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UAW’s 1945 Strike Began GM Downfall

Within days of the end of World War II, the United Auto Workers demanded a 30% increase in wages. When denied their demands, the UAW went on strike for 113 days.

Here are some excerpts from a December 1945 editorial extolling the UAW’s strike, from the Communist New International:

Chevrolet Gear and Axle employees stream out of the plant at Holbrook and St. Aubin in Detroit as the UAW-CIO strike against General Motors is launched, November 21, 1945. The strikers walked, ran and leaped as they left to begin the walkout, which affected about 100,000 workers in Michigan.

UAW vs. GM – This Is No Ordinary Strike

A New Level for American Labor

A few days after V-J Day, Walter Reuther addressed a letter to General Motors stating the union’s wage demand for a 30 per cent increase for all GM auto workers…

It was not the size of the increase demanded, however, that made the UAW proposals significant. The AFL’s International Association of Machinists made the same demand upon a number of corporations and is at present waging a most militant strike against the Yale & Towne Manufacturing Company of Stamford Conn., to achieve it. What gave rise to the universal comment that “this is no ordinary strike” was the line of argumentation employed by the UAW and the implications inherent in it.

The UAW did not proceed from the traditional philosophy of trade unionism and rest its case for the 30 per cent increase merely on the cost of living figures. It made a significant new departure and proceeded from an argument based upon the corporation’s ability to pay. The union did not merely say that labor was entitled to enough wages to live on. It also said that labor was entitled to share in the wealth produced by industry. It set forth the entirely logical (but from the standpoint of capital entirely unreasonable) demand that profits were a legitimate subject of collective bargaining.

The UAW’s position flatly contradicted the capitalist economists who preached that increased wages were only possible as a result of increased profits. This capitalist theory is based upon the concept that the interests of capital and labor are complementary, that the welfare (i.e., profits) of industry meant the welfare (i.e., higher wages) of labor. The UAW proceeded from a position which had implicit within it the concept that the interests of capital and labor were antagonistic, i.e., the concept which Karl Marx established a hundred years ago and which the leaders of American labor have until now sought to deny. The UAW stated that it was the aim of labor to increase wages at the expense of profits. It took the position that if the workers continued to work at present wage rates it would only lead to super-profits for GM. The 30 per cent increase, therefore, was to be paid at the expense of GM profits.

The union went a step further. It stated that the 30 per cent was not to be passed off to the public in the form of increased prices for automobiles. This meant a second decisive break with traditional trade union concepts. The old AFL position had been to consider prices the sole province of capital. More than that, the AFL’s unions often entered into collusion with the employers to increase and regulate price levels as a means of securing a wage increase. This is a very familiar practice in the building trades industry.

The UAW stated that GM was in a position to grant the 30% increase, not only on the basis of the present prices, but could reduce prices and still make a profit. GM replied with a curt statement that it refused to make profits and prices the subject of bargaining with a union. It based itself upon the established capitalist position that bargaining with a union was the means of collectively “purchasing” labor power and no more. How much production it was able to secure from the workers on the basis of the agreed-upon rates and what prices it charged for its products were not the business of the union, according to this point of view.

But the union went even further than the argument that [was generally] concerned with GM’s profits and prices. It stated that it was advancing the 30 per cent demand as a means of securing high purchasing power for labor and, thereby, contributing to full employment and prosperity for the country as a whole. “… Unless we get a more realistic distribution of America’s wealth, we won’t get enough to keep this machine going,” said Reuther.

The union was stating that it was concerned with more than how much its members earned. It was concerned with the entire American economic structure. It was concerned with whether there would be jobs for everyone that would make possible the purchasing power needed to create the market for automobiles to keep UAW members on the job. This was an outlook new to an American trade union. It was fighting not only for its own immediate interests but for the working class at large and, in the last analysis, for the people as a whole. Truly, in the word’s of GM’s Harry Coen, the UAW was fighting for the “whole world.”

The position of the UAW marks a new level of social consciousness for American labor.

The GM-UAW negotiations open a new chapter in the development of the American working class.

In case anyone was wondering where the problems for General Motors began.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

24 Responses to “UAW’s 1945 Strike Began GM Downfall”

  1. proreason says:

    And any money YOU make that is above the average wage paid in this country is also PROFIT that YOU do not deserve.

    So Obamy is going to take care of that problem for the country.

    And oh yes, for those of you who think I’m lost in the weeds when I do one of my regular discussions of the Communist influence starting in the 40’s and 50’s, re-read this article.

  2. BannedbytheTaliban says:

    “a more realistic distribution of America’s wealth”

    “a new level of social consciousness”

    “labor was entitled to share in the wealth produced by industry”

    Where have I heard statements like this before? And the Dems say the Republicans need to let go of the failed policies of the past.

  3. Right of the People says:

    I’ve never liked unions of any kind and this article is a good reason why. This is the beginning of the entitlement mentality that is ruining this country today.

    • not really a “beginning.” but rather an “implementation.” of such a process.. They showed it could be done. Kind like.. “Hey I’ll bet I can put this softball up yer a**!”

  4. Helena says:

    The UAW did not proceed from the traditional philosophy of trade unionism and rest its case for the 30 per cent increase merely on the cost of living figures. It made a significant new departure and proceeded from an argument based upon the corporation’s ability to pay. The union did not merely say that labor was entitled to enough wages to live on. It also said that labor was entitled to share in the wealth produced by industry. It set forth the entirely logical (but from the standpoint of capital entirely unreasonable) demand that profits were a legitimate subject of collective bargaining.

    What was to prevent these workers from buying a few shares in the company and thereby sharing in the profits?

    • JohnMG says:

      …..”What was to prevent these workers from buying a few shares in the company and thereby sharing in the profits?…..”

      How quaint. That would make them actively responsible for the bottom line, or at least responsive to it through direct participation. Too capitalistic. No, the socialist/communist model is more to their liking. And all that requires is that you pay your dues and close your mind. Sweet!

  5. pdsand says:

    It’s awesome how this theory of labor negotiation was used to suck GM dry but they don’t get any blame when the house of cards collapsed. Somehow it’s management’s fault or the evil SUV drivers or republicans or something that did it.

  6. VMAN says:

    As far as I am concerned anyone who doesn’t stand up and tell his or her “union” to go pack sand should NOT call themselves an American. That is the end of the discussion and far as I am concerned. Helena you are correct when you say buy a few share and then share in the profit and Pro you just keep on discucussin. To all you union commie thugs out there go straight to hell.

  7. tranquil.night says:

    Yet another gold mine of a piece unearthed by Mr. Gilbert. Empathy has never provided a successful business nor governing model, however it’s always been great politics. And for politicians and those in history that have advocated empathy, their tactic has been to convince those of us who have no involvement whatsoever with the automobile industry or its unions that we are not just meant to feel sorry for those who experience hard times because markets evolve – but are supposed to hinder our own natural progress and economic evolution to even the playing field. Those who work for GM and the public sector that has followed this ideology meanwhile are falsely encouraged to stymie their own ambitions for the safety and security of the governments hand. Now they are being told that they will be sacrificing these so that this vain process can continue in worse form in the times of their children.

    This isn’t new, as this report and all of history shows. Why it would seem new and enlightened to a majority of Americans now is a true tribute to the state-run media/pop-culture/education systems effectiveness in numbing and dumbing the populace. The perfect storm of political/social/economic/foreign/domestic events has hit America, and at the eye of the storm guiding and building its momentum is Viva la Bam. This isn’t going to end pretty, but hopefully we have faith that the truth is going to win this one.

    • Steve says:

      “Yet another gold mine of a piece unearthed by Mr. Gilbert.”

      Thank you, TN.

      — And great post.

  8. proreason says:

    “we are not just meant to feel sorry for those who experience hard times because markets evolve – but are supposed to hinder our own natural progress and economic evolution to even the playing field”

    wow. great insight.

    It’s not enough to just have empathy, we have to sacrifice ourselves for them, even though they brought a healthy portion (like 95%) of it on themselves.

    So THAT’s what The Moron and Thunderbutt have been talking about when they say he exects us all to make sacrifices. Well, not the UAW, and not Blacks, and not lawyers, and not beaurocrats, and not teachers, and not Hispanics, and not feminazis, and not gays, and not democrat contributers, and not welfare recipients, and not scam-artists who hide income and get tax credits, and not high-paid tax cheaters like Little Timmy, and not his Wall-Street backers, and not Katrina eternal victims, and not abortionists, and not Muslims, and not drug-users, and not greenies……… just the rest of us, you know, working white people, who didn’t “win”.

    And here I was thinking “sacrifice” was referencing future generations, not his lazy-ass, good-for-nothing brain-dead scam-artist voters.

    • neocon mom says:

      I remember telling someone during the campaign, “well, I don’t think he’ll be Mugabe Jr.!”
      Methinks I must now eat my words.

    • JohnMG says:

      …..”working white people, who didn’t “win”……”

      Obama has asked the Food and Drug Administration to outlaw aspirin on the grounds that……..it’s white, and it works.

  9. DGA says:

    As Conservatives we all despise what the UAW has done through obama and pelosi to this country, and we have had virtually no say in any of it. I have emailled and faxed all I can about every major issue they do and it has had little impact on those that will destroy the middle class. I think that now would be the time for all conservatives to refuse to buy any GM cars or trucks ever again. You in power think that you will funnel our tax dollars to the UAW on the premise of “We can’t let GM fail” and then after the UAW has all the funding it needs to stay around for a very long time, you THEN call for GM’s bankruptcy. Never in the history of the USA has there been such a concerted effort to cheat the taxpayers out of their money and I am done with it. Please, don’t buy any more GM vehicles. Let’s really put the UAW out of business. Screw them all.

    • proreason says:

      done

    • jobeth says:

      DGA, You clarified this for me. On one hand I would love to support American workers over the Japanese or Germans etc. On the other hand I am angry at GM and Chrysler for taking bail out money and thereby being suckered into allowing the UAW to own the company.

      After reading your comments it becomes clear that if/when I buy a car again, it will be ANY company that is not involved with the UAW. There are Toyota’s made here as well as other “foreign” makes. They don’t have UAW strangling the company…I will support these companies…(If I’m ever rich enought able to buy another new car again ;-D )

      Not sure about Ford. They didn’t buy into the bail out but they still envolve the UAW.

    • caligirl9 says:

      I wouldn’t buy a GM vehicle… ever!
      The first car I destroyed was my mother’s 1972 Monte Carlo piece ‘o crap. Since that hunk of junk, I’ve had Fords only, and I drive the wheels off those things … my current car is 11 years old and has nearly 163K miles on it.
      Just doesn’t happen with a GM product.
      GM won’t be the first corporation to fail, and it won’t be the last. Adios UAW and your greediness.

    • Liberals Make Great Speedbumps says:

      I work in a union shop and have caught hell a few times for driving a Toyota. I’ve had some rather lively discussions over the matter. The one statement I always make when this arises that shuts up whomever I’m arguing with is:

      This Toyota that I’m driving paid the wages of American workers just like a GM or Ford would. The only difference is I’ve supported Japanese executives instead of the idiot American executives who have run the auto industry into the ground in this country. This usually results in a lot of stammering and obscenities.

  10. retire05 says:

    I will never buy another GM product. They might as well give it all to China.

    But read your history, kids. Obama is going to complete the soft tyranny of socialism that FDR started.

    • jobeth says:

      Retire

      “Obama is going to complete the soft tyranny of socialism that FDR started”

      We just came back from the Beck show, shown live in theaters tonight. I found it to be one of the best nights out I’ve had in years….for several reasons…but someother time.

      He went into a load of history that tackled that very subject. Except it goes back further than that. It really got started at the turn of the century when the “progressive” movements got their start.

      I came out of that theater a lot more informed than when I went in. I have a lot more facts to back up my beliefs.

      As usual he had us rolling on the floor as well. Very nearly spewed my diet coke and popcorn at the back of the people in front of me. I know they must have gotten tired of hearing me nearly choking to death.

      Someone should have warned me not to eat or drink while he was on…LOL.
      Hey, maybe I should sue…..(JUST kidding…. 8-D )

    • proreason says:

      Jobeth,

      the reason they hate Beck so much is because he is so funny.

      It’s ok for them to have Jon Stewart, but not for a conservative to do similar things.

      I swear, there isn’t a single thing the nutters aren’t hypocritical about.

    • jobeth says:

      Pro…He is funny that’s for sure… I think the main reason they hate him so much is that he serves up the truth completely unvarnished, and in a completely engaging way…never straying from the main truth he is revealing.
      Never talking above or below his audience. Never demeaning to anyone.

      His entertaining visual analogies have the ability to reach all but the most dull and that scares the heck out of the libs. They had a monopoly on the dull witted before…Beck not only reaches the normally quick minded, but even those that the libwits have claimed as their own pawns. And they NEED to keep those dullards…They have a vote.

      I’ve seen the light bulb go on, on a couple of those dullards. They “get it” because of him. (At least some of it) It’s wonderful to see that. You have to laugh under your breath with it happens. But personally I’ll take anyone if they can see reality. Dull or not.

      The first half of his show had us rolling on the floor with laughter…the second half had us chuckling but really thinking…The real truths he delivered about our founding fathers actions and their mindsets and the documents they produced had you riveted.

      There will be another Theater airing..next week I think…see his web site…of the theater version for those that missed this one.

      I recommend anyone who missed this one to try to see it. Its a $40 evening for two, plus eats. Can’t beat it!
      Entertainment and smarts all in one package! Just save the snacks for the last hal.f LOL (see my last comment)

  11. proreason says:

    Hugh Hewitt’s column is a great primer containing specific reasons why the facist takeover of GM is so wrong.

    “Almost everyone grasps immediately the deep unfairness to Ford and even the offshore carmakers that now compete against the massive subsidies of the federal government. How exactly is Ford supposed to bear its ‘legacy costs’ while GM is relieved of its past mistakes? How will the UAW negotiate fairly with Ford while realizing that every dollar bled from it is a dollar more likely to go to GM, in which the union now holds a huge equity position? How can every federal official interacting with any car company not know and act with the knowledge that the ‘home team’ – the president’s team – is GM. ”

    http://townhall.com/columnists/HughHewitt/2009/06/03/stopping_government_motors

  12. proreason says:

    The takeover of GM can reasonably be viewed as simply step 1 of the expansion of OPonzi’s retirement and health-care vote-buying scams.

    And the crash and takeover was exacerbated and sped up by the Obamunists commiting the economic crime of 2008, which rendered bankrupt the already woefully underfunded auto pension funds.

    Do you see any similarities between GM’s 5 to 1 retiree-to-worker ratio and what is happening in the country as a whole?

    Who doubts that the Big-3 would be competitive without pensions and health-plans for retirees? Don’t be surprised when the GM retirees are suddenly reclassified as Civil Service workers, sending those staggering costs to a different government bucket and magically making Government Motors the financially strongest auto manufacturer in the world with one stroke of the pen.

    But the ultimate impact of that will be to hasten by a year or two the cataclysmic annihalation of the US economy that is now scheduled for 10 to 20 years away.

    There is simply no getting around the fact that the no-limit entitlement hold-um game that OPonzi is running in this country will soon end even this reduced life that we are learning to live.


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