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Toledo Auto Progressives Organize

Dillon and Co. Wreck Chance to Win Strike

Temporary Setback Is Signal to Cement Ranks

(May 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 22, 18 May 1935, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

TOLEDO, May 14. – After three weeks of magnificent battling, the union auto workers of the Chevrolet Motor Ohio Company, whose mass picket lines had stopped the production of Chevrolet transmissions and closed down almost the entire Chevrolet Corporation, voted last night to accept the offer of a four cents an hour wage-increase and other slight concessions and to return to work. For three weeks these inexperienced workers, who have been in the union but a month, fought back blow for blow against the financial might of General Motors, the pressure of the government, the cunning propaganda of the capitalist press. They went down to temporary and partial defeat at last through the treachery of Francis Dillon, national organizer for the A.F. of L, in the auto industry, and Fred Schwake, the business agent of their local whom they had trusted. But they went down fighting.

In one of the most spectacular and rousing floor fights ever waged, the militant progressives in the union, denounced as “Muste men” by Dillon, took the meeting last night by storm, hooted Dillon from the Civic Auditorium at the outset of the session, and were on the verge of tearing to pieces the General Motors offer, which failed to grant them one important concession, including their demands for union recognition, a signed contract and straight seniority without the notorious “merit clause.”

Lack of Experience

Their lack of experience and desire for “democracy” and “fair play,” which was appealed to by equally inexperienced members of the strike committee, caused them to rescind a previous motion which they had passed excluding all persons from speaking on the proposals but the strikers and the members of the strike committee.

Dillon was recalled into the meeting and given the chance to speak on the agreement which he, Edward F. McGrady, assistant secretary of labor, and William S. Knudsen, executive vice-president of General Motors, had devised last Saturday. Dillon had already expressed his sentiments on this union-busting agreement Monday in the daily press, which featured his statement urging the strikers to accept the terms of the proposal, and hinted that the progressives who fought its acceptance, including every one of the elected strike committee but one, were “reds,” through a vague allusion to “those who presume without authority to speak in the interests of the workers the language of a Soviet Dictatorship.” His public statement was in direct violation of an agreement made with the strike committee not to express himself on the proposed settlement prior to the meeting.

Fulminates at Muste

Dillon was given the platform to speak. Two hours before he had raged from the auditorium howling that the union was expelled from the A.F. of L. The press reported him as saying then, before he entered a cab to go to his hotel, “Let Muste run their outfit. If they want an I.W.W. or a communist outfit let them have it. They’re out! They’re out! I disown them.”

Three times during his ensuing speech Dillon was booed and hissed down. But with infinite cunning, demagogy and the basest lies he shouted and threatened. His big club was the threat to withdraw the charter of the entire local if the strikers did not accept the company’s offer. The local has members in nineteen Toledo plants. Slowly he ground into the minds of many of the strikers the fear that he would smash their union if they did not end the strike. In return for the “democratic” gesture pf the strikers, Dillon used the foulest and most undemocratic tactics ever devised to force the company agreement down the strikers’ throats. He used their very union loyalty, their desire to maintain their union at all costs, to betray them.

During the course of his tirade, Dillon snarled an attack at A.J. Muste, who has been in Toledo assisting the local branch in developing the forces and strategy of the union progressives in the strike. He shouted “Muste won’t feed you!” A score of voices hurled back, “Neither will you!”

Schwake Rats for Dillon

Despite Dillon’s threats, lies, cajolery and brow-beating, it is doubtful that Dillon would have succeeded in his purpose of smashing the strike, had it not been for Schwake.

While slips of paper were being passed out for ballots intended to record a secret vote – a maneuver to catch the “weak-sisters” in the union put over by the pressure of the executive committee of the local which has been stringing along with the Dillon gang and bucking the progressives on the strike committee – Schwake stepped to the “mike” and pleaded with the strikers to accept the proposals. He told the strikers to think of their wives and children going hungry if the strike continued further, he argued that they weren’t strong enough to battle General Motors despite the fact that the strikers had forced the company to terms on point after point in the course of the strike, he pointed to Dillon’s threat to lift their charter.

Schwake swung enough of them to carry the vote for Dillon. Until he spoke, the strikers were dead-set against acceptance. But Schwake was the man whom they regarded as one of their own trusted leaders. It was he they had voted for in the Auto Labor Board election one month before. All during the strike he had presented himself as a militant, although behind the scenes he went along with Dillon, fought the progressives under cover, prevented the publication of the strike bulletin, helped keep strike funds from the strike committee, tried to start a “red scare” and prevented the distribution of hand-bills by other working class organizations, and sought to take over the leadership of the strike from the elected strike committee. Knifes Roland

But the strikers didn’t know, or perhaps didn’t understand, these things. They didn’t know Schwake was betraying Jimmy Roland, their fighting chairman of the strike committee and leader of the militants. They didn’t know that it was Jim Roland who was most active in the organizing of the progressives in the local after last year’s Auto-Lite strike, in ousting Ramsey and Bossier, the former reactionary leaders, and putting Schwake in as business agent. They didn’t know Schwake was inexperienced and vacillating and that he had been run for office with the promise that he would accept the advice of the experienced union men like Roland. When Schwake turned tail, the props were knocked from under many of them. They became confused. Their confidence in the correctness of their militant position was shattered. Many faltered as he spoke all through the vote-taking. Only after the vote was announced and the meeting officially adjourned did they begin to realize that they had voted for something they did not want, that they had been fooled and tricked.

Several hundred of the most militant remained in the hall for an hour after adjournment. They were fighting mad. They wanted to hold another meeting to reconsider. They wanted to return and man the picket lines despite everything. In this group were the best fighters, the most self-sacrificing, the picket captains, strike committee members. But it was too late. For the moment demoralization had set in. The majority of the strikers had dispersed, most of them in disgust. They were weary of body and torn in spirit. Some of the bravest of them wept.

Jimmy Roland had given the real militant leadership and direction, had fought Dillon and his gang almost single-handed, had kept the strike committee time after time from capitulating to the pressure of the government, the press and the General Motors officials, had personally spread the strike to other cities in the face of the opposition of the A.F. of L. bureaucrats, was indeed the spark-plug of the entire fight. He fought in his grim bull-dog honest fashion to the bitter end, but he seemed in a daze during the entire meeting. Only 24 years old, he did not as yet possess the skill and knowledge to offset the maneuvers of Dillon. His very incorruptible honesty and sense of fair play betrayed him. For it was he who finally persuaded the strikers to permit Dillon to speak. He did it in the sense of demonstrating to Dillon what democratic unionism means. And then Dillon thanked him by knifing him and the strikers in the back.

Progressives Organize

The results of this strike cannot be termed an utter defeat, however, although the auto workers have lost their finest opportunity to date to force the auto barons to their knees throughout the country.

Out of this fight has grown, a force of militant progressives in the auto unions who have demonstrated conclusively their power and ability. The struggle they put on in Toledo, although meeting with temporary defeat, has already aroused progressives in the auto unions throughout the country. Tonight these progressives are planning to get together, to lay out a national program, to organize, train and discipline themselves more thoroughly.

Moreover, this strike has proved to the auto workers that the auto barons and corporations are not invincible. A small handful, comparatively, of Toledo strikers, militant and determined, forced General Motors to negotiate with them directly, against all the previously declared policy of General Motors. They won some concessions, even though meagre and apt to be withdrawn if the union men fail to push forward their organization and fight every attempt to violate the terms. Further, they have demonstrated the power of organized labor in action, when even a small group of workers, willing to fight, can successfully cripple a giant organization like the Chevrolet Corp.

W.P. in the Strike

The methods by which the progressives in this strike were organized have laid the groundwork for more successful and wide-spread attempts in the future. Although most of the strikers were new union men, the militants were drawn together. Bill Prior did a splendid job on this. A real floor machine, inexperienced as it was, was developed, and it put up a magnificent battle when all the circumstances are considered. A regular series of leaflets were issued to the strikers by the Workers Party. These were eagerly read and were tremendously effective in suggesting to the strikers the practical and necessary course to be pursued in the strike. Key men, rank and file leaders, were educated and trained in parliamentary procedure, strike tactics, and militant unionism. For one brief period, despite all the handicaps, it seemed as though the progressives would carry the day.

This year the production season is almost over. But the seeds of clean, progressive, fighting unionism which the W.P. has succeeded in implanting in the minds of the auto union members will bear fruit.

At a meeting of the Chevrolet local held tonight, a thousand union men cheered the President of the local when he said: “In three weeks you won more than General Motors has granted any group of workers in twenty years. What can you do in another six months! Build the union for the next fight.” Walter Gunthrop, President of the Central Labor Union of Toledo, denounced the settlement as a bastard affair whose mother was Francis J. Dillon. Midwife at the birth was James Wilson, Green’s personal representative, he stated. The men unanimously pledged themselves to stick in the union, throw out their false leaders, and build the organization toward a fight to a finish with General Motors.

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