Autoworker speaks on UAW contract
Workers World commentary
Published Dec 13, 2008 3:45 AM
Autoworkers need to take a fresh look at their contracts in order to resist
further concessions and develop a strategy that does not hold them hostage to
the threat of plant closings, layoffs or bankruptcy proceedings. The place to
start is with the opening sentences of the contract.
The UAW-GM contract begins with: “The management of General Motors
recognizes that it cannot get along without labor any more than labor can get
along without the management. Both are in the same business... . General Motors
holds that the basic interests of employers and employees are the
All workers who have sweated on the assembly line know in their bones that the
basic interests of the boss and the workers are not the same. The business of
management is to make profits. The “business” of the workers is to
make enough to provide a decent living for themselves and their families.
Management wants to hide the fundamental fact that the interest of the
capitalist bosses and of “their” workers is diametrically opposed.
It is a class antagonism based on exploitation. Sometimes this antagonism is
more muted, at other times more open. With the onset of the current deep
capitalist economic crisis, the very survival of the workers and the existence
of their union are in question.
The founders of the United Auto Workers knew very well about classes. They
built our unions in violent class battles during the 1930s. It was rich versus
poor, bosses versus workers, capitalist class versus working class.
A hint of this remains in the first paragraphs of the UAW Constitution:
“Managerial decisions have a far reaching impact upon the quality of life
enjoyed by the workers, the family, and the community. Management must
recognize that it has basic responsibilities to advance the welfare of the
workers and the whole society and not alone to the stockholders. It is
essential, therefore, that the concerns of workers and of society be taken into
account when basic management decisions are made.”
Douglas Fraser, International UAW president at the time of the first round of
concessions in the 1970s, decried “the one-sided class war” being
waged against the autoworkers. He identified the character of the attacks as
being based on antagonistic classes. But his formulation showed he was
unwilling to make it a two-sided class war by fighting back. Every subsequent
UAW top leader has shrunk from this conclusion to this day.
What would it mean for the UAW to expose the antagonistic class positions
instead of lamely following the lead of the auto bosses? It isn’t simply
saying no to concessions or going on strike to stop takeaways. When the whole
economy is in crisis, a massive depression looms, and the Big Three are
threatening bankruptcy, autoworkers are tremendously fearful about losing their
jobs. With no alternative presented to them, most will vote for another round
If the UAW contracts were to be reopened, the first thing to go should be the
entire false “identity of interests” introduction. A bold statement
of the true conditions of class struggle on the shop floor and the broader
community needs to be proclaimed.
Then the autoworkers need to challenge the “management’s
rights” clause–paragraph eight of the UAW-GM contract–which
states: “...the products to be manufactured, the location of the plants,
the schedules of production, the methods, processes and means of manufacturing
are solely and exclusively the responsibility of the Corporation.”
But the corporations have run the business into the ground. At the very least,
management has been irresponsible. The crisis facing millions of workers
dependent upon this industry calls into question their right to continue to
manage. The UAW Constitution demands that management take into account the
workers and the community in its decision making.
Even management knew that they had to do something different when the
government bailed out Chrysler Corporation in the late 1970s. In exchange for
the first concessions contracts, UAW President Douglas Fraser was given a seat
on the Chrysler Board of Directors. From a union point of view this was
ridiculous. One vote on a big board of bosses and bankers was meaningless.
But from another angle, it was a recognition that the workers ought to have a
say in running the company in light of the new, dire conditions and the
How much worse are things today! As the crisis deepens workers must think about
whether they “can’t do without management.” The unthinkable
might start looking reasonable. Why can’t workers’ representatives
and representatives of the communities in which factories are located be made
the new management of the Big Three?
Government funds could be used for plants to be retooled for production of
fuel-efficient vehicles. With the need for a massive economic stimulus program
being discussed by the incoming Obama administration, the unions and
communities can demand government contracts to build mass transit.
The highly skilled and disciplined autoworkers inside the many plants still in
existence can quickly adjust to produce whatever is needed to rebuild the
failing infrastructure of the U.S. Many new jobs would be created.
None of this can happen without a struggle. The place to start is with an
understanding by the autoworkers–and all workers–of their
importance and their power as the working class.
Sole worked for GM Fleetwood from 1971 until the plant closed in 1987. He
is vested in the GM retirement fund. He is currently president of UAW Local
2334 in Detroit.
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