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Walter Jason

UAW Is Set for Showdown
Fight with Chrysler Corp.

(17 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 20, 17 May 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT – Chrysler corporation got its first surprise last week when the UAW-CIO brushed aside the farce of negotiations which the company was trying to get away with, and announced a break-off in talks with the corporation until it got down to business.

Instead of wasting its time listening to the insults poured on the union negotiators by Chrysler officials, the union leadership went to the rank and file with an explanation of the basic issues and why a strike showdown seemed inevitable.

Of course, the rank and file responded to the situation. Confusion, uncertainty and worry began to give way to determination. In the shops a change in sentiment was noticeable and serious strike preparations begun.

Explain Company Talk

At many local meetings, UAW leaders explained why members were being called upon again to make the sacrifices necessary in a strike struggle. In essence, the UAW said:

“Chrysler corporation believes that the workers are so demoralized, dumb and willing to work under present conditions, that the union can’t get their backing. Only the union leadership is agitating for a wage increase. The men in the shops are afraid a wage increase means higher prices, so they don’t want it. The union might be able to force the men out on strike but can’t keep them out very long. If the union wants to do something for the men, it would cut union dues, and give the men $1.50 a month more in wages. Only the dumb clucks can’t get along on the wages we pay.

“Pension plan? What the hell do you think we are running? A charity institution? Profits? Sure, we made a lot. Next year we intend to double them. It is none of your business. That’s what we are in business for. To make profits!”

When the men in the shops hear of the attitude Chrysler has taken during negotiations, they respond with anger. At various local meetings you can see the difference in reaction between the start and the end of the speeches. No one is “rabble-rousing” the workers. The facts speak plainly for themselves. There is no choice but to fight back. And the workers see it.

The fact that the UAW-CIO has announced its strike deadline, and is not letting anything detract from it, also has its effect. On May 12, the plants go down, unless Chrysler comes across.

Ignore State Board

One element of uncertainty was removed from the situation when the union ignored the lay-offs at Chrysler this past Friday and Monday. As a matter of fact, everyone in the shops recognized that these lay-offs were phony, that steel was available and that the corporation was merely trying to weaken the workers financially before the strike began. This move of the corporation boomeranged, for it merely exposed Chrysler.

Another confusing angle was cleared up by the union when it bluntly told the Michigan State Mediation officials that it intended to ignore those petty politicians and their attempt to apply the Bonine-Tripp law against the Chrysler workers.

Phillip Weiss, State Mediation Board chairman, announced the Chrysler strike would have to be postponed until a secret vote among employees was taken. The daily press here screamed in its headlines, “Chrysler Strike Postponed.”

Only, they forgot to ask the union. Speaking for the international executive board, Emil Mazey, acting president, announced that the UAW-CIO challenged the right of the state board to intervene since the law didn’t apply to a nationwide strike,and that the UAW-CIO was going ahead as per schedule. It had taken its own strike vote, and it had announced its intentions under the Taft-Hartley 60 day notice clause.

When the state officials mentioned court action, fines and imprisonment, the UAW leadership attitude was that they’d have to take their chances. After all, even if the Bonine Tripp law were found to be constitutional, the maximum penalty is six months in jail and a thousand dollars fine! And in any strike settlement, dismissal of court action against the union is likely to be one of the first things agreed upon.

The whole point of this intervention by the corporation-minded politicians is to build up a barrage of anti-union propaganda by saying the strike is “illegal.”

General Significance

Besides explaining the corporation’s attitude, and showing that the union means business, the union leadership has also done a pretty fair job of indicating the significance of the Chrysler strike to all organized labor. Again, a summary of the kind of speeches made would be along these lines:

“Wall Street bankers, who own Chrysler, are determined to crush labor. They are trying it in the packinghouse strike; they refused the steel workers a raise and they are turning thumbs down on our demands. The reason is that they think they have us on the run. They want to see how far they can go. Our job is to stop them. Our victory would set a pattern for other unions to follow. Wall Street wants to go back to the pre-CIO days. They want to destroy the unions eventually. This is the first test.”

On the economic issue involved, the union leaders keep explaining how the corporation could pay higher wages without price increases. In fact they could lower prices and still make a profit.

Aid from Local 212

Unfortunately, the organization and leadership in some local unions in the Chrysler set-up are not up to par, in comparison, for example, with an outstanding local union, like 7, which has put on a real campaign among the rank and file, and where a real solid spirit exists. Some local unions are far behind in having division meetings. At Dodge Local 3, the Stalinists tried to get a resolution through postponing the strike. Two of the out of town local unions in the Chrysler set-up need bolstering. But all these things are known, and steps are being taken to remedy any weaknesses. All strikes develop in uneven tempo. The militants inspire the conservatives. The strong aid the weak. This strike will be no different.

The Chrysler Locals in the Detroit area are going to obtain some first rate assistance from the militant Briggs Local 212, whose thousands of members will be unemployed due to the Chrysler shutdown, but who will get their unemployment compensation because they are not directly involved in the strike! Ken Morris, Local 212 president, already has announced plans for picket lines and other forms of assistance to the Chrysler workers.

Certainly, with the reactionary atmosphere prevailing even in Detroit, the UAW is going to find some tough obstacles ahead in the Chrysler strike. Police Commissioner Toy hasn’t yet tried out his notorious “riot squads.” The Congressional committees in Washington are known to be watching for a chance to come into the strike and make anti-union propaganda. A real fight is looming.

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