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Walter Jason

Auto Workers Spearhead Struggle
for Third Round Wage Increases

(18 January 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 4, 26 January 1948, p. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Jan. 18Once again General Motors workers prepared to spearhead the UAW-CIO and the entire CIO in a major struggle against the Wall Street rulers of American industry for a living wage when 200 union delegates from nearly 100 GM plants, representing 225,000 production workers, adopted a set of demands that bring the UAW-CIO in a direct dash with profit-bloated General Motors.

These demands, worked out by Walter P. Reuther, international union president, and the Executive Board, include:

  1. A wage package approximating a little over 30 cents an hour, to be divided in the following fashion: a 15-cent flat boost in hourly pay, ten cents an hour to be set aside for a pension plan, and five cents an hour to be used for a health and insurance program. In addition, vacation pay to be increased to seniority holders.
  2. A guaranteed 40-hour work week for every week the men are called in.
  3. A union shop and the check-off.

The GM strike program of 1945–46, including the ideas of higher wages without price increases, and opening the books of the corporation, were repeated by Reuther in his usual compromising fashion.

In case GM refuses to discuss the pension plan, the UAW-CIO wage demand automatically would remain at 25 cents an hour, a figure previously suggested by various GM local union presidents.

Of course, all the delegates knew,as Reuther’s statistics proved, that GM could grant the whole demand and still make hundreds of millions of dollars of profit in 1948, and they also knew that GM wasn’t likely to grant the demands. That is why there was not much debate on the demands themselves. One delegate tried to bring up the idea of an escalator clause in the contract but a factional speech by John De Vito, the Cleveland anti-Reutherite, antagonized the delegates and caused the idea to be lost in the shuffle. It was very evident that the delegates were in no mood for factional sniping, and the virtually unanimous support given Reuther’s proposals showed the ranks wanted him to lead the struggle against the corporation.

In this connection, the meeting of the International Executive Board, held prior to the GM conference, was marked by only one major clash, when anti-Reuther forces sought in demagogic fashion to boost the wage proposal of Reuther. Their idea was that one proves oneself more militant than Reuther by simply beating by a dime any wage demand he makes. This approach doesn’t impress many auto union militants.

What happens to the wage demands depends, as it did in the 1945–46 strike, not so much on the GM workers, but on what the CIO does to back them. If Philip Murray, CIO president, signs a contract with the steel corporations, setting a pattern it will be extremely difficult for the UAW to do other than follow suit. If the UE, which has a contract covering 30,000 GM workers, breaks the union front, as it did in the last GM strike, this will damage the UAW struggle.

The strategic position of the GM workers is improved within the auto industry, however, by the fact that 78,000 Chrysler workers, who are expected to make similar demands, will not sign a separate agreement as they did in the 1945–46 situation, which gave them 18½ cents while the GM workers were on the picket line asking for 30 cents. This is the advantage a unified union leadership brings. The Wage Policy Committee of the UAW has full control over that situation now, and includes both Reuther and Norman Mathews, Chrysler department director of the UAW.

One vital aspect of the GM fight does not depend, however, on any action the national CIO takes, and that is the question of getting a union shop. Under the Taft-Hartley law, the union must and will file a petition by February 15 for National Labor Relations Board elections to get membership approval of the union shop. Once this is accomplished,the union has the right to negotiate for the union shop but does not automatically get it. Nothing in the Taft-Hartley law says the corporations have to give it, even if voted by the ranks. It becomes a question of negotiation and finally a test of strength. A program such as that adopted by UAW Local 6 in Chicago indicates the way to victory in such a test.

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