"Not Automatic"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Jun 1 17:31:32 MDT 2000

(The Panix server is kind of fucked up today, so I am not sure that this
got through.)

[I just received my review copy of Sol and Genora Johnson Dollinger's "Not
Automatic: Women and the Left in the Forging of the Auto Workers' Union",
which may be ordered from http://www.monthlyreview.org. Excerpts from the
book appear below. You can also see two interesting illustrations from the
book. One at http://www.marxmail.org/sol_genora.jpg depicts the two authors
in 1944, with Roy Snowden to their right. Roy and Genora were chief
stewards at the Briggs Plant, scene of many important class battles. The
other, at http://www.marxmail.org/child_picket.jpg, depicts the "children's
picket line" discussed below. As most people know, Sol is a treasured
member of the Marxism mailing list.]

>From Chapter 6, "R.J. Thomas Elected Leader as Recession and War
Preparations Hit":

In this chapter I shall in part examine the role of the leaders of the
larger UAW locals, those whose members numbered in the thousands. Sometimes
a small local generated an exceptional leader, such as Frank Donoly,
president of Motor Products Local No. 203; Paul Silver, president of
Detroit Steel Products Local No. 35 1; Bill Jenkins, president of Chrysler
Local No. 490; and Art Hughes, president of Dodge Truck Local No. 140.
These were among the salt-and-pepper cadre of leaders that spiced the
upsurge of the UAW They were key players in the defense of the union,
particularly during the war years. Generally, however, the leaders were in
the larger locals of the International Union; and it is these that will
feature in this chapter.

Unlike the mineworkers, led by the autocratic John L. Lewis with his
appointed district leaders, the auto workers’ organizational drive was a
great volunteer movement unparalleled in the history of labor. The UAW
contended with the spontaneous outbreak of union strikes in hundreds of
cities across the land. The Midwest was aflame with strikes. Strike
activity spread like wildfire as the few top leaders tried to harness the
rampaging industrial union movement.

The emerging UAW, coming out of the factional struggle that marked its
early years, deposed its first president, Homer Martin, and elected R. J.
Thomas in his place. The Unity caucus, of which Thomas was the nominal
compromise leader, comprised two disparate political tendencies: the
Addes—Frankensteen group, strongly influenced by the Communist Party; and
Walter Reuther and his supporters. Reuther was formerly a member of the
Socialist Party; many of his supporters remained in the party. In time, the
demarcations between the two political groupings within the union would be

One early participant in the affairs of the union, Bert Cochran, made the
following observation, a view that was shared by many:

"Unauthorized strikes, union discipline, constitutional powers of the
inter- national leadership—the three were interwoven, into what one might
assume was the one issue of substance dividing the Unity and Progressive
caucuses. Any straightforward debate was precluded, however because both
factions succumbed to demagoguery, with the result that programmatic
declarations became tactical expedients designed to solve the major
question in their favor—the major question being who was going to run the

When the consensus divided on votes, it was to gain small tactical
advantages. However, on the strategic questions of the day brought into
focus by the war, the principals remained united.

Victor Reuther indicates that the rupture in the Unity caucus, the
consequence of its battle with Homer Martin, had emerged at the first
Michigan CIO convention in 1938. The Progressive and Unity groups had
agreed to support Adolph Germer for president. The Unity caucus recommended
Victor Reuther for secretary-treasurer. Frankensteen, however, broke ranks
and proposed Richard Leonard, president of the DeSoto local, for the post.
It is a long-standing tradition that members of a labor caucus accept the
majority vote decision. For Frankensteen to nominate Leonard, a strong
supporter of Homer Martin, was a callous and shameful break with caucus
discipline. During an interlude in the proceedings, Walter Reuther followed
Dick Frankensteen from the room and found him closeted with William
Weinstone and B. K. Gebert, prominent leaders of the Communist Party, and
with the two leading CPers from the auto union, Nat Ganley and BigJohn
Anderson. Victor Reuther described in detail what followed: Walter Reuther
understood the significance of the meeting; it was a signal that the CP was
casting its vote for Leonard.

Walter exploded. "What are you bastards doing? Don’t you realize you are
going to destroy the Unity Caucus, which is the only thing that can save
this union?" "We know what we’re doing," Winestone [sic] replied. "If you
carry through with this double-cross, then count me on the other side, not
only in this fight, but from here on out."

Many in the Socialist Party had long been apprehensive about Walter
Reuther’s collaboration with the Communist Party They disagreed with the CP
on fundamental political policies. Kermit and Genora Johnson of Flint and
other members of the SP had urged the party to run Walter Reuther for
governor of the state on the SP ticket. Reuther, though, would have no part
of these suggestions. He insisted on the party tail-ending his efforts to
win the top job in the UAW Bert Cochran writes:

"With an ex-Socialist like Reuther, ambition is colored by social
awareness. Not that social awareness is permitted to inhibit the scramble
for posts or means used; one simply justifies or internalizes the scramble
for the purpose of realizing higher social objectives, as an ecclesiastic
might explain that maneuvers are a means to realize the Deity’s purposes."


>From Chapter 12, "Striking Flint: Genora Dollinger Remembers the 1937 Sitdown"

Sit Down!

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn.
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn,
That the union makes us strong.
--Ralph Chaplin, "Solidarity Forever"

The first sitdown was on December 30 in the small Fisher Body Plant 2 over
a particularly big grievance that had occurred. The workers were at the
point where they had just had enough, and, under a militant leadership,
they sat down. When the UAW leaders in the big Fisher Body Plant 1 heard
about the sitdown in Fisher 2, they sat down also. That took real guts, and
it took political leadership. The leaders of the political parties knew
what they had to do because they’d studied labor history and the
ruthlessness of the corporations.

Picket lines were established and also a big kitchen in the south end of
Flint, across from the large Fisher 1 plant. Every day, gallons and gallons
of food were prepared, and anybody who was on the picket lines would get a
ticket with notification that they had served on the line so they’d be able
to get a good hot meal. The strike kitchen was primarily organized by the
Communist Party women. They brought a restaurant man from Detroit to help
organize this huge kitchen. They were the ones who made all of those good

We also had what we called scavengers, groups of people who would go to the
local farmers and ask for donations of food for the strikers. Many people
in these small towns surrounding Flint were factory workers who would also
raise potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes, corn or whatever. So great quantities
of food were sent down to be made into dishes for the strikers. People were
very generous. John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers helped us
financially so that if there was somebody in serious difficulty we could
help them out a little bit. Later on, the garment workers sent money But
with thousands of workers, you couldn’t help everybody, so many families
were taken care of by committees forming in plants, whether they were on
strike or not. Committees in Buick, Chevrolet, and Fisher Body took care of
some of the urgent cases so nobody starved or got into really major medical

After the first sitdown started, I went down to see what I could do to
help. I was either on the picket lines or up at the Pengelly Building all
the time, but some of the strike leaders didn’t know who I was and didn’t
know that I had been teaching classes in unionism and so on. So they said,
"Go to the kitchen. We need a lot of help out there." They didn’t know what
else to tell a woman to do. I said, "You’ve got a lot of little, skinny men
around here who can’t stand to be out on the cold picket lines for very
long. They can peel potatoes as well as women can." I turned down the idea
of kitchen duty.

Instead, I organized a children’s picket line. I got Bristol board and
paints, and I was painting signs for this children’s picket line. One of my
socialist comrades came up and said, "Hey, Genora, what are you doing
here?" I said, "I’m doing your job." Since he was a professional sign
painter, I turned the sign-painting project over to him and that was the
beginning of the sign-painting department.

We could only do the children’s picket line once because it was too
dangerous, but we got an awful lot of favorable publicity from it, much of
it international. The picture of my two-year-old son, Jarvis, had a picket
sign saying, "My daddy strikes for us little tykes," went all over the
nation, and people sent me articles from French newspapers an from Germany
and from other European countries. I thought it was remarkable that the
news traveled so far.

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org/

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