Labor History in 2:00

December 12 Striking Autoworkers Make a Stand

December 12, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1945.

That was the day President Truman appointed a fact-finding panel to investigate the General Motors strike.

As many as 320,000 UAW GM workers had been on strike for nearly three weeks. They had suffered deep wage cuts, deteriorating working conditions and endless contract violations during the war. UAW now demanded 30% wage increases.

But President Truman and GM acted as if it was still wartime.

Truman ordered a 30 day cooling off period to be followed by compulsory arbitration.

Just two days earlier, 10,000 strikers picketed GM, encircling their downtown headquarters for over an hour.

The CIO held an emergency conference, vowing to continue and spread the strike. CIO president Philip Murray took to the radio in defense of the strike.

He noted that corporations had made millions in wartime profits, that wage cuts since V-J Day had been as high as 50% and denounced Congress for burdensome new tax laws.

Murray added that Truman’s proposed “Fact-Finding Act” and other anti-labor laws served “to weaken and ultimately to destroy labor union organizations.”

Bob Carter, chairman of the AC Spark Plug strike committee and chairman of the Greater Flint CIO Council remarked, “I am against arbitration and will oppose the setting up of fact-finding committees.

Anyone acquainted with the labor history of this country knows that those committees are used by political stooges of the corporations to cheat workers out of their just demands.”

The strike ended in partial victory the following March, with strikers winning a 17.5% raise, just over half their original demand.

But UAW members demonstrated their solidarity and their refusal to be cowed into going back to work on the government’s terms.