There is a growing struggle in the auto industry today, but this emerging movement has great faults. The re-opened contracts at General Motors and Ford, the threatened bankruptcy at Delphi, and the relentless advance of “Team Concept” at Daimler-Chrysler
are all part of a frontal attack on the auto workers rank and file. I could say it is an attack on the UAW, but the leadership of our union condones Team Concept, they
recommended the concession contracts to us for approval, and they will not divulge their so-called “secret plan” to organize the Delphi workers until it is too late.
I am an autoworker from St Louis, and my plant is closing as part of Ford Motor Company’s “Way Forward” corporate plan, which is intended to impress Wall street with it’s cruel resolve, and keep up the stock price. This is the “Way Downward” for about 30,000 Ford workers and us. Another 30,000 autoworkers at General Motors will also lose their jobs in the next few years. The first thing to realize about these events is that they are not autonomous market forces of global competition, which just happen to have unfortunate results on some workers. These are the actions of particular companies; and it is not as though the world is stopping the production of cars. Nor is it a question of other workers gaining what we are losing. Look at the coal miners: we are shocked when some American miners die unnecessarily at a non-union mine, for lack of a simple GPS device that would have cost the company a hundred dollars. But Chinese miners are dying at the rate of thousands per year in hellholes, just to feed the requirements of global imperialism. Do those workers benefit from the production lost from American mines? Do we benefit from their abysmal conditions? All this begs the question of international solidarity. We are told that the Chinese car is coming next year, and if it is junk, it will probably be straightened out in another year or so. It is expected to cost 40% less than comparable American cars. So the point is not that I have to make cars, but that I need a paycheck. I am willing and able to work. I am also willing to co-operate with other workers to ensure that our conditions and pay are adequate for a good life.
When I went to Kokomo Indiana, to one of the Delphi workers rank-and-file meetings, the first thing I noticed was the sour taste everybody had for the UAW International leadership. There was no illusion at all. There was no confusion about loyalty. There was no tendency towards obedience to mis-leaders. In fact, I learned the story of the Accuride strike and its betrayal by the UAW International, which was something new to me, and I think every UAW member should read about it. I found out that there is a lot of resolve to carry out the in-plant strategy among the Delphi workers, and there are a lot of other retired and active workers in other plants willing to help. The bankruptcy court will soon “decide a question of law” or “team-up with the company to rob the workers” depending
on how you look at it. I was a little disappointed when we chose the name “Soldiers of
Solidarity” because it emphasizes the chauvinism and potential violence that slows us down. Violence will be used against our struggle, but ours is not a military operation. It is a question of organizing our solidarity. Another major flaw in the movement is an unwillingness to address the War in Iraq. There is a growing internationalism in SOS, but some are interpreting it as “We can show our friends how to do it!” rather than “We need help from our friends, and we have one big obligation to our friends: Stop the war”. We
can’t be loyal to God, and loyal to our country, way up there, as we rebel against the corrupt union leaders way down here.
I don’t really know yet whether the companies and the government can manage the
downsizing of the auto industry, or whether the rank-and-file reaction will be the
beginning of a larger movement. Certainly SOS has a lot going for it: it is independent of
personality caucuses, and it is shop floor oriented. It is a rank-and-file movement that is
consciously trying to be diverse and international. It is reaching out for the solidarity of
non-Delphi workers and telling them the truth that “you are next” and that concessions
don’t save jobs. Everything depends on the solidarity and aid of active, retired, and laid off UAW members. We can defend the Delphi workers by joining their pickets, hosting
solidarity rallies, and pushing the International UAW to really support the “Work-to-
Rule” campaign, support the Delphi strike when it comes to that, and GM strike when it comes to that, and a general auto strike if it comes to that! With both feet on the ground,
SOS knows that Solidarity House will be working exactly in the opposite direction at
each point of this potential scenario.
But you also have to look at this from the global patriarch’s viewpoint, to be fair. If
Delphi has success using the courts to cut union wages, outsource to low-wage plants,
evade the taxes that workers pay for American military invasions of other folk’s countries
to keep wages low, well then General Motors is entitled to do the same thing. After all,
it’s the same company. Then comes Ford, my employer, or ex-employer. Ford said “Me too” when GM got healthcare concessions, and Ford got them from us. I told my co-
workers we got robbed on the way out of the plant. Some of us picketed the union hall
and held up signs saying VOTE NO. So what is to keep Ford or even WalMart from
seeking court protection to lower wages and benefits? In a sense, Ford just went bankrupt
in St Louis without going bankrupt in Louisville, Kentucky! Louisville Assembly makes
Ford Explorers just like we do, so when we close down in three weeks, that production
goes to Louisville, and they will probably work ten hours a day to keep up. There will be
overproduction in Kentucky and simultaneously underproduction in Missouri. Now,
getting back to the trend here, I think you can see where this logic is leading: All the
major companies are running to the government saying “We can’t make enough money
off these people under current conditions. We have to close this plant, or you have to hold
the workers while we rob them.” I think the workers begin to develop greater
understanding of private property in the means of production, and less respect for it as
this process goes on. With greater understanding comes better organization and more
effective resistance. When a judge can call you “out” any time the boss pays him, then we
lose our respect for the rights of ownership, and we start thinking of the plant as the place
where we work: and how it has to be run right with a good wage for everybody who
works. And how we have to stay in the plant to guarantee this.
Several of us from Ford and Daimler -Chrysler from came back from the November SOS
meeting in Indiana, and decided to try our own area-wide autoworkers meeting in St
Louis. We got a free union hall (not UAW), and free copying of our leaflet, so the only
major task was publicizing it in the three auto plants. It was a pretty good turnout, and the
discussion came up with a really creative counter proposal to the healthcare concession
contract that had just passed at GM: take the dues money that doesn’t go directly toward
bargaining, and put that toward retiree healthcare. As long as we were at it, we proposed
all joint funds go to retiree healthcare. This is borderline union disloyalty, but it’s one
way of saying the rank-and-file want to pay only what is legally required under agency shop, and we disapprove of what you do with our money. It also says we know these un-audited joint funds are inherently corrupt, and make the international leadership directly dependent on the companies. The concessions still passed in my local by53%, and nationally by 51%. I am part of the national appeal to the UAW Convention Appeals Committee to overturn this vote on the basis that we never saw the contract language, only a summary, that the retirees could not vote, and that there was insufficient time between reading the summary, meeting to discuss it, and voting. I have also filed an appeal with my local. This committee is a creature of the international union convention, and is chosen by lot from all the elected delegates. It has been known in rare cases to overrule the International Executive Board, and the International President. In fact, I would not be addressing you today as a UAW member, were it not for the Convention Appeals Committee. The Convention Appeals Committee reversed all lower bodies, and ordered the local to re-instate my grievance against Ford Motor Company, which fired me on a frame-up charge.
A Daimler-Chrysler worker, Tim, hosted our December meeting, and got elected committeeperson on the basis of this upsurge of resentment over the attacks on our union. I his case, out at Daimler-Chrysler, the plant is actually expanding. As usual, the company has wrested tax concessions from the state and local bodies as a reward for staying here, and using up our local people. In addition, Daimler forced the local union into signing on to unbridled Team Concept. Tim opposed it consistently, spoke at the in-plant meetings, organized the plant floor action. That’s why he was elected. He is supported by small group of outspoken activists, who publish in-plant newsletters, and regularly communicate.
In summary, these rank-and–file efforts, no matter how small, or fumbling or confused or
isolated, are really all we have right now in the way of resistance. They are actually creating democracy in the face of uncontrolled greed and dominance. Therefore they are going in the right direction.