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Walter Jason

Auto Negotiations Reach Crucial Stage

(18 April 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 17, 26 April 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, April 18 – Negotiations in the auto industry reached a crucial stage this week when the United Automobile Workers-CIO rejected a miserable 6 cent an hour wage increase offer of Chrysler corporation, and General Motors laid off 200,000 workers in an attempt to influence forthcoming NLRB elections on the union shop.

An emergency conference of 100 delegates from 14 Chrysler plants on April 17 unanimously turned down the Chrysler corporation offer, and authorized a special five man strategy committee to get strike sanction from the international executive board meeting on Tuesday, April 20. This sanction is the last formality required for the calling of a strike. The UAW-CIO already had filed notice under the Taft-Hartley law, and also the Michigan state Bonine-Tripp Act, for strike action. These notices expired at midnight April 18, and thus the UAW-CIO can call a strike at any time at Chrysler.

It is very significant that only when the deadline for strike action neared, and the UAW-CIO made plans for strike machinery did the Chrysler corporation come through with its first serious bargaining. Until April 6, the two months of dilatory talks were marked by complete absence of any serious negotiations by Chrysler. Its spokesmen just listened to the union representatives, and sat tight.

Show High Profits

What comes next is partly a matter of speculation, for no one knows exactly what the corporation has in mind. As for the UAW-CIO, it is most unlikely that the union would be satisfied with any such meager offers as the corporation wants to give.

Both the corporation and the union leaders will be influenced largely by the reactions in the shops to the six cent offer. The UAW-CIO militants, as shown at the emergency conference on Saturday, are in no mood to let the corporation get away with this contemptuous offer. Their views were confirmed by a report on Chrysler’s probable 1948 earnings as presented by Nathan Weinberg, research director of the UAW-CIO, which showed that the corporation could easily pay the full 30 cents an hour demanded, without a price increase, and still make a huge profit.

The corporation has been literally insulting the union negotiators by telling them that the “ability to pay” has nothing to do with the question. The corporation asserts that the men in the shops don’t want a raise! The action of the emergency conference is the first reply to Chrysler. A series of shop meetings is expected this week, for the purpose of solidifying the men in the shops behind the struggle. Unless the corporation comes through with a much better offer, a shutdown of Chrysler is inevitable.

GM Employs Tricks

The situation in General Motors reflects the same stubborn anti-union attitude of the auto barons as in Chrysler. GM officials are fighting with every possible means to prevent a genuine election in the plants on the vital question of a union shop.

The UAW-CIO has obtained enough signatures to get such an election, but GM wants to include on the rolls all men laid off since 1946, since these persons would be counted, under NLRB rules, as being against the union shop, if they didn’t vote, and obviously persons scattered all over the United States since 1946 would hardly be in a position to vote.

In addition, GM refuses to permit the balloting to take place in the shops, as it has on previous occasions involving NLRB elections. These actions brought a vigorous protest by Walter P. Reuther, UAW-CIO president.

Fearing that even these technicalities wouldn’t work, GM brought out another trick to work against the union. GM announced the lay-off of 20,000 workers from April 23 to May 3 allegedly because of a steel shortage. No one in the auto industry takes this excuse seriously. Rather, everyone knows that the only reason GM is laying off the workers is to penalize them for showing a union spirit which can bring victory to the UAW-CIO.

C.E. Wilson, GM president, in a speech before a business club last week, expressed the attitude of the auto barons toward the UAW-CIO when he said bluntly, “we have some unfinished business in America, more important than aid to Europe.” That business was taking care of the unions!

Showdown Coming

At Hudson, Briggs and other companies at which negotiations are beginning or are about to begin, the same adamant anti-union attitude is shown by the auto barons. The UAW-CIO has to get ready for a showdown.

Unless Wall Street intervenes for its flunkies in auto management, and Phil Murray, CIO president, makes a deal with the steel companies which sets a pattern, the workers and the bosses in the auto industry are prepared to slug it out again. For the auto barons never learn. They have to be taught the hard way.

As is their custom the auto companics are playing it safe all the way around. They have made statements that another price increase in automobiles can be expected. Henry Ford II told reporters this past week that 1949 models would sell for at least five per cent more than 1948 models. Which makes the UAW-CIO demand of higher wages without price increases more important than ever before.

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