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Big Steel Leads Attack
on CIO Wage Demands

(3 May 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 18, 3 May 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Acting on the basis of a unified strategy, America’s most powerful corporations have almost simultaneously rejected the “third round” wage demands of the biggest CIO unions.

U.S. Steel Corporation sounded the general offensive of Big Business on April 22. Benjamin Fairless, head of the largest steel combine, announced that it would not grant any wage increases to the steel workers.

The leading corporations in the steel, auto, electrical equipment, meat packing and maritime industries have turned thumbs down on wage raises or withdrawn previous offers of small increases.

The first indication of the Big Business plans to challenge the CIO’s wage demands came on March 3, when General Electric announced it would deny all wage requests of the CIO electrical workers.

At that time, The Militant sharply warned that this heralded a general “Get Tough” policy by the major corporations. We attacked, the false and deceptive rumors emanating from CIO top circles, and particularly Murray’s steel union headquarters, that the corporations were ready to make “concessions.”

The wage situation in the major CIO-organized industries is as follows:


U.S. Steel, generally considered the pace-setter in Big Business industrial policy on April 22 issued a public declaration in the midst of recently-opened union negotiations, to the effect that wage raises are denied and price cuts amounting to 25 million dollars annually would begin May 1.

Since Fairless had admitted to a Senate committee in February that a price increase then put into effect by U.S. Steel would boöst profits $28,433,190, the new reductions still would not offset the previous price advance. Actually, a 25 million dollar price cut equals only 1.2% of the 1947 sales volume of 2.1 billion dollars.

This “picayune” price cut, as Murray, termed it, was obviously advanced as a gesture to cover the wage turn-down. Increased volume, through war production. is expected to boost steel profits far beyond what the temporary price cut might cost.

Murray promptly called the top steel union officials together. They deplored the fact that U.S. Steel was not acting in “good faith” and pointed to the company’s huge 1947 net profits of 153 million dollars.

On the Chin

Their only answer, however, to the contemptuous action of the steel barons was to renew a pledge to “live up to the current two-year, no-strike contract,” which expires next April, and to leave the wage issue up to “the forum of public opinion.” That means, to leave the steel workers to take it on the chin for another year.

Promptly following the action of Big Steel, the key Little Steel companies, Bethlehem, Republic, Youngstown Sheet & Tube and Jones & Laughlin, proclaimed a similar no-wage-increase policy.


Chrysler Corporation, which had previously met the demand ot the CIO United Auto Workers for a 30-cent raise with a 6-cent counter-offer, withdrew even this insulting offer on the announcement of U.S. Steel’s wage policy.

General Motors, largest auto corporation, has refused to make the union any offer at all. To frighten its workers, GM announced one-week layoffs for 200,000 workers.

Chrysler officials had said that the auto, workers did not need raises in view of recent tax reductions. It is estimated that Chrysler’s rate of profit on investments would be 14½% annually even after granting a 30-cent an hour wage increase.

Strike Vote

A delegated conference of UAW Chrysler locals, has voted for strike action if the company does not meet their demands. The UAW international executive board has sanctioned such action.

The UAW national officers on April 23 declared: “We want to remind employers who might be tempted to take comfort from the steel negotiations that automobiles are not made by steel workers. They are made by auto workers and auto workers are free to exercise their economic strength if management’s short-sightedness and stubbornness force them to do so.”

However, the UAW officials have advanced no unified strategy of action for a serious wage fight. They still seem to be contemplating a suicidal “one-at-a-time” policy, this time centered on Chrysler.


Officials of the CIO United Electrical Workers “indefinitely recessed” wage negotiations with the two largest corporations in the industry, General Electric and Westinghouse.

Price-Cut Pretext

Westinghouse, which previously had intimated it might grant some slight increases, announced the day after U.S. Steel’s move that it would give no pay increases. Its pretext is a claimed price-cut of $3,126,000 a year – a fraction of a per cent of its total sales. General Electric also announced a 5% price cut on a small category of electrical power equipment.

GE profits in the first three months of 1948 were over 25 million dollars – a 42% increase over, the same quarter in 1947. Westinghouse’s 14 million dollar profits in this year’s first quarter are 27% higher than last year’s.

UE leaders, following the policy of Murray, have announced no specific wage demands and proposed no program of action. Although the Stalinist leaders of UE are in bitter conflict with the Murray machine over political policies, they are obviously trying to take their cue from Murray on wage matters and follow the lead of the steel union.


100,000 CIO packinghouse workers, employed by the “Big Four” of the meat trust, Armour, Wilson, Swift and Cudahy, are continuing their bitter six week strike for cost-of-living wage increases.

They are resisting a head-on attempt of the companies to smash their strike by violence and a flank attack by the government in the form of a “fact-finding” report supporting the companies’ miserable offer of a 9-cent increase. The union demanded 29 cents.

A flock of local injunctions have been issued by compliant judges in the various packing centers against the union. Behind this legal cover, police and company strikebreakers are trying to smash picket lines with armed violence.

Efforts of the government to intervene and effect a settlement through mediation appear headed on the rocks. A government-sponsored meeting between the union and Armour representatives was abruptly recessed on April 27, when Armour refused to yield an inch. The packers take the position that with local and federal government aid they can break the strike.


Representatives of the chief Atlantic and Gulf Coast shipping lines have countered CIO National Maritime Union demands for wage increases and improved conditions with their own complete revision of the present contract.

This revision provides no wage increases and would destroy the foundation of the union’s security, the union hiring hall. Basing themselves on the Taft-Hartley Act, the companies demand that hiring through the union hiring hall be abandoned and that the discriminatory hiring practices which prevailed in the days before unionism be restored.

The employers have offered similar loaded contracts to engineers and radio officers of the CIO Marine Engineers Beneficial Association.

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