Rank and File Resistance Haunts Auto Barons and UAW Bureaucrats

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The new contract at Chrysler was met with massive defiance and resistance by thousands of UAW members. Both the corporate barons of Cerberus and UAW officials at Solidarity House were haunted by the courage and conviction of workers rejecting this trash. This is clearly the worst contract ever pushed in the face of the membership.

For starters, there are no hourly wage increases, only bogus lump sum bonuses (also known as “sugar coating”). Wages for new hires will be half of what UAW members currently earn (about $28/hour). New hires will have inferior health insurance and instead of a pension they’ll get a 401k! A two-tier wage structure will be put into effect, segregating “core” from “non-core” jobs. “Non-core” jobs, such as forklift drivers, material handlers and jobs “to be determined later” by a joint union-corporate “task force” will be paid just $14-$16/hour. Incredibly, UAW statistics reveal that most comparable non-union jobs pay up to $19/hour.

In one of many projects which aim to destroy solidarity among workers, Cerberus announced that it will be canceling five new products which were to be manufactured by Chrysler. This puts the squeeze on locals to compete more savagely with each other for production guarantees. Speed-ups, job elimination, longer working hours and deteriorated working conditions will increase profits at the expense of the well-being of workers.

Chrysler, like GM, will now be able to shift its obligation to fund health care benefits onto the backs of workers and retirees. The Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) means the UAW will now be responsible for funding health care. VEBA plans at other companies represented by the UAW (Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel) have already gone bankrupt, causing retiree health care costs to soar. However, unlike the VEBA plans initiated at Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel by the corporations, UAW President Ron Gettlefinger himself offered the same plan to GM and Chrysler! This puts the union in the position of having to cut its own members’ health benefits in the future.

Additionally, workers won’t be able to use seniority to transfer to better jobs within the company. If a worker has a “core” job, he or she will not be able to transfer to “non-core” jobs. Workers holding “non-core” jobs will be targeted. Management will be motivated to remove them and replace them with someone who will earn half as much.

Both the UAW leadership and Cerberus agreed to eliminate job classifications (see page 121 of the contract agreement). Only two classifications will now exist among “core” workers: Team Member or Team Leader. According to the agreement, “Every employee is a Team Member; there are no specialty job classifications” (page 227-228).

The sell-out contract was massively opposed by rank and file Chrysler workers. Solidarity House has refused to reveal the actual numbers of “yes” and “no” votes from the membership vote that approved the contract. Locals were only allowed to report percentages. The UAW warned staff members holding appointed union positions such as Benefit Representatives, Safety reps, Civil Rights reps, etc., that if they didn’t actively encourage the members on the shop floor to vote “yes” they could be fired. The International’s pressure on Detroit area locals was especially intense. Many rank and file members are rightly skeptical about the accuracy of the membership vote results.

In fact, it is doubtful that the reported percentages reflect the actual numbers. Cerberus told the UAW that they would appeal for a re-vote if the “no” votes won and the contract was rejected. Any union official worthy of his or her assumed role as a bargaining agent for the workers would have countered with a demand for a re-vote if the inferior concessionary contract passed! In any event, the passing of this contract is a historical defeat and a giant backwards step for the working class. As if this stab in the back wasn’t enough, Cerberus, announced with another twist of the knife the elimination of an additional 10,000 jobs on top of the 13,000 jobs already scheduled to be eliminated as of last February. The newest cuts were announced just a week after the contract with the UAW was approved by the membership.

Resistance to concessions at Chrysler was widespread. Flyers were distributed at most plants by rank and file groups urging co-workers to vote “no”. The soldiersofsolidarity.com and futureoftheunion.com web sites were targeted by Solidarity House in a flyer accusing these workers’ web sites of being “Anti-American communists” who were trying to “take over the UAW.” Both web sites were singled out because they consistently urged fellow UAW members to reject contracts that are based on the Delphi model. The union busting model being implemented across the industry originated when Delphi Corp. (an auto parts manufacturer) threatened to file for bankruptcy and cancel its union contracts if the workers would not submit to radical wage reductions and abolishment of health care benefits and pension plans.

The concessionary contracts subsequently negotiated at Delphi, GM, Chrysler and at Ford, were the result of this challenge waged against our jobs and conditions by the auto manufacturers, backed up by the rest of the capitalist class. From the start of this challenge, rank and file UAW members met in Detroit in April 2005 to organize a response. Auto workers from parts manufacturers Delphi and Visteon were present along with Ford, GM, and Chrysler workers, both active and retired. They came from several states of the Midwest and the Ohio Valley. Various viewpoints and experiences were exchanged along with email addresses, phone numbers and mailing addresses. Meetings were subsequently held in cities throughout Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri. A rank and file committee voted to name itself “Soldiers of Solidarity” and organized a fight back at Delphi.

The workers that voted “no” at GM, Delphi, Chrysler and at Ford are keeping the current of militant trade unionism alive. The continuity of this rank and file current could become a wave of resistance if we learn from this and previous struggles, and coordinate this resistance into an industry-wide class struggle current.

One possible step would be to organize a national conference of rank and file UAW members, in conjunction with sister and brother auto workers nationally and internationally, to organize a concerted answer to the attacks of the global auto industry. Enough is enough! The only people capable of turning the one-sided corporate war against auto workers into a class war against corporate greed are rank and file workers at the point of production.

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