• U.S.

National Affairs: Dress Rehearsal

3 minute read

William S. Knudsen is a big-boned, 60-year-old Danish-American who likes to make motorcars and more motorcars. If anything interferes with this procedure he gets uneasy, at times even uses words he learned in 1900 when, as a raw immigrant, he was a shipyard’s reamer in a New York torpedo-boat plant at $1.75 a day.

Last week Mr. Knudsen, president of General Motors Corp. (at $325,000 per year) was definitely uneasy. The man who upped Chevrolet production from 76,000 to 480,000 cars in two seasons (1922-23), then caught and passed Ford, had suffered four full weeks from an ingenious new C. I. O. strike technique. On July 5, when C. I. O. began striking eleven key plants where 1940 models’ jigs, dies and tools are built, General Motors had a week’s start on Chrysler, which had been set back two weeks by another C. I. O. strike. Now General Motors was a week behind Chrysler, which planned to open its Plymouth plant August 7.

But this was not the full measure of grey-mustached Mr. Knudsen’s woe. Well he knew that the present strikes were only dress rehearsals, a sort of summer barn theatre tryout of C. I. O.’s big autumn push, when the great mass of production workers (not now affected) will make sweeping new contract demands.

Last week Mr. Knudsen left strike conferences in a huff, still claiming that the C. I. O. branch of United Automobile Workers really wants sole recognition by General Motors. Mr. Knudsen insisted the NLRB, not G. M., must decide whether the U. A. W. of C. I. O. or the U. A. W. of A. F. of L. is in a majority. Robert J. Thomas, C. I. O. headman in U. A. W. also left. Second-stringers on both sides continued to sit in vain with Conciliator James F. Dewey of the Labor Department, who continued to spend his non-conciliating evening hours in the Motor Bar of the Book-Cadillac Hotel.

In the spreading muddle a twelfth G. M. plant was struck, making a total of 7,500 key workers out. And a significant, warlike new development came: A. F. of L. sent 30 experienced building trades organizers into Michigan to make a heavily financed assault on U. A. W. of C. I. O. They will work with A. F. of L.-convert Homer Martin, the youthful ex-preacher, who as National A. A. U. hop-skip-jump champion (in 1924 and 1925) was known as “The Leaping Parson from Leeds” (Kansas). This explained to observers Mr. Martin’s nonchalance of the week before, when his wealthiest, strongest U. A. W.A. F. of L. local (Packard) moved 10,000 members and its treasury over to C. I. O.

This week’s chapter of the strike began with violence as 3,000 pickets battled 450 police and 30 firemen at the Fisher Body plant in Cleveland. As 35 people were carted to hospitals, Strikeleader Joseph Bagano said: “We will continue to throw stones, turn over cars and resist these scabs until they get religion and stay home where they belong.”

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