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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 Gomillion.

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 Germany.

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. Email: mgrevatt@workers.org.