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Joseph Keller

Trade Union Notes

Battlelines Form in UAW Referendum

(13 January 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 2, 13 January 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The CIO United Automobile Workers’ national referendum on, the no-strike pledge is an extraordinary event in the American trade union movement. This referendum, for which the mailing of ballots began January 4, involves the vote of over 1,200,000 workers on the most immediate and vital issue confronting the labor movement, the no-strike pledge.

Membership referendums are not unique in the unions. But almost invariably they have dealt with problems which are largely organizational, such as affiliations, dues increases or elections of officers. In this instance an entire union membership – of the most powerful and dynamic union in the country – is being polled on a basic policy affecting the entire organized labor movement.

Today, the UAW-CIO is a battleground of contending forces. On one side, fighting for revocation of the no-strike pledge, are the militant men and women in the ranks, local officers and committeemen, who daily feel the whiplash of corporation provocations. Against them stand the top bureaucrats, drawing down comfortable salaries, more at home in the waiting-room of the employers and capitalist government officials than among the workers and their struggles in the shops. Around these bureaucrats are lined up the most treacherous agents of capitalism within the union, notably the Stalinists.

Within the past four weeks these opposing forces have been increasing the tempo of their struggle. The Detroit Ward strike gave an unexpected impetus to this struggle. Reports from the center of the auto industry disclose that the Ward strike inspired a wave of labor militancy, reminiscent of the days of the great auto strikes. This response of the ranks in support of the Ward strike in turn aroused frantic fear among the UAW tops and their Stalinist henchmen. Both forces have geared up their propaganda campaigns, utilizing every means at their command to reach and influence the membership. The referendum fight over the no-strike pledge in the UAW appears to be developing into a momentous struggle.

* * *

The Rank and File Caucus, which organized the magnificent four-day battle against the no-strike pledge at the last UAW convention, has become the rallying center for the militants in the referendum campaign. It has established a large and powerful committee in Wayne County (Detroit) and initiated an increasingly aggressive drive to mobilize the votes against the no- strike surrender policy.

Last week, the Rank and File steering committee issued a strongly-worded pamphlet for circulation to the auto workers throughout the country. The pamphlet called on the auto workers to “restore the fighting strength” of their union by rescinding the no-strike pledge for which “labor sacrificed everything and gained nothing.”

The imposition of the no-strike policy on the workers, states the pamphlet, meant the sacrifice of labor’s most powerful weapon “in the fight against the big monopolists who always seek to lower living standards and crush our organization.” At the same time, the employers’ “no lock-out pledge” was a “cruel joke played on us ... Companies needed labor to maintain the highest salaries in the history of corporation executives, and the largest, fattest, bloodiest profits the world has ever known.”

The pamphlet effectively answers the flag-waving propaganda of the labor-haters that militant defense of labor’s rights is “against the interests” of the the “boys in the foxholes.” “The boys in the foxholes are our relatives ... When we fight to make our union strong and effective, we also are fighting for them.”

* * *

While the militant rank and file must depend solely on their own resources and strength to spread the message of their opposition to the no-strike pledge, the UAW heads have found powerful allies outside their own union to aid their attempt to rivet the no-strike shackles more securely on the membership.

The Murray-Hillman machine in the national CIO has thrown its influence behind the UAW top leadership, Thomas-Addes-Frankensteen-Reuther. The capitalist press from coast to coast has opened its columns generously to the no-strike rantings and down-right slanders against the militants issuing from the bull-frog throat of R.J. Thomas, UAW President.

The radio monopoly has placed a state-wide Michigan hook-up at the disposal of Thomas, Addes, Frankensteen and Reuther, according to the Stalinist Daily Worker. They are scheduled to speak in favor of the no-strike policy next week over station WXYZ. Walter Reuther, whose game of “left cover” for the top bureaucrats is rapidly playing itself out, is no longer able to straddle the fence. He is lining himself up openly with the camp he has always really served, the servile leadership against the militant ranks.

The main organizers and campaigners for the leadership’s reactionary policy are the Stalinists. Whole pages of the Daily Worker are being devoted every day to slandering the UAW militants, publicizing the anti-strike statements of the UAW officials, and clamoring for continuation of the no-strike pledge.

Inside the UAW, the Stalinists initiated the Committee to Uphold the No-Strike Pledge, which they and their front-men control and activate. This has become the principal machinery for whipping up support for the no-strike policy. Thus, the Stalinists are spearheading the no-strike drive and have thrown their tremendous material resources behind the UAW tops.

* * *

The UAW leaders find themselves dependent in the referendum battle on shameless finks and strikebreakers. For alone in the entire labor movement, the Stalinists openly attacked the Montgomery Ward strikes.

The Daily Worker, January 6, publishes a letter from Nat Canley, Stalinist business agent of UAW Local 155, to John W. Gibson, President of the Michigan CIO Council, assailing the latter’s support of the Ward strike.

Every worker knows that Roosevelt stalled for over four years on the issue of Avery’s repeated defiance of WLB directives. The only time he acted was after the workers went on strike. Yet Ganley dishes out the astounding argument that “the strike did not compel President Roosevelt to act, but made it harder for him to act.” That’s the stuff the Stalinists are trying to peddle to the auto workers!

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