Indianapolis plant to close as
Auto workers resist GM pay cuts
Published Oct 9, 2010 7:00 AM
Members of United Auto Workers Local 23 at a General Motors stamping plant in
Indianapolis have been resisting company demands since last spring for a nearly
50 percent paycut. Both the company and top leaders of the UAW have been
exerting heavy pressure on the membership to take huge concessions. In exchange
GM — which had planned to close the plant next year — wants instead
to sell the plant to parts supplier JD Norman.
Wages and benefits for the Indianapolis workers and for the majority of GM
workers are governed by one master agreement between the UAW and the company.
It has been this way since the victory of the 1937 sit-down strike in Flint,
Mich. Before that, GM had insisted on each plant having its own contract, which
allowed the company to pit workers in one plant against workers in another by
promising more work to the plant with the lower pay scale. This practice is
known as whipsawing.
Recently, GM has been using the threat of closure of a number of plants to try
to get workers to agree to separate, inferior local agreements that reduce
their hourly rate and/or eliminate raises and bonuses. This breaks up the
master agreement and, if not resisted, could drive the wages in UAW plants to
below the average wage in this country.
In May the Indianapolis workers voted overwhelmingly against reopening their
contract. But in August representatives of the UAW International and Region 3
tried to get workers to accept what JD Norman wanted — a pay drop from
$29 to $15.50 an hour. The officials were kicked out of the union hall.
In September the UAW Region conducted a mail ballot on the concessionary
contract. On Sept. 23, 412 members came to the union hall to mark their ballots
“no” and have them notarized. They knew then that a majority had
rejected the rotten deal. The entire process was videotaped by Al Benchich,
former president of UAW Local 909 at a GM plant near Detroit.
In a leaflet urging workers to vote no, Local 23 member Roy Gomillion argued:
“Brothers and Sisters, the issues that we are facing here at our local
have a broader effect on our union membership through GM, Ford and Chrysler. If
we allow our wages to be cut, this plant can be whipsawed against all the other
stamping facilities. That means that any bids for new work can be undercut by
this plant if it becomes a scab facility. If we allow this attack on our wages
to be successful, where will it end?”
Workers fight union’s concessions
On Sept. 25 the Local 23 Solidarity Committee held a rally outside the office
of Region 3 Director Mo Davison. More than 200 attended, including supporters
from Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee. Speakers included Local 23 Shop Chair Greg
Clark and member Rondo Jabbar Turner, who are among those leading the fight
against concessions, and Local 909 retiree Yvonne Gomillion, mother of Roy
Other speakers were Benchich, Gregg Shotwell of Soldiers of Solidarity, Frank
Hammer of Autoworkers Caravan, former UAW Local 235 President Wendy Thompson,
and Gary Walkowicz, a UAW Local 600 Committee Member who ran against UAW
President Bob King at the Constitutional Convention in June. Hammer read a
statement of solidarity from a workers’ leader at a GM-Opel plant in
The next day, at a meeting sponsored by Autoworkers Caravan, Soldiers of
Solidarity, Factory Rat, Warriors of Labor, Supporters of Gary Walkowicz and
Coalition of Concerned Citizens — all groups of UAW rank-and-file
activists opposing concessions — workers discussed building broader
support for the fighting members of UAW Local 23.
On Sept. 27 the American Arbitration Association — which the
International hired to conduct the vote without authorization by Local 23, a
violation of the UAW Constitution — announced that the concessionary
contract sought by GM and JD Norman had been rejected 457 to 96.
Company retaliates, announces plant closing
The solidarity of the workers defeated the paycut and set back the whipsawing
GM bosses. The victory was bittersweet, however, as the very next day the
company announced plans to wind down operations at the Indianapolis plant.
The pro-company media put out the message that GM has no choice and that the
“selfish” workers got what they deserved by insisting on being paid
union scale. However, by pushing the “competitive” contract as an
alternative to closing the plant, GM bosses have admitted that the closing is
not some unfortunate decision necessitated by “overcapacity.”
The company, which made $2.2 billion in profit in the first half of 2010, had
the audacity to subject the members of Local 23 to an ultimatum: your paycheck
or your job.
Autoworkers, not only in Indianapolis but wherever they face plant closing
threats, have a right to raise the two-fold demand: Hands off our wages and
keep our plants open!
The writer is a 23-year Chrysler worker and a member of UAW Local 869.
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