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UAW-CIO International Board Meets
as Auto Crisis Grows

(17 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 11, 17 March 1945, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

As Detroit shook with the mightiest auto strike wave since Pearl Harbor, the CIO United Automobile Workers’ International Executive Board hastened into a three-day special session last week at the Hotel McAlpin, New York City. The frightened and hard-pressed UAW leaders faced a crisis of major proportions.

This acute crisis resulted from events on both the national labor scene and in the industry. Roosevelt’s War Labor Board had just placed its seal of approval on the wage-freezing Little Steel Formula. Over 500,000 General Motors and Chrysler workers were denied long-sought general wage increases and were granted instead a few picayune concessions. Business Week, a leading organ of Big Business, crowed: “CIO’s United Auto Workers gains very little.”

On top of these blows came a concerted, savage campaign of corporation provocations in the plants designed to cripple the most militant UAW locals. Against this assault on their organizations, over 40,000 Detroit auto workers had gone on strike in defiance of their own national leaders and the no-strike surrender policy.

This opposition and pressure of the ranks was reflected in the first wartime division within the UAW executive board over a major policy question. That was the question of the War Labor Board, whose pro-corporation actions had exasperated the auto workers to widespread revolt.

The minority of the UAW board, which opposed the idea of withdrawing the labor members from the WLB, was led by R.J. Thomas, President,. and George. Addes, Secretary-Treasurer. The majority, which renewed a recommendation passed originally several weeks ago for withdrawal of the CIO members from the WLB, was headed by Walter Reuther, a vice-president.

Basic Agreement

An examination of the opposing position, however, reveals that their differences are minor compared to their essential agreement. Both groups agreed that the WLB as now constituted and functioning is a detriment to labor. Both condemned corporation provocations. Thomas declared, “Chrysler Corp. accepts unions in the same way an individual accepts smallpox.” But both proposed a continuation of some form of tripartite government compulsory arbitration board and enforcement of the no-strike policy.

Thomas, who had just returned from the London World Labor Congress more inflated than ever and more closely tied to government policy, voiced the position of the minority. In a press interview, he opined that “at first” the WLB did a “splendid job.” But then the WLB members just got “too busy to know what is going on.”

The whole trouble lay in the four “public” members. “I think all the public members of the WLB should resign to give the President an opportunity to appoint new public members who are unbiased.” Thomas gave no assurances that the new Roosevelt appointees would be more “unbiased” or less “busy” than the old.

But he opposed scuttling the WLB as such by withdrawal of the labor members – because then “there would be no means for adjusting grievances.” Thomas just closed his eyes to the method of direct and independent collective bargaining with the employers, through which all the major union gains have been secured and maintained.

Reuther and his followers had no fundamental disagreement with the Thomas-Addes group. They wished, however, to ride the crest of the auto workers’ dissatisfaction while achieving the same aims as the executive board minority. Their resolution called for resignation of the CIO members from the WLB and urged Roosevelt, who founded the WLB and dictates its policy, to replace the WLB “with a new tripartite agency, representing labor, management and Government, which shall have full authority to grant labor equity.”


However, the UAW board carefully refrained from withdrawing its own representatives front the WLB. Such an action, like the miners’ withdrawal from the National Defense Mediation Board in 1941, would have toppled the WLB. The Reutherites were interested in a verbal gesture, not effective action.

Moreover, though the mechanics of achieving it would be slightly different, Reuther’s proposed “new” compulsory arbitration board would be identical with a WLB reconstituted along the lines proposed by Thomas. It would have the same labor and corporation members. It would merely replace one set of Roosevelt’s “public” members, for another set of “unbiased” stooges.

Its “authority to grant labor equity” would not be increased – because the very purpose of such boards is to frustrate the demands of the workers. In fact, a “new” arbitration board, differing only in name from the old but free from the latter’s tarnished reputation, might be even more effective in curbing the workers and enforcing the wage-freeze.

And even while seemingly attacking the WLB, Reuther sought to cover up for his own bankrupt policy of dependence upon it. As the UAW’s GM Division Director, Reuther hailed the WLB’s GM decision, denying all major demands of the union, as representing “substantial contract gains ... lays the basis for dealing with basic economic problems.” Actually, as Business Week approvingly reported, the WLB granted only a few fifth-rate concessions – after, stalling 18 months. The only wage concession was a slight boost in the night- shift premium at a time when “third-shift operations are currently greatly reduced.”

Roosevelt’s Reply

On the very day the UAW heads were calling upon Roosevelt for a reconstituted war labor hoard, he gave them his contemptuous reply. He announced his appointment of WLB Vice-Chairman Taylor, author of the Little Steel Formula and main target of the CIO attack, as the new WLB Chairman to replace Davis, who was promoted for his wage-freezing services to Director of Economic Stabilization.

The real program of the UAW tops, to stifle all independent struggle of the ranks, was expressed by the executive board’s action against the leaders of the 10-day Chrysler strike. The local leaders of this struggle to defend the Detroit Chrysler union against corporation assault were “severely condemned.” They would have been expelled and a receiver-dictator appointed over the local, as happened in previous cases, except that the UAW heads did not dare take such a step in the face of the anger of the Detroit auto workers.

In themselves, the board’s decisions were deceptive and meaningless. But the fact that the gesture against the WLB was made and that a division was provoked in the Board indicates the tremendous opposition of the ranks and the wide cleavage between, them and the leadership.

The crisis within the UAW, however, cannot be resolved under the present program and leadership. That leadership is utterly cowardly and bankrupt. Only a fighting leadership. from the ranks, committed to a militant program, can beat off the corporation attacks.

One group alone today offers the program and leadership required. That is the Rank and File caucus which has led the fight for revocation of the no-strike pledge, withdrawal of labor support from the WLB, a rising scale of wages to meet rising prices, and the building of an independent labor party. With such a program labor, including the auto workers, will no longer be reduced to whining before capitalist government agents for crumbs. Only with such a program will labor march forward to new gains.

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