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“A Square Deal?”: The Michigan CIO Debates the No-Strike Pledge

In a total war like World War II, the question “Was everyone doing his or her ’part’?” inevitably arose. Immediately following Pearl Harbor, the labor movement made an “unconditional no-strike pledge” to help win the war. In turn, labor won some important concessions from the federal government. Some who believed that labor had given up too much responded with “wildcat” (unauthorized) strikes. Others moved to reconsider the no-strike pledge. In 1942 members of the Michigan CIO endorsed the no-strike pledge, but employer attacks on wages the following year caused them to reevaluate. At the 1943 annual meeting, CIO delegates debated and passed a resolution recommending that “unless the assurances that were made to labor at the time we gave up our right to strike” were honored, the pledge should be nullified. This debate provided a sense of the varying positions that workers took on this difficult issue, including the intensity of feeling that the no-strike pledge aroused.

Delegate Ruth Biggin (Local 208, UAWA): Mr. Chairman, I think this resolution is an insult to Phil Murray, to President Roosevelt and to all the win-the-war forces and labor organization itself and to all labor people who are interested in winning the war. . . .

I think this resolution should be defeated. . . .

We had better wake up and find out if we are interested in winning the war. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I think we should redouble our efforts to win the war and give our support to Murray, Roosevelt and the win-the-war forces. (Applause and cheers and boos)

Delegate Reynolds (Dodge Local No. 3 ): Mr. Chairman, I rise to support the resolution. I believe that we of labor should stay on the side of labor. The reactionary forces are trying to have us vote down this resolution which takes away the right of labor to get its rightful gains and the only way to get those gains, and there isn’t any use of kidding ourselves, is by striking. I don’t believe we should strike these plants unless we absolutely have to. You can take the Chrysler workers. Chrysler workers are underpaid. We have our contract. We have been trying to get a contract for some six or seven months out of the War Labor Board and what do we get. We get just a plain run around! When we had a three-day stoppage, the War Labor Board promised us that they would get the Chrysler contract out of the red tape that it is meshed down in Washington inside of two weeks. Here it is going into another five or six weeks and we still have not a contract. The Chrysler workers are underpaid. They want an impartial umpire and various other things. What have we got in the past year? When we have the no-strike pledge and went along with our pledge, our people were fired. Our people are still on the street. When we had that three day stoppage we wanted them to upgrade people, people with seniority, people that have a right to be upgraded. The company goes out on the street hiring, hiring for the good jobs and leaving the people with seniority on those lower priced jobs. We asked the company to go along with us but when they refused to give anything, when we shut down for three days, they were damned glad to do it. During the course of the past year they acquired people, but after this three day stoppage they said they were going to discharge some other brothers. We told them if you discharge anybody else, we will close all your plants down. As a result of that there has not been anybody fired.

The corporation that I work for knows only one language and that is the language of strike, and there isn’t any one in this convention that can say they can deal with the Chrysler Corporation on any other terms. The only language they understand is the language of strike, and I say, let’s give it to them.

(Boos and applause)

President Scholle: In order to provide opportunity for people to speak for and against the resolution, I would like to suggest that the next speaker be one who is opposed to the resolution.

Delegate Paul Weber (American Newspaper Guild): Brother President, I am speaking against the resolution.

I find myself in strange and unaccustomed company. However, Brothers, it is necessary to take positions on the acts as you see them. It seems to me that no better argument against this resolution can be made than the address of Brother Reynolds who stated that he had gone on strike in the Chrysler plant, that is men were still on the street, and the total net result of that has been that the case had been taken to the War Labor Board.

I would like also to make this point,—that when you strike in a war industry, you do not damage the management. Unfortunately, that is true. I think Chrysler exemplified that fact. The company has a contract with the government for X number of guns and they don’t care whether you make those guns in six weeks or eight weeks. The only one hurt is the future of the labor movement and the capacity of the armed forces that defend us all.

And on those grounds I am opposed to the resolution. (Applause and cheers). . . .

Delegate John Cole (Local 50, UAWA): Mr. Chairman, this motion, to my mind, brings up the very best in all of us. One thing you have listened to during the entire proceedings here has been jockeying into positions. You have heard a lot of technicalities. I am going to talk to you in your own terms on your motion. A lot of you know what pressure groups are, and I don’t care what you say our efforts have been sabotaged along these lines by pressure groups in the Congress and the Senate. We do know that Phil Murray and Green of the AFL have been pressured into making these statements that they want a no-strike pledge. (Boos) True enough. It’s a fact. I am going to tell you this one thing . . . but the threat of a strike is a two-edged sword. It hits right back. In Congress they have stabbed our efforts on equality of sacrifice. In the convention in Chicago I went along. But the manufacturers association have also sabotaged this effort by having the salary limitations withdrawn and now salaries have skyrocketed and as you know there is no equality of sacrifice in that.

Our Local 50 is going along with this a thousand per cent due to the fact we don’t want dictation. You are going to be dictated to. Let’s not be dictated to by Phil Murray and Green. I am going to stick along with the President of the United States. He has shown inclination against this strike pledge but no strike has come to attention in these words. He has not given anyone that he likes this pledge. Let’s use this effort and let’s use this opportunity at this time to get back at management and get back at Congress and give them the threat that is so necessary. Don’t lose your individuality. Don’t give it up. A no-strike pledge at this time is going to do one thing, going to let us down, we are going to be jockeyed into position by pressure groups and run along to their way of doing. Don’t let this happen in the labor movement here. Let this entire group go as fighting for the individual—

Scholle: Time. The next speaker shall be one against the adoption of the resolution.

Delegate Washington (Local 600, UAWA): I represent approximately 90,000 workers, (Boos) the majority of whom are against striking at this time because we recognize that it is important that the people who are fighting in South Africa, North Africa, Guadalcanal, need the things which we make. I also feel that as a member of the International Union of Auto Workers, the majority of whom have already gone on record as against striking at this time, do not feel that such a resolution should be supported. And those locals who were named as presenting the resolution are in the minority in the Auto Workers.

R. J. Thomas, a vice-president of the CIO, spoke yesterday and he pointed out that we should not forget the one important thing at this time is the winning of the war and Philip Murray has pointed out time and time again we are not hurting management, as a previous speaker spoke when we do that. We are hurting ourselves. We are taking things away from our boys who are on the battle lines the products of labor that they need to protect themselves and win this war. And I want to urge all of you who are Americans, who are with the allied nations, who are sincere in wanting to see this war won that you vote down this resolution and continue to give your support to the Administration. (Applause and Cheers). . . .

Delegate Lucas: Brother Chairman and Brothers and Sisters: In the first place this resolution does not revoke the no-strike pledge. It is only a question of certain policy and advising with the National CIO as to how we feel on this particular question. And what group has a better right to advise with the National CIO than the Michigan CIO?

Some time ago labor made a very noble gesture. That was a matter of giving a no-strike pledge. Arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, there were certain commitments that were made to labor at that particular time. Does anyone in this hall question that these commitments have not been lived up to by the administration? I don’t think that we can honestly say that the administration has done the things that [it] stated would be done at the time of giving the no-strike pledge.

Now, in the first place, we state that labor made the no-strike pledge. The no-strike pledge was given and then brought to the “Equality of Sacrifice” conference of the United Automobile Workers and [they] told us there that they wanted us to follow up a line laid down and give our unstinted support. At that time I voted in favor of it. And there is an old saying that wise men change their minds but fools never do. Now I have become convinced that the giving of the no-strike pledge was the biggest mistake that labor has ever made. (Applause and boos) You have only to look into your own particular plant and see what your conditions, your collective bargaining set up is. Are the managements bargaining in these plants?

(Voices: No)

I certainly don’t think they are. When it comes to question of giving labor its just due, it seems that the administration seems to not be able to find any money to do anything with but when it comes to the question of building plants for corporations who have already more than they need, they can find billions of dollars to do that with. Is that giving labor a square deal? I don’t think so. My personal sentiments are on this question that the no-strike pledge should be revoked here and now. (Applause and boos and time called). . . .

Delegate Boatin: We were told that this resolution was only a threat. The same person who made that statement from the committee, wound up two minutes afterwards by telling that we should revoke our no-strike pledge here and now. And I think the bankruptcy of their position is revealed in their own words. Who wants the revocation? By whom will it be welcome? Hitler and Tojo, undoubtedly.

Surely we have grievances. Surely the manufacturers create numerous grievances for us, and why? And who in particular are these manufacturers? In the majority of cases the manufacturers [who] create numerous grievances are the ones who are not interested in winning the war. They create these grievances, they help to create these grievances and refuse to negotiate primarily because they want us to go on strike, so we can have a negotiated peace, so Hitler can continue in war and so we can have Hitlerism in this country. A strike would be against our men who are on the battlefields, against the entire labor movement, against the very war we are fighting. The revocation of the no-strike pledge will not solve the problem. Brother Reynolds indicated that it did not solve their problem. Strikes will not establish democracy in the world.

Delegate Victor Reuther (Local 174, UAWA): Brother Chairman, it is amazing what strange conclusions can be drawn from a very simple resolution. I think wrong conclusions are being drawn by speakers speaking both for and against. I want to speak on the resolution and for the resolution as it is written, not as it has been interpreted by some.

I would be opposed now in view of the existing CIO policy for the immediate revocation of our no-strike pledge because I respect the democratic procedure in CIO and that is why I believe, as a member of this organization I have the right to join with others in recommending what in my honest opinion is best for our labor movement.

No one has answered the question here of what we should do to get management to bargain collectively or to get government agencies to respect the problems we have under war time conditions, or to give us advice, give labor representation in government agencies.

Source: Proceedings of Sixth Annual Convention of the Michigan CIO, June 30, 1943, 136–145.

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