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Indianapolis autoworkers resist GM’s illegal union-busting schemes

Published Sep 23, 2010 10:22 PM

“F — k the UAW!”

That statement, quoted in the tell-all book “Overhaul” by former White House Auto Adviser Stephen Rattner, was made by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel during last year’s General Motors bankruptcy proceedings.

Emanuel is part of the federal government, which currently holds 60 percent of GM shares. Accurate or not, the quote sums up the attitude of GM’s executives and stockholders toward the workers who build the vehicles. The auto company, which in the first six months of this year made $2.2 billion in clear profit, has been trying to force down wages of members of the United Auto Workers to near-poverty levels.

Workers at GM’s Indianapolis Metal Fabrication plant have said “no way!” In 2007 a concessionary contract between the UAW and GM allowed for the closing of the Indianapolis plant. For three years members of UAW Local 23 have prepared themselves, and most are willing to relocate if it means they can stay with GM and keep the better wages and benefits they won in past struggles.

A significant number of stamping dies have already been moved out of the plant. So far, however, Local 23 members have been denied their contractual rights to follow their work and transfer to a new GM location.

GM wants to sell the plant to an upstart parts supplier, JD Norman Industries. Norman, however, is refusing to honor the “successor clause” in the GM master contract with the UAW. This clause requires any new owner to honor the existing contract the union has with the former employer. Thus, under the current GM-UAW agreement, selling the plant to JD Norman would be illegal.

In a full-page ad in the Aug. 17 Indianapolis Star, owner Justin Norman stated that “to keep the facility alive” there need “to be fundamental changes,” including “a new labor agreement.” The new labor agreement Norman has in mind would slash skilled trades’ wages from $33 to $24 an hour and production wages from $28 to $15.50 an hour.

Workers, who up to now saw themselves as “middle class” and who believed in the “American dream,” are wondering how they are supposed to pay for their homes, their cars and their children’s college education if their pay is suddenly cut by as much as 45 percent. Back in May the members of Local 23 voted 384-22 against reopening their contract.

New fightback strategy needed

Ignoring the democratic process, UAW Regional Director Mo Davison and his staff negotiated a concessionary agreement with Norman. This violates the UAW Constitution, which states that “no Local Union Officer, International Officer or International Representative shall have the authority to negotiate the terms of a contract or any supplement thereof with any employer without first obtaining the approval of the Local Union.”

Davison has continued operating under the flawed premise that labor’s cooperation with capital — to keep the corporations “competitive” — is the only way to preserve jobs. Now that the UAW’s ranks have fallen to 355,000 from a high of more than 1.5 million, it is obvious that a new fightback strategy is needed.

The workers of Indianapolis Metal Fabrication sent that very message to their International and Regional representatives on Aug. 15. At a special meeting on the proposed contract changes, the UAW staff were shouted down and told to leave the hall. Police, which the pro-concession local president had brought in to keep order, were ordered out.

Two days later JD Norman’s letter in the newspaper appeared, followed by an attempt to stage a rally of employees to support the concessions. About 50 attended, most out of curiosity.

On Aug. 30 a UAW “follow-up” letter acknowledged that “the proposal from JD Norman needs to be voted on by the membership from UAW Local 23 to be approved.” That statement obscures the fact that JD Norman has no legal right to negotiate any agreement until the workers become JD Norman employees. The members of Local 23 cannot become JD Norman employees unless Norman abides by the successor clause, which the company refuses to do.

The whole process is flagrantly illegal. Unfortunately, the UAW International has stepped in and is attempting to force a vote in favor of the concessions Norman is demanding. The International is conducting a mail-in ballot — virtually unheard of in UAW contract voting — and has hired the American Arbitration Association to facilitate the process. Under the auspices of management, the International is holding “informational” meetings in the plant auditorium on Sept. 20.

Despite pressure from all sides, the local Bargaining Committee and Shop Chair Greg Clark have stood strong in upholding the will of the membership. The democratically elected Election Committee distributed a leaflet stating that the voting process is in violation of the local’s bylaws, and therefore the Committee will not certify the results. A newly formed Local 23 Solidarity Committee is planning a rally outside Regional Director Davison’s office on Sept. 25.

A support statement signed by 50 current and former UAW officials stated, “What we have seen in the last 40 years is a growing disparity between the rich and the rest of us. Those at the top cannot continue to get wealthier unless the rest of us give up more. And that is what they want us to do.

“That is why we stand in solidarity with you in this struggle. A line must be drawn. If you give in, it will be used to whipsaw other plants especially GM Stamping Plants into taking equal or greater concessions. Suppliers and other businesses will pressure their employees to take cuts in the never-ending ‘race to the bottom.’ If you stand strong, it will help everyone.”

The GM bosses, their moneylenders on Wall St., the capitalist media and the capitalist state all share Emanuel’s vulgar contempt for the workers. Solidarity will defeat them.