Autoworkers discuss fightback strategy

In a recent op-ed piece, United Auto Workers President Bob King touted the cooperative relationship between the union and U.S. auto companies. He cited the 2009 bankruptcy bailout, where “all stakeholders — management, labor, suppliers, dealers, debt holders and others — accepted some responsibility for the crisis and all shared in the sacrifice during the restructuring.” (Detroit News, Aug. 7)

For workers on the shop floor, however, reality bears little resemblance to King’s fairy-tale vision of cooperation. Production workers hired after September of 2007 make one-half to two-thirds the pay of higher seniority workers doing the exact same work. Higher seniority workers have not had a raise since 2005.

The skilled trades workforce has been slashed through job consolidation and outsourcing. All of this follows the loss of hundreds of thousands of production jobs through automation and the closing of more than 75 General Motors, Ford and Chrysler plants since 2004.

More and more workers are being placed on “Alternative Work Schedules,” where they work mandatory 10- or 12-hour days and weekends for straight-time pay. The work is hard, hot and sometimes dangerous. Those lucky enough to retire have had their health benefits reduced. At the same time, the companies are making billions of dollars in profits.

These and other concerns were brought to light during the fourth annual “Autoworker Speakout,” held Sept. 8 in Detroit and sponsored by the rank-and-file activist group Autoworker Caravan.

After sharing testimony about the real situation in our plants, UAW members discussed their strategy for next year’s national convention. Autoworker Caravan members plan to run for delegate slots and submit resolutions grouped around the theme of “Rebuild Our Fighting Union.”

A wide range of issues fall under this umbrella, such as opposing misnamed “right to work” legislation, expanding union democracy via direct election of the International Executive Board, and calling for a general strike. Also included are the fights for low-wage and unemployed workers, demanding an end to concessions, two-tier pay and “alternative work schedules,” and building global worker solidarity

Workers also heard a report from two former UAW presidents who were part of a solidarity delegation to Bogotá, Colombia, to stand with the fired, injured GM workers who have camped outside the U.S. Embassy for more than two years. The meeting sent a message of solidarity to GM Opel workers in Bochum, Germany, who are in the midst of a fight to stop company plans to close their factory.

Martha Grevatt is a 26-year UAW Chrysler worker.