[Marxism] Returning to the Methods of the Thirties: A Program of Mass Action by Soldiers of Solidarity

Bonnie Weinstein giobon at sbcglobal.net
Wed Mar 1 13:41:47 MST 2006

Returning to the Methods of the Thirties: A Program of Mass Action

³Several thousand strikers marched to Chevrolet plant No. 9 from Union
headquarters. They were led by Roy Reuther and Powers Hapgood. GM informers,
as had been expected, had tipped off management about the march on # 9.
Armed Flint detectives and company guards had been installed in the plant.
The workers inside began yelling ³sit-down!² and a forty-minute battle was
waged inside the plant. The Women¹s Emergency Brigade, organized and led by
Genora Johnson (now Dollinger), fought heroically on the outside, smashing
the windows to permit the tear gas to escape from the plant.² (Art Preis:
Labor¹s Giant Step[1] <#_ftn1> )

These were the methods we used to build our Unions and win the gains we have
had ever since. Compare the description above to the response of the UAW

 ³Š[W]e assure you that we will vigorously use our experience, expertise and
resources to do everything we possibly can to protect the interests of
UAW-Delphi active workers and retirees throughout this difficult situation.Š
In addition, in anticipation of Delphi¹s filing, we retained Cohen, Weiss
and Simon LLP, a New York law firm that has represented the UAW and other
unions in most of the major corporate bankruptcies in recent years..²

In other words, mass action and power of the workers in the 1930¹s compared
to getting advice from some law firm today. We must go back to the methods
that produced results, that won U.S. what we have today.

Some first steps that should be taken immediately are:

€ for rank and file shop floor mass meetings at Delphi, GM, Ford and the
entire U.S. auto industry.

€ Election of shop floor delegates to a conference of all U.S. autoworkers,
union and non-union alike

€ This conference to develop a strategy for implementing and returning to
the methods of the thirties, plant occupations, mass pickets, generalizing
the dispute and drawing in all sections of the working class, youth and our

€ This conference would reject the Team Concept and the present slavish
worship of market forces by the present UAW and AFL-CIO leadership.

€ This conference to develop a program that will meet workers¹ needs drawing
in all sections of the working class and our communities, rather than
restricting demands to what is acceptable to the employers and the
Democrats. This could include:

€ Creation of jobs through a shorter workweek, 30 hours no loss in pay

€ For a $15 an hour minimum wage

€ Free health care and education for all

€ For an independent workers¹ political party

€ This conference to initiate a drive for an international conference of all
autoworkers and all auto supply workers internationally. This fight will be
won internationally or it will not be won. In 1998 the average annual
compensation for auto industry workers was $65,000. For all U.S. workers
that figure was $37,600. We knew this was coming.

Business Week, one of the prominent journals of U.S. capitalism issued the
following warning in 1974:

³It will be a hard pill for many Americans to swallow‹the idea of doing with
less so that big business can have more.... Nothing that this nation, or any
other nation, has done in modern economic history compares with the selling
job that must be done to make people accept this reality.² Business Week,
October 12, 1974.

Coming at the end of the great post-war upswing, these comments were meant
in earnest. Since they were made, wages and benefits for U.S. workers have
continued to decline and in the past period the employers have intensified
their offensive. They are now turning up the heat on what is potentially one
of the most powerful sections of the U.S. working class with a rich and
militant history, the autoworkers and their Union, the UAW.

Delphi, the giant auto parts supplier that spun off from GM in 1999 filed
for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 last week, the largest U.S. manufacturer to
do so. The company is not short of money. According to the Wall Street
Journal, Delphi has, ³plenty of cash to tide it through the two years that
it could be in Chapter 11.² What the Bankruptcy law does is allow the
company to renege on its pension obligations. This pits older workers and
the retired against newer hires and the young. It is a ³flashpoint² between
the interests of current and retired workers, a taste of the
³inter-generational warfare² that is to come says Steve Miller, Delphi CEO,
who was brought out of retirement to do the job. Delphi¹s hourly workers
could still keep their pension plan, says Miller, but ³only if Unions agree
to work for about a third of their old pay and benefits.² This thug wants us
to fight it out with our brothers, sisters and comrades.

The bankruptcy law is the organized collaboration of the employers, bankers
and the state. It is, as John Gapper of the Financial Times confirms, ³Ša
device for re-asserting management fiat over workers with the backing of
bankers.² ³These days managers and creditors are often on the same side from
the start,² Gapper writes, ³They can get richer by persuading the hourly
workers to become poorer.² ³Organized labor, meet organized capital,² he
announces with great confidence (Financial Times, October 12, 2005).

The prime target of this offensive is not Delphi but General Motors. The
automaker is presently in talks with the UAW in an effort to reduce
health-care costs and shift more of that burden to workers. By some
accounts, GM faces further costs of up to $11bn as part of an agreement with
former Delphi workers to guarantee their pensions and benefits. Giving
workers the choice of lower pensions or lower wages is no choice at all, is
divisive, and has the potential to further weaken the UAW and organized
labor in general.

The capitalist class has every reason to be confident. They have been
convinced without doubt over the last 50 years that the labor leadership
will do nothing to derail their train. The response of the UAW leadership to
the offensive is the same strategy that has failed U.S. workers for the past
50 years; they hired a law firm. For the employers it is clear: Market
forces dictate that blue-collar workers are overpaid says CEO Miller. It¹s
simple economics, class warfare.

It is not just the present rotten trade union bureaucracy that imbues the
employers with such confidence. During the nineteen eighties there were a
series of strikes and struggles led by genuine rank and file leaders that
took on a national character but failed to halt the employers¹ offensive.
This was not entirely due to the class collaboration of the established
trade union bureaucracy but also the failure of the strike leaders to return
to the methods of the thirties that changed class relations and built
today¹s trade union movement. The ILWU contract of a couple of years ago
offered an opportunity to turn the labor movement around, an opportunity
from a leadership that claims the mantle of Harry Bridges and the 1934
general strike. Yet they too failed to abandon the failed policies of the
AFL-CIO leadership for a return to the past.

Coming on the heels of the defeated Southern California grocery strike, the
airline bankruptcies and the generalized attack on defined benefit
retirement plans the UAW has an alternative to legal aid. The UAW, like
today¹s labor movement in general was built through militant action, relying
on our own strength, challenging anti-labor injunctions and occupying

The Delphi maneuver should be met with occupations, mass pickets and the
spread of the dispute to the rest of the trade union movement in general.
Sit-downs‹as occupations were called during the building of the UAW and
CIO‹were effective in that the employers were more concerned about their
fixed property than labor. They were incredibly effective.

Art Preis in Labor¹s Giant Step writes: ³The very non-violence of the
sit-downs infuriated the employers and their government agents. It was
impossible for police or troops to provoke violence without clearly
initiating it themselves. They had to attack and break in to plants where
there was obviously no disorder, because strikers were on the inside,
strikebreakers on the outside. Thus, only 25 sit-down strikes were broken by
police of the more than 1,000 sit-downs reported by the press in 1936-37.²

Henry Kraus (The Many and the Few[2] <#_ftn2> ) vividly describes what took
place to organize GM.

³The tide of the battle ebbed and flowed outside the plant. After their
initial repulse, the police regrouped on the bridge and drove down once
again on the plant, firing their gas guns and hurling gas grenades towards
the factory and in to the pickets in front of the establishment. The sit
downers, many of whom had rushed to the roof of the plant, and the pickets,
who had received a supply of ³popular ammunition² from the men in the plant
during the brief lull in the battle, responded with a water and missile
barrage; and as the wind blew the gas back in to their faces the police had
to fall back. Hurling cans, frozen snow, milk bottles, door hinges, pieces
of pavement, and assorted other weapons of this type, the pickets pressed at
the heels of the retreating police.²

More of our rich history from Preis:

³Several thousand strikers marched to Chevrolet plant No. 9 from Union
headquarters. They were led by Roy Reuther and Powers Hapgood. GM informers,
as had been expected, had tipped off management about the march on # 9.
Armed Flint detectives and company guards had been installed in the plant.
The workers inside began yelling Œsit-down!¹ and a forty-minute battle was
waged inside the plant. The Women¹s Emergency Brigade, organized and led by
Genora Johnson (now Dollinger), fought heroically on the outside, smashing
the windows to permit the tear gas to escape from the plantŠ.²

³Kermit Johnson, chief author and organizer of this stratagem, worked in
Plant 4 and had the inside knowledge necessary to conceive of the plan. In
the February 11 issue of The Searchlight, official publication of UAW
Chevrolet Local 659 in Flint, Johnson already inside plant #4, describes the
occupation in the Searchlight:

³ŒPlant #4 was huge and sprawling, a most difficult target, but extremely
important to us because the corporation was running the plant, even though
they had to stockpile motors, in anticipation of favorable court action. GM
had already recovered from the first shock of being forced to surrender four
of their largest body plants to sit-down strikers. They already had the
legal machinery in motion that would, within a short time, expel by force if
necessary, the strikers from the plants. If that happened, we knew the
strike would be broken, and the fight for a union in General Motors would be

³ŒThe next few minutes seemed like hours, as I ambled toward the door, my
previous confidence was rapidly giving way to fear‹fear that we¹d lost our
one big gamble. My thoughts were moving a mile a minute, and I was rehashing
the same plan over and over, but this time, all its weaknesses stood out
like red lights.Š [T]hen the door burst inward and there was Ed! Great big
Ed, his hairy chest bare to his belly, carrying a little American flag and
leading the most ferocious band of twenty men I had ever seen. He looked so
funny with that tiny flag in comparison with his men, who were armed to the
teeth with lead hammers, pipes, and chunks of sheet metal three feet long. I
felt like laughing and crying at the same time.

³ŒWhen I asked where the hell the three hundred men were that he had
guaranteed to bring with him, he seemed dumbfounded. I don¹t think he¹d ever
looked back from the time he¹d dropped his tools, picked up the flag, and
started his line plunge to plant 4. It didn¹t take a master mind to know
that trying to strike a roaring plant of more than three thousand men and
almost as many machines with just twenty men was almost impossible. We
huddled together and made a quick decision to go back to plant 6 for
reinforcements, and if that failed to get out of Chevrolet in a hurry.
Luckily we encountered little opposition in Ed¹s plant and in a short time
we were back in Plant 4 with hundreds of determined men.Š

³ŒAlthough we didn¹t know it then, a real war was going on in and around
plant 9, the decoy. Every city cop and plant police were clubbing the
strikers and using tear gas to evacuate the plant. In retaliation the men
and women from the hall were smashing windows and yelling encouragement from
the outside.²

³ŒBack in plant #4, a relatively peaceful operation was proceeding according
to plan; a little late, but definitely moving now. Up and down the long
aisles we marched, asking, pleading, and finally threatening the men who
wouldn¹t get in line. For the first hour the men in plant #4 were being
bullied not only by us but by management as well. Almost as fast as we could
turn the machines off, the bosses, following our wake, would turn them on,
and threaten the men with being fired. As the lines of marchers grew longer,
the plant grew quieter, and finally after two hours every machine was

³ŒThe men were standing around in small groups, sullenly eyeing members of
supervision. No one knew who belonged to the Union because no one had any
visible identification. We had successfully taken the plant, but we knew
that our gains had to be immediately consolidated or we¹d face
counteraction. We had a few men go through the plant and give a general
order that all who didn¹t belong to the Union should go upstairs to the
dining room and sign up. While the vast majority were thus taken care of, a
few hundred of us were left unhampered to round up the supervisors. It
didn¹t take long to persuade them that leaving the plant under their own
power was more dignified than being thrown out. Herding the foremen out of
the plant, we sent them on their way with the same advice that most of U.S.
had been given year after year during layoffs. ŒWe¹ll let you know when to
come back.¹²

³The next day, when Judge Gadola issued his injunction setting a deadline
for the following day, the strikers held meetings and decided to hold the
plants at all costs. The Fisher #1 workers wired Governor Murphy ³Unarmed as
we are, the introduction of the militia, sheriffs, or police with murderous
weapons will mean a blood bath of unarmed workers...We have decided to stay
in the plant. We have no illusions about the sacrifices which this decision
will entail. We fully expect that if a violent effort is made to oust us,
many of U.S. will be killed, and we take this means of making it known to
our wives, to our children, to the people of the state of Michigan and the
country that if this result follows from an attempt to reject us, you
(Governor Murphy) are the one who must be held responsible for our deaths.²

³Early the next day, all the roads in to Flint were jammed with cars loaded
with Unionists from Detroit, Lansing, Pontiac and Toledo. More than a
thousand veterans of the Toledo Auto-Lite and Chevrolet strikes were on
hand. Walter Reuther, then head of the Detroit West Side UAW Local, brought
in a contingent of 500. Rubber workers from Akron and coal miners from the
Pittsburg area joined the forces rallying to back the Flint strikers. No
Police were in sight. The workers directed traffic. Barred from Fisher #2
and Chevrolet # 4 by troops with machine guns and 37 millimeter howitzers,
the workers from other areas formed a huge cordon round Fisher #1²

This is our great history and history we need to return to if Business Week
and Steve Miller¹s goals are to be defeated. Society can easily afford the
demands above. 

Brothers and Sisters in the auto industry, Brothers and Sisters in the U.S.
and the international working class. U.S. and international capital are not
only in a vicious offensive against working people, they are also in vicious
competition with each other. If Delphi can produce parts cheaper in Mexico
and it does not do so then some other parts supplier will do so. The result
will be that Delphi¹s shares will go down and it will go bust. Capitalists
are in vicious competition with each other to secure lower labor costs and
greater profits. We must not participate in what is a race to the bottom for

The battle that has to be opened up in Delphi has to recognize this. The
conclusions that have to be drawn are that this battle cannot be won with
the methods of the trade union leaders or the leaders of the strikes of the
1980¹s. The present leaders of the AFL-CIO have proved their total loyalty
to the capitalist system and the market. They defend the rights of the
employers in the last analysis.

We must go back to the methods of the 1930¹s. From the mass meetings in
every plant, fighting action groups must be formed in every department as
the basic unit of the fight back. From this, an international fighting
organization has to be formed with a base in every plant, an international
leadership and a policy that ensures that not a single machine will be
allowed to be shifted and not a single part or automobile that was made in
one place today will be allowed to be made in another tomorrow.

This is not all. As long as the auto industry, the major industries in
general, and the banks are in private hands there will always be this drive
for profit and attack on workers living standards. There will always be this
attempt to drive one set of workers into competition with another, whether
it is older workers against younger or U.S. workers against Mexican workers
or Japanese workers.

In the course of the struggle that must now be opened up in Delphi and GM
the issue of ownership of the auto and parts industry must be raised. The
auto and parts industry internationally must be taken out of private hands
and put into collective ownership under workers control and management. The
same forces that organize to fight the present owners will be able to manage
and run the industry.

Not only that, they will not be blinded by profit as the present
profit-addicted owners are and as a result the auto industry, and the issue
of how we get from one place to another can be dealt with and considered,
taking into account convenience but also environment sustainability. Public
transportation becomes a public issue not a private one determined on the
basis of profit. 

An international workers¹ fight back and an international workers
alternative is the only way we can win.


www.soldiersofsolidarity.com <http://www.soldiersofsolidarity.com>

‹Soldiers of Solidarity, February 24, 2006


[1] <#_ftnref1>  Labor¹s Giant Step: Twenty Years of the CIO, Pioneer
Publishers, New York, 1964.

[2] <#_ftnref2>  The Many and the Few, By Henry Kraus, University of
Illinois Press, 1985.

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