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CIO Wage Campaign
Faces Disaster

Union Heads Fail to Offer Program of
Unified Action as Corporations Gang Up

(10 May 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 19, 10 May 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The flabbiness of the CIO top leaders and their lack of a program of unified action is heading the CIO’s “third-round” wage drive toward disaster.

Big Business is already gloating over the anticipated loss in influence the CIO will suffer as a result of failure to win its demands for “substantial” wage increases.

The CIO leadership’s policy of depending on the corporations to “go soft” and toss the unions a few extra crumbs has paid off in exactly zero.

Leading corporations in steel, auto, electrical equipment, meat packing, maritime and other major industries have taken the offensive simultaneously against the CIO unions. In rapid-fire fashion, they have tossed the CIO’s wage demands back in the faces of CIO negotiators.

CIO President Philip Murray, also head of the CIO Steelworkers, who is supposed to be leading the wage fight, is giving an exhibition of bumbling, fumbling and downright cowardice that is rare even for the traditionally craven union bureaucrats.

Last year Murray slipped over a, two-year no-strike clause in the Steelworkers contract in return for meager wage increases. Apparently, he hoped to get similar concessions this year with the same appeasement policy.

Weeks ago, when he reopened wage negotiations with U.S. Steel, Murray assured the steel barons in advance that under no conditions would the union strike. At the same time, his office circulated rumors that a wage increase was “in the bag.”

This was reflected in the April 2 Wage Earner, Detroit publication of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, with which Murray is reputed to be closely connected. Its headline read: STEEL LABOR TO LEAD ‘THIRD ROUND’. The story, from Pittsburgh, said:

“Inside reports here this week said U.S. Steel has a wage increase offer for the CIO’s United Steelworkers of America. The company expects that its offer will prove to be the ‘third round’ pattern. There was no word as to how big the wage boost is, but guesses were ‘somewhere near 15 cents’.”

Whose guesses? Murray’s. Certainly not the steel companies? Benjamin Fairless, head of U.S. Steel, had publicly told a Senate committee back in March that his company was opposed to any wage boosts.

Murray strung along his membership. But Fairless wasn’t kidding. Two weeks ago U.S. Steel signalled an anti-union offensive all along the Big Business line. It rejected out-of-hand the CIO Steelworkers wage demands under the pretext of a trifling price cut that will not infringe on U.S. Steel’s monumental profits.

Retreat and Surrender

In the face of this Big Business offensive, Murray once again assured the steel companies that, the steelworkers union would not, strike. Murray was saying, in effect, that the CIO Steelworkers, the second largest union in the CIO, intends to leave the other CIO unions to fight it out alone. He was also saying, that he, as-the elected head of the CIO, was for a continued policy of retreat and surrender.

On the same day Murray made his latest no-strike pronouncement. General Electric and Westinghouse turned the cold shoulder to the CIO electrical workers.

General Motors disdained even to make a counter-offer to the CIO auto workers, while Chrysler withdrew its original six-cent offer. The East Coast and Gulf ship owners turned down the CIO National Maritime Union’s wage demands and called for the elimination of the union hiring hall.

The big meat packing companies, headed by Armour, have been emboldened to launch a violent strikebreaking attack against the seven-week walkout of the CIO packinghouse workers, the one major CIO union which is putting up a real fight for higher wages.

The policy of making each CIO union carry on its wage fight individually against the combined might of the corporations and government has already cost the CIO dearly.

Serious Setbacks

The American Communications Association suffered a complete defeat against the cable companies – the first serious defeat of any CIO union since the Little Steel strike of 1937. After an eight-month strike the CIO Textile Workers at Huntsville, Alabama, have been unable to gain renewal of a contract. And Murray’s own union sustained a serious blow when the Steelworkers local at the Nashville Corp., in Nashville, Tenn., ended a 26-week strike without gaining the union recognition it fought for.

The CIO wage campaign is in a completely chaotic condition. Every union is going its own sweet way, without even a hint of coordinated strategy and mutual aid in the face of the united offensive of the corporations.

The Stalinist leaders of UE, who oppose Murray politically but follow his wage policy, have answered the turn-down of General Electric and Westinghouse with mere bluster. They have asked the local unions to take action on a local scale.

The CIO United Auto Workers has scheduled a strike of 76,000 Chrysler workers to begin May 12. It appears that the UAW leadership is again committing the union to the inadequate “one-at-a-time" strategy which resulted in the long-drawn-out GM s trike two years ago.

The National Maritime Union is to hold a strike referendum of its membership during this month. Other CIO unions are expected to take similar votes.

But isolated, uncoordinated strikes in scattered industries or sections of industries are not enough. Against the unified front of the corporations, single strikes even of an entire national union often cannot prevail, or lead to minor gains after long and costly struggle.

It is clear that the CIO workers cannot depend on Murray and his lieutenants for real leadership. Just this past week he spoke on the steel situation over a national radio hook-up. With millions of CIO workers listening for some guidance, Murray offered only complaints about the actions of the steel companies.

At the start of the CIO wage drive, The Militant pointed the way to victory. We warned in the March 15 issue:

“The half-hearted, spineless manner in which the CIO leader’s are proceeding in the wage drive inspires no confidence, whatsoever. If there is no drastic revision in the CIO leaders’ wage policies, the CIO workers are going to end up with mere crumbs and less than that.

“A successful wage drive depends on the CIO unions, being swiftly consolidated into a single, effective fighting front with a unified strategy.”

This program holds good today and can turn threatening disaster into victory. It is up to the union ranks to compel their leaders to cal! an emergency conference of all CIO unions to work out and put into practice a program of united militant action on the wage front.

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