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Roll Hitler Out and Roll the Union In: The No-Strike Pledge

In a total war like World War II, the question “Was everyone doing his or her ’part’?” inevitably arose. Equality of sacrifice took particularly sharp form in the debate over the no-strike pledge for labor unions. Communists, who had played key roles in the union organizing drives of the 1930s and were well represented among union leaders, were intensely patriotic during the war. Their commitment to defeat fascism and defend the Soviet Union, which was threatened by advancing German armies, made Communists among the strongest advocates of labor sacrifices to win the war. A vigorous expression of this point of view can be found in the ballad “UAW-CIO,” composed by Baldwin “Butch” Hawes. Hawes was associated with the Almanac Singers—a group that was sympathetic to the Communist position and included such notable figures as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

I was there when the Union came to town,

I was there when old Henry Ford went down:

I was standing at Gate Four

When I heard the people roar:

“Ain’t nobody keeps us Autoworkers down!”

It’s that UAW-CIO

Makes the Army roll and go—Turning out the jeeps and tanks and airplanes

every day

It’s that UAW-CIO

Makes the Army roll and go—Puts wheels on the USA

There’ll be a union-label in Berlin

When the union boys in uniform march in:

And rolling in the ranks

There’ll be UAW tanks—

Roll Hitler out and roll the Union in!'

Source: Quoted in Nelson Lichtenstein, The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter-Reuther and the Fate of American Labor (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 194–195.

See Also:"A Square Deal?": The Michigan CIO Debates the No-Strike Pledge