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Walter Jason

UAW Conferees Back “One at Time”
Pension-Wage Strategy; Ford First

(28 February 1949)


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 9, 28 February 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


DETROIT – At the one-day conference called by the top leadership of the UAW-CIO to outline in detail its 1949 economic goals and the tactics to achieve them, the most significant fact that appeared was the absence of any important opposition to these plans.

Only one speaker, John Anderson, president of a small GM local, challenged the “one-at-a-time strategy” and he was effectively answered from the floor by a Chicago delegate, Karl Shier, who indicated that in the context of the auto industry situation the plan to concentrate on Ford was the best. As usual, references to supplementing economic action with political action by the building of a Labor Party, which the speaker made, were greeted with much applause, even by some of the top UAW leaders.

The Stalinists had one important spokesmen there, Francis Danowski, of Plymouth Local 51, but he didn’t present the “Rank and File” viewpoint, as the Stalinists now dub themselves.
 

Mazey Presents Tactics

The main speech at the conference was delivered by Reuther, who gave it the usual militant tone he specializes in when dealing with UAW gatherings. Among other things, he blasted the steel industry and its refusal to expand steel production, the fear propaganda being spread by big business in widely advertising current layoffs as a means of curbing all fourth round labor demands. He informed the delegates, that the March 14 executive board meeting would go “all out in building an organization in every community in the country,” in referring to political action.

Emil Mazey gave the report on the tactics, and why Ford was picked. Certainly the Ford Motor Company is most vulnerable to attack on this question and it appears that the UAW leadership is preparing for an all-out fight against Ford. Two interesting sidelights came out in this discussion. The crisis at Ford’s will come the day the UAW convention ends in July! So that the whole convention can and probably will be used as a rallying point to get the whole UAW steamed up to support any Ford strike, and also to get nation-wide publicity for the UAW pension fight.

Secondly, Philip Murray, president of the CIO and of the steel workers, has a contract which has a deadline one month after the Ford deadline! Murray is perfectly content to let the UAW-CIO take on the fight. And the Reuther leadership is very willing to take the lead, for despite all the fine speeches of Reuther about CIO policy, and the great labor leader Philip Murray, the facts are too obvious for anyone to ignore.

If the UAW waited for CIO leadership, it would have to wait a long, long time. As a matter of fact, in basic industry like steel, the weight of the labor movement is stronger and the steel workers could provoke a first-class crisis by striking, but that is exactly what Murray is seeking to avoid. He prefers to ride on the UAW bandwagon, if a victory comes at Ford.

A third report at the conference Was by John Livingston, vice-president in charge of the FE drive. The best that can be said for it is that the newspaper reports that the UAW organizers shouted red-baiting remarks at the East Moline workers were cooked up by a local newspaperman. (A story on the FE situation appears elsewhere in this issue. – Ed.) The fact remains that Livingston is the wrong man for this job which should combine a real organizing talent with an appreciation on how to win the FE rank and file over.

Livingston is too much of the red- baiter at heart to give that kind of leadership. And the top leadership of the UAW-CIO is responsible for letting him handle this campaign, which thus far has obtained, for the most part, unfavorable publicity.

*

DETROIT – The primary economic objective of the UAW-CIO in negotiations with the auto industry in 1949 is the establishment of an adequate pension plan with a minimum payment of $100 a month for auto workers reaching sixty years of age and having lengthy seniority in the shops.

The first target chosen for cracking the auto industry on this program is the Ford Motor Company, because it is the most “vulnerable” from any point of view, and perhaps a “pattern” can be set if victory comes at Ford.

Since the UAW is tied down by contracts at General Motors and Chrysler, which in theory exclude bargaining on pensions in 1949, the Reuther leadership hopes to break through this obstacle by winning a victory at Ford which the other corporations must follow.

Of course, the ranks show every sign of supporting this economic objective. The Ford locals are approving it, and even in locals where Stalinist influence is strong, the CP program of making a straight 30 cent hourly wage increase the main objective, does not carry by itself. The ranks vote for both a 30 cent increase and a pension plan program.
 

Ranks Declare

For no one is against the pension plan. How can they be? The question is what kind of pension plan, and who pays for it? Dick Leonard, former UAW-CIO vice president, and ex-Ford director, tried to sell an inadequate pension plan and it helped retire him from active leadership in the union two years ago.

Unlike the confusion that exists on the wage-price spiral issue, the ranks are clear on the idea and value of an adequate pension plan. Since nearly 75,000 autoworkers would be immediately eligible under the UAW proposal, even a “recession” and subsequent unemployment would not deter the fight for a pension plan. It would be another argument for it. “Retire the old men on a pension, and give the young jobs.”

Not the least of the reasons the Reuther leadership decided for the pension plan was precisely the fact that the economic outlook is beginning to look cloudy. And the pension proposal gives the union most “elbow room,” irrespective of which way the economic picture looks six months from now.
 

Major Showdown

Although early indications were that Reuther leadership thought it might be able to win a pension plan by negotiations, the attitude of the Ford motor company has become increasingly hard, and it looks like a major showdown will be necessary.

Thomas Thompson, president of Ford Local 600, nearly threw a monkey wrench into the Reuther plans when he wrote a public letter to Reuther urging him to try to call a nationwide industry-labor conference to negotiate a pension plan on a nationwide scale. Because GM and Chrysler could easily use the alibi that “under our contract we are not under any obligation to take up this issue,” and thus avoid a meeting, and then Ford could say, “we will, when they will,” the Thompson proposal simply played into Ford’s hands.

As far as this writer is concerned, Reuther’s scheme of concentrating on Ford, who is on record for a pension plan, and who is vulnerable in the competitive field with GM and Chrysler, is sound strategy. “One at a time” strategy makes sense. Critics who oppose it fail to understand either the difference between a basic industry like coal mining, and the competitive aspects of the auto industry, and the whole history of labor-capital relations in the auto industry.

If Ford is cracked wide open on this question, then either Chrysler or GM can be taken on next. GM will be the toughest nut to crack because the corporation has the union tied down to a contract until 1950, and it may prove exceedingly difficult for the UAW to find a way around it, if at all.
 

GM Contract

In this connection, it is almost amusing, but more accurately, tragic, to see how the Stalinists and other factional opponents of the Reuther regime seek to exploit the “escalator” clause in the GM contract, under which the GM workers probably will get a two cent cut from the recent increases they obtained under this very same contract.

How easy it is to forget that these same opponents sabotaged the GM strike votes, and the fact that the whole American labor movement was in disastrous retreat until the UAW broke the no-wage increase front of big business by the Chrysler strike and the threat of another at GM.

But outside of the howling in the Stalinist press, it is unlikely that the demagogy on this issue will convince many rank and filers. It is interesting to note that in the local union elections, many former “left-wingers” are running on slates which either ignore the anti-Reuther issue, or candidly admit that as far as “international union” politics are concerned they are not against Reuther.


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