Building on ‘no concessions’ vote at Ford
Autoworker activists discuss challenging the bosses’ agenda
Published Feb 6, 2010 8:33 AM
On Jan. 23 over 100 autoworkers met in Detroit for a conference sponsored by
rank-and-file activist groups Soldiers of Solidarity, Autoworkers Caravan and
Factory Rats Unite to take up a truly compelling question: Where do we go from
In the past few years members of the UAW have seen their ranks in the workplace
fall precipitously. At the same time, under threat of permanent job loss,
workers at General Motors/Delphi, Ford, Chrysler and parts suppliers have been
coerced into giving up pay and benefits that took decades of struggle to
attain. During the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies workers there gave up the right
Just to ask, “Where do we go?” implied it is still possible for
workers to fight back, and thus posed a viable alternative to resignation and
African-American, Latino/a and white; women and men; retirees and youth, dozens
of workers took the floor — not only to voice their anger at the auto
companies and compliant union officials, but to search for ways to resist
givebacks and downsizing. Participants came from Michigan, Missouri, Ohio,
Minnesota, New York and Ontario, Canada.
The largest group of workers came from Ford. A lively discussion brought to
life the grassroots, semispontaneous movement that led to last fall’s
defeat of contract modifications pushed by the UAW leadership that would have
traded away the right to strike for a $1,000 bonus and dubious promises of job
security. The concessions — more or less equal to what GM and Chrysler
workers gave up during the bankruptcies — went down by a margin of
3-to-1. This was the first time in UAW history that workers rejected contract
language recommended by the leadership.
“We don’t want to lose that ability to strike,” stated Eric
Truss, a shop floor activist in UAW Local 600 at the multiplant Ford Rouge
complex. Truss came to the meeting with his mother, a Ford worker; his father,
a Ford retiree; and his sister. Local 600 has a long history of militancy going
back to struggles that led to union recognition in 1941.
Other workers described how multiple leaflets began appearing simultaneously,
ranging from detailed explanations of why the concessions were bad to those
with just two words: “Vote No.” At the same time an unprecedented
number of local officials opposed the International’s recommendations.
One worker held up a newspaper with a headline on Ford’s profits.
After the Ford workers shared their experiences, Jerry Tucker, a former
regional director, reviewed the history of autoworker givebacks going back to
The discussion continued around the multiple issues facing auto workers. A key
issue is “whipsawing” — the pitting of workers in one plant
against another, dangling the carrot of new work in the plant to squeeze more
concessions. This led to the topic of cross-border whipsawing.
Rather than blame Mexican and Canadian workers for the loss of their jobs, this
group passed a resolution of solidarity for a sister in the Canadian Auto
Workers union to bring back home.
Additional comments centered on the need to unite with the broader
working-class community, to support immigrant workers, and for a labor movement
that is anti-racist and anti-sexist. All the discussion tied in to the central
issue of fighting to hold on to our jobs, wages and benefits.
The next immediate fight is at five GM plants that the company recently took
back from Delphi, its former parts division that GM spun off in 1999. In 2007
workers at then-bankrupt Delphi agreed to major concessions, including pay cuts
for nonskilled trade workers of over $10 an hour.
Now GM is demanding the breakup of that master agreement, insisting that each
of those five plants have its own separate agreement. Not surprisingly, the
individual agreements GM is seeking all contain further concessions, including
pay cuts for skilled workers. GM workers won the right to be under one master
agreement after the victory of the Flint sit-down strike in 1937.
This could have been a conference where workers merely blew off steam and went
home. Instead, building on the success at Ford, they have already begun to
resist GM’s latest attacks. The latest bulletin by Soldiers of Solidarity
“Workers have to make change happen by strikes, by Work to Rule, by
organizing a gang and practicing “protected concerted activities.”
Some of these practices make workers uncomfortable at first. Thanks to years of
concessions we are rusty at fighting back. But the more you practice the better
“It is the worker who creates the wealth on the job and controls
production. If you want workplace justice and some dignity then MAKE THEM DO
“When the wolf comes for your lunch, you don’t have to unwrap it
for him, heat it up, put it in a clean bowl, and spoon feed him with a smile.
If you feed the wolf (concessions) he will be back for more tomorrow and every
day thereafter. Don’t feed the wolf!”
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