight and the poor buildup and education of the ranks to the key issues involved are factors which have created a psychology in the shops different from the usual one that prevails just before a strike deadline. This is the mood upon which the company is banking. But the latest blunders it has made and the adoption of a sound general strategy by the UAW are fairly sure to overcome whatever pessimistic moods may exist.

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