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Walter Jason

See Unified Strategy Key to UAW Demands

(15 February 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 8, 23 February 1948, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Feb. 15 – Within 10 days Chrysler Corporation will be asked to grant a series of demands approved at the two-day wage conference of the UAW-CIO attended by delegates representing all Chrysler shops.

The Chrysler workers’ conference approved a resolution calling for a 30-cent boost, plus a health insurance plan, an adequate pension plan, increased vacation pay, and adjustment of many important wage inequalities and classification!

Although at first glance this seems to be far more than the GM workers’ conference approved as its demands, Walter P. Reuther, UAW-CIO president, told the Chrysler conference that it was actually less, for the adjustments in wage inequalities in GM plants which shall be demanded bring the GM demands to MORE than a total of 40 cents an hour.

Reuther did not demand that the Chrysler workers follow the GM pattern, but rather spoke in explanation of why the GM demands were really higher than the Chrysler demands!

As a matter of fact, the whole question of demands on the corporation has been inflated into a factional issue in which everyone is determined not to be shown any less militant than the next person.

In local union discussions before the Chrysler conference, this was evident in the speeches of many well-known “politicians” in the UAW. In one local union, for example, a resolution was introduced for a 25-cent increase, plus five cents for a medical plan. Before the discussion was over, a pension plan and other points were added to the resolution.

This is a good technique for avoiding the real issues, in our opinion. The ideas of a wage increase without a price increase and a cost of living bonus through an escalator clause were largely lost in the speech-making in which the “politicians” sought to show they weren’t going to be put on the spot by asking what seemed like less than the previous speaker.

Even such conservatives as Norman Mathews, UAW director of the Chrysler department, went along with this approach to the problem rather than lose “face.”

Of course, everyone in the UAW knows that this kind of factional approach is due primarily to the attempt of the Stalinists to regain ground in the auto union by suddenly appearing as “militant” through outbidding and outspeaking anyone, especially Reuther, in anything he says or asks of the corporations.

The problem of unified strategy received more attention at local union meetings than at the conference, which did, of course, pass a resolution calling for unified strategy to a joint Chrysler-GM committee.

In local unions the idea of a unified CIO strategy to prevent the steel union, or the UE-CIO, from setting a poor pattern as they did during the1945–46 General Motors strike (higher wages with higher prices) was discussed more fully. This type of fruitful discussion in which basic ideas of a wage struggle policy are presented, wasn’t to the liking of many of the new “militants,” who want to avoid an analysis of the past fights and the fruitful lessons for the present fight that can be derived from such an analysis.

Since Chrysler is and has been a tough customer in negotiations, there seems little likelihood that any good results will come quickly in negotiations unless its Wall Street owners decide to let this corporation be a “pattern” for all wage negotiations.

In any event, the wage policy committee of the UAW which is unified in its goal will be in a position to handle these kinds of questions without any friction between the Chrysler and GM departments.

A far more important aspect of this “pattern question” is what the UE does and what the steel workers do. Unity in the CIO in its objectives and in the contracts signed, so that no union is sold short as the GM workers were in 1946, is a key question in this respect.

Likewise, the futility of higher wages with price increases has become so obvious that no one dares any longer in most UAW locals to ridicule the idea of higher wages without price increases – a demand raised in the last GM strike.

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