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Walter Jason

Discontent Spreads in UAW Ranks
Against Ford Contract Provisions

(11 October 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 43, 24 October 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, Oct. 11 – Important manifestations of the widespread dissatisfaction among auto workers with the Ford settlement on pensions and contract have developed this past week to such a degree that the Reuther leadership finds itself in an extremely embarrassing position.

Right after the Ford settlement was announced, a meeting of all shop committees of Chrysler plants passed a motion to stick to the original UAW demands, including an adequate pension plan. This was an implied rebuke to the Ford settlement.

The national Ford council meeting provided something of a shock and a surprise to the Reuther leadership. The final vote to approve the settlement was 650 to 381, hardly the 90 per cent vote expected by the Reuther leaders. More important, perhaps, was the fact that the main opposition came from two strongly pro-Reuther locals, 900 and 400. Even a two-hour speech by Walter Reuther failed to convince the Reutherites from the shops.

If it is any indication of the feelings of the Ford workers themselves – and we think it is – the reaction of the Ford 400 ranks at a meeting last Sunday is very significant. Over 1,000 members of the local unanimously voted to reject the settlement – or, more exactly, to recommend to the rank and file who will vote in secret ballot on the settlement to turn it down! Ford 400 is a strong Reuther local, with inconsequential Stalinist or other anti-Reuther factional forces. This was a revolt of the Reuther rank and file against his policy.

“The Contract Is Lousy”

Of course, some of Reuther’s more stupid supporters elsewhere are blaming it all on "Trotskyites,” but the top leaders know better. For it would take more than one speech to make a whole membership vote unanimously on something as important as this decision. Not one person from the shop or local Official spoke for the settlement at the 400 meeting.

One of the Flint locals passed a resolution urging Ford workers to defeat the proposed settlement.

The vote at the Ford national council was significant for another reason. The Thompson forces at the big Ford Local 600, covering over 70.000 workers, voted for the settlement. That is, Reuther got his majority with the assistance of an anti-Reuther faction.

But in the subsequent issue of Ford Facts, the huge article on page one by Tommy Thompson, president of 600, was hardly any consolation to Reuther. Besides pointing out that Reuther was outsmarted by John Bugas, ex-FBI agent who is chief negotiator at Ford, Thompson states bluntly that the contract is lousy, and then recommends approval for lack of anything else to do!

Certainly, this approach is hardly calculated to endear Thompson to Reuther or, vastly more important, to endear the Ford workers to the settlement. The whole thing makes it very difficult for anyone to gloss over the settlement and paint it up as another great victory for Reuther, although it seems that some of the national press is doing so.

Although many people will think that the Thompson position is absurd, as a matter of fact it makes sense to many workers, who feel that the situation is a mess and, after saying so, one has no choice but to vote yes and try to live with it. The specter of unemployment due to a prolonged steel strike wields a strong influence in that reasoning.

Reports that at least one out-of-state Ford local voted approval of the settlement indicate that what we may call the Thompson position may obtain a majority vote among all Ford workers.

Reuther Dodges

What else can the Ford workers do besides approve the contract? What can they do if they vote no? The answer is: there is no law against further negotiations – it’s been done before in the labor movement! Of course Reuther is putting on a real drive for approval, since any other course would be a calamity to his prestige and fortunes in the CIO.

In reply to this argument about further negotiations, Reuther spokesmen say, that nothing can be gained that way. “And do you favor a strike?” Many workers said yes, but actually immediate strike action is not necessary. Its timing is a matter of judgment, to include steel union developments.

What irritates many workers in the discussions is the fact that Reuther’s spokesmen, as well as himself, argue about things that are not germane or decisive. In this they are given support by the anti-Reutherites whose vehemence and often ultra-leftist arguments simply set up clay pigeons for Reuther to knock down easily.

Reuther states, for example, that those who want to turn down the revised company-security provision favor “wildcat strikes and minority rule.” And there are always people who fall for that bait and say, “Sure I favor wildcat strikes,” whereupon Reuther can make an effective reply. But most of the opposition to company-security clauses and to the “revised” one in the Ford contract is based on the very sound premises and arguments of the resolution officially adopted at the last UAW convention. Reuther doesn’t talk about that!

In regard to the pension plan, the Reuther strategy now is to claim that the Ford pact is all a pressure move to force Congress to boost social-security benefits until there is a real government “pension” plan. Of course, every UAW militant knows that this was not the intention of the Reuther leadership – they thought the Ford pension plan was good – and secondly, that perhaps 500,000 steel workers and 400,000 coal miners on strike are putting on more pressure on Washington than a settlement covering 100.000 auto workers. The arguments of the Reuther leadership simply don’t stack up to a convincing proposition.

The final outcome of the UAW crisis – and the Ford pact has provoked a crisis – remains to be seen. Ford Local 600 votes near the end of this month. The vote there will be decisive. The fact that the Reuther leadership and the Thompson forces advocate a yes vote should carry much weight.

But nothing is settled by a slim majority. The basic problems remain. The dissatisfaction has not been eased. And the UAW faces a similar problem in the Chrysler plants, where every sign points to greater pressure for a better settlement than at Ford. For the more that the union militants study the Ford pension plan and think about a 2½-year contract, the more disturbed they become. Rough times are ahead in the UAW.

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