Workers tell Ford Motor: No right to strike? No way!
Published Nov 5, 2009 8:22 PM
Nov. 2—Losing a job is a scary thing for any worker to contemplate.
It’s certainly scary for any worker lucky enough to still have a job with
union wages and benefits. The fear of job loss has for several years led
members of the once-mighty United Auto Workers to accept drastic concessions
they normally wouldn’t consider.
Nevertheless, UAW Ford workers have overwhelmingly voted down the latest
package of contract modifications, sending a powerful message to their bosses.
“We’ve taken enough,” Dan Coll told the Detroit Free Press.
Coll, a member of UAW Local 600 at Ford’s Dearborn, Mich., truck assembly
plant reminded the Free Press reporter that he and 41,000 other Ford workers
had just approved major givebacks in March. These included suspending
cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) increases and scheduled bonuses, weakening job
and income security provisions, sacrificing an annual paid holiday, and
break-time reductions that add up to 40 hours more free labor for the bosses
Why, just seven months later, did Ford think it could ask the UAW leadership to
convince the rank and file to give up more? Ford wanted the additional
concessions that the bosses at General Motors and Chrysler, with the help of
the U.S. Treasury, squeezed out of their hourly employees by threatening to
liquidate operations altogether. The reorganized GM and Chrysler corporations
will be able to freeze the wages of future workers at $14 an hour and impose a
no-strike rule on all workers until 2015, even though the current contract
expires in 2011.
That’s what Ford bosses wanted and what they said they needed to be
“competitive.” UAW International President Ron Gettelfinger
campaigned for a “yes” vote on the contract changes—which
included a more limited no-strike rule and a bonus of $1,000 not offered at GM
or Chrysler—with the argument that “we’re talking about 7,000
jobs that have either been created and/or protected by this
“Members at Ford retain the right to strike on every issue—and I
say every issue—except improvements in wages and benefits,”
Gettelfinger told Frank Beckmann of WJR-AM. “If Ford was to propose a
cut, we would maintain the right to strike. That would never even go to
arbitration. This has become a flash-point issue, but this agreement is not
about that.” (MLive.com, Oct. 27)
Ford hourly workers, who so far are voting down the concessions two-to-one,
know better. The promise of job security—or more accurately the threat of
job loss—has been used to pass concessions for decades, especially in the
2007 contract and again last March. Yet where are the jobs? At one time Local
600, which led the fight to unionize Ford in the 1930s, had 100,000 members at
the sprawling Rouge complex. Now the total number of UAW hourly workers at Ford
is 41,000 and falling.
Ford workers want no part of even a limited restriction on the right to strike.
Wouldn’t they want to reserve the right to strike to restore COLA, for
example, so their pay could start to catch up with inflation? Workers know that
without the right to strike they have no leverage—they’re at the
mercy of the companies.
That’s why a number of anti-concession leaflets—some from
rank-and-file activists and some from local leaders—made the rounds on
the shop floors. When UAW Vice President Bob King tried to sell the concessions
at the Dearborn Truck plant, he was drowned out by workers chanting “No,
no, no!” Only a small number of locals voted in favor of the
A healthy rivalry developed after 92 percent of the workers at the Kansas City
assembly plant voted no. Dearborn Truck workers boasted of a 92.6 percent
rejection rate, only to be outdone by a 93 percent no vote in Sandusky,
While some locals are still voting as of this writing, Gettelfinger has
acknowledged that the concessions will not pass. There are no plans for a
revote or for further negotiations before 2011. Seen from a purely electoral
point of view, this is a tremendous victory, and not only for the Ford workers.
Some GM and Chrysler workers, whose plants are closing even after they agreed
to such outrageous givebacks, are cheering the Ford vote.
All UAW members must categorically reject the idea that
concessions—especially those that compromise the right to
strike—are necessary to “protect and/or create” a specified
number of jobs. The right to strike and the right to a job go hand in hand. In
fact, both are recognized under U.S. and international law as a result of
fierce class battles that took place in the 1930s.
Only the worst misleaders of the working class would suggest giving up one
right—the right to strike—in exchange for a dubious promise to save
a few thousand jobs. These jobs already belong to the workers as a property
Martha Grevatt has worked for 22 years at the Twinsburg, Ohio, Chrysler
plant, which is scheduled to be closed next year. E-mail
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