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At the Auto Convention

Militant Note Struck at the Very Outset

(August 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 32, 9 August 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

BUFFALO, August, 4 – A muffled roll of drums sounded from, behind the closed doors at the rear of the mammoth auditorium.

Everyone of the thousand auto worker delegates seated at the dozen rows of tables, stretching hundreds of feet along the length of the auditorium, turned his head away from the speakers platform.

The formal opening this morning of the Sixth Annual Convention of the United Automobile Workers Union (CIO) had already taken place. But for the workers from all the automobile and aircraft centers of the country the real opening of the convention was just about to start.

“Here comes the Ford Local 600 band!”

The thousand delegates stood on the tables and chairs, roared, stamped and cheered a titanic welcome to the Ford union local.

It was the tribute of fighting union men and women to the living symbol of their mighty victories of the past year, the victories which have smashed through the greatest bulwarks of the open-shop and industrial oppression and have made the UAW-CIO the most dynamic union in the American labor movement today.

These are no hand-picked delegates, no belarded business agents of the reactionary AFL craft-union vintage. These are the men and women from the ranks, the leaders of the picket lines, the shop stewards, the workers on the job who have won the greatest confidence and respect of their fellow members. There is an electric atmosphere of vitality, of confidence, of boldness, emanating from the assembled delegates.

The Union’s Defense Guards

Symbolic of the character of this union, as reflected in this convention, are the hundreds of delegates wearing their brightly colored service caps – the caps of the flying squadrons, the UAW local union defense guards.

One white and purple silk banner is lettered in gold: “Local 581, Flint, Mich., Fisher No. 1, The Flying Wedge.” Another, lettered gold on a green background, says: “The Flying Squadron, Chrysler Local 7, Detroit.” On numerous service caps and on the uniform shirts of delegates is proclaimed their function: “The Flying Squadron.”

The accomplishments of these Flying Squadrons and their union brothers are recorded in the reports of R.J. Thomas, UAW present, and George Addes, secretary-treasurer.

Union’s Great Gains

The paid-up membership of the UAW-CIO is today 526,413, an increase of 93 per cent over the membership reported at the last convention. This makes the UAW the third largest international union in the country.

The union has contracts covering 982 plants, protecting a total of 703,760 workers. At the previous convention last year in St. Louis the union had 494 contracts covering 398,000 workers.

During the past year, through the strike struggles in Ford, General Motors, Allis-Chalmers and scores of lesser plants and corporations, the UAW has secured a general average 10 cents an hour wage increase in the automobile industry.

Aircraft Is Next

The militant strike struggles at Vultee and North American Aviation have opened the way for an organizational drive in the mushrooming aircraft industry which has already added 50,000 members to the ranks of the UAW. It is clear from the vigorous response of the delegates to every mention of the aircraft organization drive, that one of the key ambitions of the UAW members is to carry through a drive on the scale of the Ford campaign to bring the 500,000 aircraft workers into the UAW in the next year, and thus realize the slogan of this convention – to make the UAW-CIO the largest and most powerful International union in America.

The initial proceedings of the convention today clearly revealed the moods and feelings of the auto workers.

The kind of language they respond to is fighting language. Every note of militancy struck by any speaker was the occasion for loud applause and cheers.

Those speakers who sensed this, and responded in the fashion which the delegates demanded, were greeted with the loudest applause.

Thomas Taunts Warmongers

The desire of the delegates for militant expression affected the talks of the various union officers who spoke. It forced R.J. Thomas, when he gave his opening address this afternoon, to strike a much stronger note than was expected of him.

Perhaps the most significant response to any portion of Thomas’s speech was when he dealt with the war question.

After declaring that he was for material aid to Great Britain – a statement which received scarcely any response – Thomas stated:

“I was called a war-monger by certain people (the Stalinists) a few months ago when I advocated material aid to Britain.

“Today we can hear these same people wanting to go much further than I want to go today. I predict that these same people will be advocating we go to war.

“I still say we should keep ourselves on record as against any foreign adventure.”

This last remark brought forth an instantaneous and tremendous volume of applause, and indicated that there is potentially no more powerful an anti-war force in this country today than the auto workers.

Union Democracy Jealously Guarded

The delegates are quick to resent and loudly oppose anything that. smacks of high-handed or arbitrary decisions from the chair, and jealously guard every democratic right.

The minority of the Credentials Committee reported that an attempt was being made to refuse seating to the large delegation from the militant Allis-Chalmers local, whose 8,000 members recently won a bitter 79 day strike. The report charged that the seating of these delegates was being held up on the technicality that the local, in violation of a clause in the constitution, had nominated and elected delegates at the same meeting. The minority of the committee put in a motion to seat the Allis-Chalmers delegation immediately.

The minority motion was greeted with a tremendous volume of applause and stamping of feet. When Ed Hall, a former board member, took the floor and condemned any attempt to deprive the Allis-Chalmers workers of representation, and charged that this would be an act greeted most warmly by the open-shoppers throughout the country, he nearly brought the house down.

The storm was quieted finally by the explanation that the committee majority had not acted against seating the Allis-Chalmers delegation – although it had been the decision of a caucus of the right-wing to attempt this – and by a motion instructing the Credentials Committee to bring in its recommendation on the disputed delegates as the first business tomorrow morning, so as to prevent any stalling of the seating of the Allis-Chalmers representatives.

Frankensteen Booed

The maker of the motion to refer the decision to the next morning was Richard Frankensteen, the international board member who supported the use of troops against the North American Aviation workers.

No sooner had he approached the microphone to speak than he was met by a chorus of boos from all sections of the hail. Thomas in his published report had denied that Frankensteen had condoned the use of troops, but this has not convinced a large section of the delegates. And many of those who do accept the explanation on this point are still bitter about Frankensteen’s arbitrary action in suspending the officers of the North American local. The lesson of Homer Martin’s union-disrupting tactics has sunk deep.

Negro Delegates Active

Once more, at this convention, is shown the freedom from racial prejudice that has marked the policies of the UAW and the CIO. Almost every large delegation at the convention includes Negro delegates, who participate fully and freely in all the convention activities.

It was especially gratifying to see the many Negro workers in the Ford delegation and in the Ford Local 600 band. One of the most vicious features of Ford’s anti-labor policies was his attempt to split the workers by playing Negro and white workers against each other.

Many Women Present

Women workers are playing an important role in this convention, reflecting the vital part they are playing in the whole organizational life and struggles of the auto workers.

One of the brightest spots in the convention thus far was the parade of the Women’s Auxiliaries in the convention hall this morning. As they marched down the aisle, all the delegates rose and cheered them and then broke into the stirring tune of Solidarity Forever. The banner which headed the parade proudly announced that the membership of the UAW Women’s Auxiliary has increased 345 per cent in the past year. No other union has been able to draw the wives and mothers of the workers into the union struggles so well as the UAW. The militancy of the women on the UAW picket lines is traditional. Whatever decisions are made – and some of them may be poor and misguided – one thing is certain: The whole character, tradition and composition of the UAW-CIO will not tolerate for long policies which will lead to the destruction of union democracy and militancy. Time and again efforts have been made to enforce such policies on the auto union – Francis Dillon and Homer Martin tried it – but these attempts have failed. Each time the auto workers have spewed forth these poisonous reactionary elements. And each time the UAW has made new giant strides forward.

One has only to sit for a brief time among these delegates to observe their seriousness, their stern sense of responsibility, their boundless militancy and confidence, their innate love of freedom of expression, their hatred of bureaucracy to be convinced that here is a union capable of confronting all the hosts of reaction and ending the struggle victoriously.

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