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Walter Jason

UAW Faces Tough Struggle
in Strike Against Chrysler

(6 February 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 7, 13 February 1950, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Feb. 6 – The outstanding feature of the present Chrysler strike is its lack of the dramatic punch which has always been the hallmark of struggles by the United Auto Workers against the auto barons.

There are only skeleton picket lines at some plants. At other plants, the flying squadrons are solely and exclusively in charge of patrolling. The biggest lines of strikers may be seen at the city welfare office and at the welfare committee’s headquarters at local unions.

Lest anyone become too alarmed, the lack of mass picket lines is not as dangerous as might seem at first glance. The real power and reputation of the UAW’rests in the fact that mass picket lines today are not necessary for the same reasons they were vital in the old days. Then, the result of a strike depended primarily and almost entirely on the size of the picket lines, for strikes were a test of physical strength.

It is very unlikely that Chrysler will try to test the strength of the union on that front now. (Actually, any attempt by Chrysler to start a back-to-work movement would bring out the spirit and the mass participation of the great struggles of yesterday.)

Involve the Ranks?

But there is another aspect to this question which is ignored by secondary UAW leaders. (Stalinist claims that Walter Reuther is against picket lines are pure fabrication. Reuther has suggested one-day picket lines each week to involve all the ranks, precisely because the key question today is how to involve the ranks when mass picketing on a 24-hours basis is not necessary from the viewpoint of keeping out scabs.).

But these are disturbing signs. Many secondary leaders are against any picketing because it involves headaches. Many are fearful of involving the ranks because that might make it more, difficult to sell any compromise settlement. Some prefer to use the strike to build an “elite” among the committees, the flying squadron, the chief stewards. (A very significant development: at the risk of heresy, we might call this a development toward a “managerial strike.”)

Some local unions, like Chrysler 7, have worked out a series of weekly union meetings, special movies and other organizational techniques to bring the rank and file into participation in the strike. Likewise, some special flamboyant devices are being worked out to give the strike some dramatic punch. Other local unions like Dodge 3 have called off all meetings, including a scheduled membership meeting during the strike. The explanation is interesting.

“We can avoid factionalism by not having meetings. All our meetings are factional, and this would demoralize the rank and file,” Local 3 leaders tell militants who want meetings.

Of course, the real idea of not having meetings is to evade the questions, not of the factionalists (who must be answered also) but of the rank and file, who are confused. And many rank and filers are confused in this strike.

Like every other strike struggle, basically the result depends on the understanding of the rank and file of the issues involved, and the way the rank and file participates in its own destiny.

Vet Problem

In this fundamental sense, the Chrysler strike poses a real problem for both the UAW leadership and the militant cadres who are its heart and soul. Chrysler has been putting out some terrific and slick propaganda. The Chamber of Commerce has been placing full-page ads in Detroit papers. (What clever titles: It Is Legal but Is It Loyal?) No doubt, each striker is supposed to consider himself an Alger Hiss if he sticks to the union. The UAW has a long way to go to convince the members of a real understanding of the present struggle.

One unusual aspect of this situation is the problem of the veterans. Nearly 40,000 of the strikers are veterans and most of them have never been in big strike struggles before. The UAW veterans’ department, along with some active veterans’ committees in local unions, has mobilized to get the vets aid through special funds like the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund, for emergency cases.

But these leaders have been handicapped greatly by the terrible “petty politics as usual” mentality of many secondary leaders in the UAW locals.

There has to be a major change in much of the outlook and activity in the local unions, and a more inspired leadership at the top, to make the Chrysler strike a victory for the UAW. The size of the lines at the welfare offices and the irritable lines of veterans seeking aid at local unions emphasize this point. Unless there is a sudden and unexpected settlement, rough days are ahead in the Chrysler strike.

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