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‘No plant, no peace’

Workers march on Chrysler headquarters

Published Aug 23, 2008 8:06 AM

“Enough is enough” was a recurring theme as 800 Chrysler workers and their supporters rallied outside the corporation’s headquarters here on Aug. 14 to protest the latest attack on their livelihoods. The issue of the day was the recent announcement that Chrysler would indefinitely idle the St. Louis South minivan assembly plant Oct. 31, combined with the abrupt cutting of an entire shift at the St. Louis North truck assembly plant.

Chrysler wants autoworkers in U.S. to
compete with autoworkers in Canada.
The answer is not rivalry but solidarity.
Here, the UAW rally in Auburn Hills,
WW photo: Alan Pollock

Management scheduled a transfer of all minivan production to Chrysler’s other minivan plant in Windsor, Ont., Canada.

The protest was militant. However, instead of invoking international workers’ solidarity, the protesters fell prey to the company’s strategy, chanting “USA! USA!” and “Build them where you sell them.” T-shirts offered statistics that most minivans are sold in the U.S., not Canada. U.S. flags outnumbered picket signs at the protest.

The demonstration was called by United Auto Workers Local 110, which represents the workers at St. Louis South. Over 400 multinational workers from that local arrived in Michigan after an all-night bus ride. UAW Local 136, at St. Louis North, also sent a large contingent. Both locals voted overwhelmingly against last year’s concessionary contract, which passed by the slimmest of margins. Local 122, which also rejected the contract, sent three dozen members from the Ohio stamping plant in Twinsburg.

Hundreds more Chrysler workers came from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and elsewhere. A large delegation of engineering and clerical staff, represented by Local 412, marched over on their lunch break from inside the Chrysler Technology Center with flags and signs. Homemade signs expressed solidarity with the St. Louis workers and anger at Chrysler’s plans to eliminate 2,400 jobs.

It took several days for the UAW International to officially bless the rally, after it became clear that a number of Chrysler locals around the Midwest were mobilizing for it.

Many UAW presidents spoke in solidarity with the St. Louis workers. Turning toward the Chrysler building, one yelled, “You’re a liar, Tom LaSorda!” in reference to the company’s vice president. Another used the analogy of an open hand, where the fingers can be cut off one by one, versus a clenched fist representing workers’ power.

A spirited picket line followed the rally with chants of “No plant, no peace!” and “No jobs, no peace!”

Dividing in the name of solidarity

Whipsawing is a term for the corporate tactic of pitting employees at one plant against workers at another plant of the same company. Workers who produce similar vehicles or components find themselves in competition to get new work into their plant. When one group of workers agrees, under intense pressure, to certain concessions, the second group will often agree to give up even more to hold on to their jobs. It’s a vicious downward spiral, and only the bosses come out on top.

Minivan and truck sales are declining. Understandably, workers in St. Louis feel that Chrysler is forcing an unequal burden of suffering on them by closing their plant while running three production shifts in Windsor. Feelings are especially strong after UAW members took drastic concessions as a trade-off for job security.

The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) rejected the two-tier wage structure but gave up a week of vacations, essentially agreeing to a longer workweek and indirectly helping Chrysler cut jobs.

Chrysler’s owners—the Wall Street firm Cerberus—want to consolidate minivan production under one roof. Cerberus is engaging in cross-border whipsawing.

The CAW fell into the same trap earlier this year during an otherwise splendid blockade of GM’s Canadian headquarters that shut operations there for almost two weeks. The CAW’s uniform was a T-shirt with a Canadian maple leaf and the slogan “Made in Canada should mean something.”

This attitude of dividing the working class by the country they live in actually plays into the bosses’ strategy of divide and conquer.

Wouldn’t it be much better to extend the hand of solidarity across the border and unite around the slogan “A job is a right”?

Brazilian autoworkers understood this very well when they held a solidarity protest outside their country’s American Axle plant during the strike in the U.S. How about an international conference of autoworkers to discuss a fightback strategy?

A militant, mass protest against forced layoffs is a laudable first step. The next move should be launching a worldwide movement among workers in the entire auto industry. That is the only true way to assure our mutual survival.

Martha Grevatt has worked at the Chrysler Ohio Stamping Plant for 21 years. E-mail: [email protected]