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UAW Convention Marks
New Stage for Auto Union

(30 March 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 14, 6 April 1946, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., March 30. – Some 1,877 delegates to the 10th National Convention of the CIO United Automobile Workers this afternoon adjourned their eight days of tumultuous deliberations.

This convention recorded, though in a distorted and unclear form, two far-reaching achievements. It approved and vindicated the bitter strike and advanced program of the General Motors workers. And again indirectly, it chalked up an important triumph of program over factional, machine politics.

Not a single basic issue was thrashed out openly on the convention floor. Nevertheless, the issues of the General Motors strike and the program it advanced were implicit in the central and dominant conflict of the convention, the battle for the UAW presidency between GM strike leader Walter Reuther and the incumbent R.J. Thomas.

Issues Implicit

Reuther was elected, though by a narrow margin, because he was the aggressive leader of the GM strike and because in the course of that strike he had advocated hew and far-reaching progressive demands.

In electing Reuther, the majority of the auto workers were voting for the program which in their minds his leadership of the GM strike represented. They expressed in this fashion their approval of a policy of militant union struggle and their desire for a program, going beyond immediate wage issues, aimed at resolving those basic economic and political issues which emerged on the crest of the titanic strike wave.

But because the battle over program was conducted within the narrow framework of struggle for posts rather than in the open arena of direct debate on the actual issues, the triumph of the progressive and militant delegates was limited and inconclusive.

The old-line conservative leaders of the Thomas-Addes faction, supported by the Stalinists, were able to swing enough votes away from the Reuther caucus to win three of the four top executive posts and a majority of the executive board.

Coming Struggle

Both the top bureaucracy of the CIO and the capitalist press clearly indicated their appreciation of the underlying significance of the Reuther-Thomas fight. CIO President Philip Murray appeared in person at the UAW convention to throw his prestige and influence behind the Thomas-Addes-Stalinist machine.

At the same time, the boss press treated the UAW convention and particularly the race for the UAW presidency as news of top-ranking national importance. The preference of the capitalist press for the Thomas- Addes leadership as against the “socialistic” Reuther was made plain.

From the very outset of the convention, in the opening “keynote” address of R.J. Thomas on Saturday, March 23, the character of the central convention struggle was indicated. The major point of Thomas’ speech was a scarcely-veiled attack on Reuther and the conduct of the GM strike. This was cloaked in a slanderous accusation, lifted bodily from the Stalinist press, that Reuther was plotting with AFL International Ladies Garment Workers’ president David Dubinsky, whose union had contributed $86,000 to aid the GM strikers, to swing the UAW into the AFL.

This lying accusation, expressed only by innuendo in the convention itself, was repeated openly in the corridors and hotel rooms, and in the meetings and literature of the Thomas-Addes caucus.

Lying Accusation

But the crux of their opposition to Reuther and the militant forces who supported him was their opposition to the GM strike and the advanced slogans which had been projected in that strike. This real issue the Thomas-Addes caucus plus their Stalinist supporters never dared to bring out openly on the convention floor.

The GM battle had been fought out on the picket lines, it had spearheaded the whole strike wave which won the largest single wage increases ever attained by key American unions. The policies and demands of the strike were approved by the GM workers themselves through, their rank and file delegates to the representative GM Delegates’ Conference. They had made national issues of not only the immediate wage question, but of such crucial factors as prices and profits, through their progressive demands of “Open the Books of the Corporation!” and “Wage Increases Without Price Increases.”

Thomas-Addes Method

By contrast to this in the Ford negotiations the Thomas-Addes leadership had compromised on the wage issue without any real battle. They conducted the negotiations behind the backs of the Ford workers. They yielded to the company’s. demand for “company security” and agreed to the inclusion in the Ford contract of a clause which would permit the company to victimize union militants for “unauthorised strikes.”

None of the key issues was brought directly before the convention. The first four days of the convention were occupied primarily with organizational questions. Everything was pointed toward the fight for leadership in which the real issues were reflected only indirectly.

Such discussion of issues as did occur took place in the big caucus rallies held at night after the Convention sessions. Here, however, there was little opportunity for a thorough airing of the questions by the ranks. Discussion was limited to the onesided presentation of speeches by the respective caucus leaders.

Issues Not Discussed

Thomas, Addes and the Stalinists concentrated on reckless and crude personal attacks against Reuther, not excluding red-baiting against his “extremist” and “socialistic experimentation.” This reached the low- point when Thomas bellowed in the course of one caucus speech, “Don’t forget that Mussolini was once a socialist too!”

On the other hand, the Reuther caucus meetings were distinguished by a greater attention to program. Reuther spent one entire evening discussing in detail a program for the union dealing with many of the important problems confronting the workers.

He avoided, however, as did the Thomas-Addes group, any discussion on the key issues arising from the strike wave, such as “company security,” the participation of the union leaders on the pro-corporation government boards, and offered no program of independent labor political action through the formation of an independent labor party.

The closest approach to a convention discussion of issues occurred during the closing moments of the third day’s session. The Reuther caucus had issued a leaflet challenging Thomas to a formal debate with Reuther on the issues in the GM strike. The

Thomas-Addes group had issued a counter-leaflet contemptuously rejecting the idea of a debate on the issues.

During the last hour of the Monday session, while Secretary-Treasurer Addes was in the chair, Delegate Murphy of Detroit Dodge Local 3 secured the floor on a point of special privilege. The convention was thrown into pandemonium when she introduced a motion for “a closed session tonight at 8 o’clock in order to have the candidates discuss the issues involved between Brother R.J. Thomas and Brother Walter Reuther.”

Addes Evades

Delegate Murphy called directly on Thomas to answer if he would “agree to debate this question tonight.”

Addes sought to divert the matter by giving the floor to another delegate, but persistent shouts arose from all sections of the vast auditorium, “Answer the question! Answer the question! Are you afraid of a debate?”

A Thomas supporter. Delegate Paul Silvers of Local 351, took the floor amid constant boos and interruptions to argue against the proposed debate because “Sister Murphy would have made her request on Saturday if she was as disturbed as she contends she was.”

Delegate Thornton of Flint Buick Local 590 demanded that the convention “bring them (Reuther and Thomas) together and have them make their statements in the presence of each other” and “deny them if they can.”

Then the Thomas-Addes-Stalinist group put forward the discredited Vice-President Richard Frankensteen. Frankensteen, who had announced his intention to retire from office to take one of the “fine opportunities” offered him, was greeted with a tremendous demonstration of hostility. His sole argument, when he finally could be heard, was that the debate proposal was “tomfoolery?’ He said “when President Roosevelt was running for re-election, and Tom Dewey knew he was beat, he challenged Roosevelt to a debate, too, because he wanted an out.”

Delegate Shelton Tappes of Ford Local 600 tried to come to the rescue of the Thomas-Addes forces by a motion to table the question of a debate. After twice taking a standing vote. Chairman Addes had to rule the motion to table lost.

Finally, the question of the night session to hold the debate was put to a vote. An overwhelming majority of the delegates supported the motion for a debate. But Addes ruled that the motion was lost because a motion to amend the rules of the convention “requires a two-thirds vote.”

The desperate maneuvers of the Thomas-Addes forces to avoid a real discussion of the issues left a majority with the well-founded suspicion that the Thomas-Addes group feared any direct debate.

Election Session Tense

On Wednesday morning, March 27, the climactic point of the convention was reached, the election of a president. The auditorium was packed to capacity. The atmosphere was tense and explosive. The long press tables below the huge platform were jammed, testifying to the significance the boss publications and radio networks placed on the outcome of the UAW convention.

Ben Garrison, of Ford Highland Park local 400, nominated Thomas. The opportunist Garrison had become known through his opposition to the no-strike pledge at the September 1944 UAW convention. He was used to try to swing the votes of militants against Reuther.

At a previous session of the convention, Garrison, a reporter for the Resolutions Committee, had launched a full-blown red-baiting attack against the Stalinists during a discussion on Negro discrimination. It was this red-baiter who nominated Thomas, the candidate whom the Stalinists supported all down the line.

Reuther was placed in nomination by Delegate Cote of Detroit Local 174. The nomination and seconding speeches for Reuther provided an opportunity for a discussion of Reuther’s policies in contrast to Thomas’, but the Reuther spokesmen failed to avail themselves of this opportunity.

Each nomination was followed by boisterous and tumultuous demonstrations and parades intended to stampede wavering elements.

Narrow Margin

The decision was in doubt almost to the last moment of the hours-long roll call. It was finally reported that Reuther had won by the narrow margin of 124 votes, with more than 8,800 cast. This announcement touched off another tremendous demonstration.

Reuther spoke briefly and called for “unity” of the top leadership. He stated “I extend my hand’’ to Addes and pledged to work to make the UAW a “source of strength to President Murray” of the CIO, who had tried to swing the convention against Reuther.

The jubilation of the Reuther caucus and its hopes for “unity” were short-lived. The very next day the Thomas-Addes group came back to capture by narrow margins the three other top officers’ posts, two vice-presidencies and the secretary-treasurership.

Reuther had attempted to get agreement for a division of the two vice-presidential posts between the two contending caucuses. In a surprise move, the Thomas-Addes group nominated Thomas to run against Reuther’s man, Melvin Bishop, for first vice-president. This was clearly a declaration of continuing warfare.

The nomination of Bishop, the result of a purely factional deal, played an important part in the election of Thomas. Bishop, as Regional Director for the important Detroit East Side region of the UAW, had aroused real enmity because of his bureaucratic and reactionary policies. He was heartily disliked by most delegates from the East Side region. The powerful Detroit Briggs Local 212 delegation, staunch militants and supporters of Reuther’s candidacy, did an about-face in protest against Bishop and demonstratively voted in a bloc for Thomas. The tide swung decisively in Thomas’ favor.

Secretary-Treasurer Addes, who ran unopposed, was reelected.

The Thomas-Addes group then secured a three-to-one majority of the executive officers when Richard T. Leonard, Ford negotiator and leading exponent of the notorious “company security” clause, won by a narrow margin of 42 votes over his Reuther opponent, John Livingston. The Reuther caucus had failed to expose the “company security” position of Leonard. Had they done so, they might have rallied many more votes for Livingston.

The election of executive board members left the decisive voting strength in the top leadership of the UAW in the hands of the Thomas-Addes faction. There were only two changes on the board of 18.

Emil Mazey Elected

One of these was extremely significant. The delegates from Detroit East Side Region 1, which contains some of the oldest and most militant locals in the UAW, elected former Briggs Local 212 President Emil Mazey to replace Melvin Bishop.

Mazey, a GI on his way back from Okinawa, was elected in his absence as a delegate from Local 212. At the 1943 UAW convention, he led the fight against the no-strike pledge and called for the formation of a labor party. He received prominence only a few months ago as a leader of the soldier “Get Us Home!” protests in the Philippines.

Mazey was elected by the large Region 1 delegation on the very first ballot. He received more than 1,000 votes, nearly double the number cast for the leading contender against him, the well- known Stalinist floor-whip, John Anderson of Detroit Amalgamated Local 155. Mazey is expected to fight on the board for more militant policies.

A number of key resolutions on policy questions were not acted upon by the convention but “referred” to the incoming executive board. These included resolutions on the union’s wage-price policy, a subject of sharp difference between the Reuther and the Thomas-Addes groups, and on “So-Called Company Security.”

The wage-price resolution, drafted by the Resolutions Committee, correctly exposed the threat of Big Business and the Truman administration to rob the workers of their wage gains by deliberate price inflation. It condemned the Wage Stabilization Board, but made no reference to the “fact-finding” boards which have served to whittle down the workers’ wage demands. It said nothing about withdrawing union representatives from all government wage-freezing, semi-compulsory arbitration bodies.

“Company Security”

The resolution entitled “So-Called Company Security” declared the union “stands unalterably opposed, and will struggle to prevent or eliminate, any and all types of penalty systems which the corporations have falsely labeled ‘company security’.” This position, which undoubtedly expresses the opinion of the great majority of UAW members, never came to the floor for action.

No resolution on labor political action was reported out by the Resolutions Committee. On this most crucial question neither Reuther nor the Thomas-Addes faction offered a program for genuine independent labor political action through a labor party. Both continued to speak of support for “progressive” candidates of “both major parties” and merely gave lip service to the idea of a possible “third progressive party.” Reuther, in a press interview, spoke of the “impracticality” of “a third party” even in the 1948 elections.

The one vital question the delegates did have an opportunity to discuss was the issue of discrimination against the Negro workers. Several resolutions, containing many progressive points, were adopted by the convention.

But several Negro and white delegates pointed out that similar resolutions had been adopted in the past but the leadership had not carried them out effectively. Representative Negro delegates rose to plead for “more teeth” in the anti-discrimination resolutions.

The Stalinists, taking advantage of the failure of the Reuther caucus to make a clear-cut and militant stand on the question of discrimination and demagogically seeking the support of the Negro delegates, introduced a proposal to provide a post on the Executive Board for a Negro representative.

This proposal was fought by both the Thomas-Addes group, whom the Stalinists support, and the Reuther followers, except for some of the most advanced militants. The latter, despite the fact that the proposal for a Negro Board member had been introduced by the Stalinists for factional reasons, favored it as a demonstration of the sincerity of the union in eliminating discrimination and giving recognition to the Negro members.

Anti-Discrimination Proposal Debated

The debate on this issue began the second day of the convention on a resolution for the establishment of a Fair Practices and Anti-Discrimination Department, headed by the International President who shall appoint its administrative staff.

Nat Ganley of Local 165, a leading Stalinist, proposed that the Fair Practices Department be headed by a Negro member who would be a member of the International Executive Board. Hodges Mason, of Local 208, a Stalinist supporter and prominent Negro delegate, also spoke in favor of the idea.

Members of the Resolutions Committee opposed the proposal with the stock arguments that this would lead to special posts for “all groups” and “we don’t recognize any differences in our ranks.” This, of course, ignored that fact that, even in the outstandingly progressive UAW, which has done more than any other union on the question of discrimination, qualified Negro members still have to buck under-currents of discrimination which deny them an equal opportunity to secure top office.

This was pointed out by Delegate Irwin Bauer, of Detroit Budd Local 306, who scored both factions in the leadership for their failure to nominate any Negro delegate for a top office. He declared that “either we must create a special post in the top Executive Board for the Negroes so they can have representation in the top leadership of the union, or the top caucuses of this union, the Addes and Reuther caucus both, must combine on an agreed top officer for the Union.”

The issue was then referred back to the Resolutions Committee, which returned the next day with a majority and minority report on the question. The minority report, which was presented by the Stalinists whose position was represented by Shelton Tappes of Local 600, this time eliminated the question of a Negro representative on the board. It called only for an additional board member, to be elected by the convention at large, to head the Fair Practices Department.

At that point delegate Garrison, who spoke for the majority of the Resolutions Committee and who was later to nominate Thomas for president, launched into a red-baiting tirade against his Stalinist colleagues in the Thomas-Addes caucus. He opposed what he called an organizational policy “on the basis of lines adopted by the Soviet Union” and the establishment of “a commissar over any particular segment of our membership.”

The Stalinists this time evaded the question of a Negro board member, but merely pointed out that the minority proposal for an additional board member elected by the entire convention offered a more favorable opportunity for the election of a Negro to the board.

“A Disgrace”

Briggs Local 212 Delegate Ernest Mazey, brother of Emil, the newly-elected board member, gave support to the minority resolution, pointing out that it “is regrettable and a disgrace” that the top leadership had permitted the issue to be raised in the manner it did, when the issue could have been easily settled “if the four top leaders had gotten together and agreed on a mutual candidate, a Negro candidate.”

With the whole top leadership supporting the majority resolution, it was passed, overwhelmingly. The minority resolution was supported by about 300 delegates.

Some resolutions of a generally progressive and constructive character on which there was no controversy were acted upon by the convention on the opening day and in the last couple of hours before adjournment. These included resolutions supporting the CIO’s campaigns to “Organize the Unorganized” and “Organize the South,” a program of demands for the veterans, and the establishment of a $1 assessment for a special strike fund to aid GM workers and all other UAW members still on strike.

A special resolution in support of GM strikers still out because of the corporation’s refusal to settle local grievances was unanimously adopted.

Democratic Character

The democratic character of the UAW-CIO and the membership’s suspicion of any moves by the top leadership to strengthen its bureaucratic hold on the union were demonstrated several times on important organizational questions.

The first of these was the unanimous proposal of the Constitution Committee to extend the officers’ term to two years instead of one. The argument that this would “prevent politics” in the union was hooted down by the delegates, who after brief debate voted virtually unanimously to continue the one-year term of office.

Another issue was the proposal for a dues increase, to raise the present monthly dues from $1 to $2. The leadership had also cooked up an alternative proposal for $1.50 dues, with most of the increase going to the International.

The delegates voted down both proposals. They adopted instead a proposal for $1,50 dues, the additional 60 cents to be equally divided between the local unions and the International. The motion provided for the allocation of the International’s additional 25 cents to special funds, including 5 cents to an emergency strike fund.

The Constitution Committee, with the behind-the-scenes support of the top officers, also tried to put over an across-the-board salary increase for the executive officers and board members. Present salaries range from $5,000 for board members to $9,000 for the UAW president.

Reject Increases

Among the arguments were that the top officers were “entitled to” a “17½ per cent increase like they had won for the members” and “it would look bad” if the union which has fought for wage increases denied proposed annual increases of from $1,000 to $1,500 to the officers.

It was pointed out by several delegates that the officers had had a substantial increase voted in 1943, while the workers wages were frozen. The delegates made it clear they did not want their officers to live too far above the standards of the membership. By an overwhelming vote, the membership flatly rejected all proposals for salary increases to officers.

The 1946 UAW convention, as reflected in the policies implicitly endorsed by the election of Reuther, marked a high point in the militant, progressive trend of the auto workers. The failure to thrash out the issues openly, however, has left the settlement of these issues inconclusive.

The relationship between program and leadership received a clearer expression than ever before. But this was insufficiently appreciated to effect a cleanout break with the old leadership.

Coming Issues

The mounting inflation and pressure on the workers’ living standards, the Increasingly reactionary attacks of Congress and the Truman administration on labor, the new anti-labor offensive which Big Business is preparing, serve to clarify the questions of program and will widen the cleavage between the ranks and the top conservative leadership.

The auto workers have in an indirect fashion shown their readiness to break with conservative, bureaucratic leadership. They have indicated their desire for militant policies and for a program which will meet fundamental economic and political problems.

The next period will see the continuation of the fight on the issues which this convention failed to resolve – the elimination of “company security” clauses, the withdrawal of union representatives from all government wage-freezing and arbitration bodies, and above all the formation of a labor party.

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