What I learned in Kokomo
Dennis Gallie, Nov. 15, 2005
I went to Kokomo, Indiana last weekend, for the rank-and–file meeting of UAW workers concerned about the Delphi situation. Delphi has filed bankruptcy, and is basically asking the court to gut the healthcare and pension provisions of its UAW contract, and cut wages by 2/3, from $27 an hour to $9 or $10. UAW-Dephi workers from around the country are organizing their own fight back, and they invited any active or retired member to come and help them build a strategy.
It was both inspiring and informative, and the courage and determination of these folks is contagious. It makes you wonder what we could do if we really had an official leadership that would lead us where we need to go. But it was also depressing to realize how much water has already passed under the bridge, how many strikes have been betrayed from the top, how many concessions have been accepted, how the financial rewards of our top UAW leaders have become tied directly to the corporations. Just a few days ago, GM hourly workers, at the recommendation of our international leaders, voted to re-open the national contract, and give back $1 per hour to GM, and make GM retirees pay $700 per year in premiums. This is just for starters. We got a letter from our Local 325 last week that said our President and Chairman had been called to Detroit to talk about healthcare. I think we can guess what that is all about. Ford has already said that it wants whatever the UAW gives GM.
The Delphi workers, of course, are faced with much worse concessions, but the workers I talked to, are determined to do whatever it takes. They are planning to make the work-to-rule in-plant strategy work. The International union, Mr. Gettlefinger and Mr. Shoemaker, has called for this strategy, with a possibility of drawing down parts inventories, and then striking Delphi at a time when it would cripple GM. Of course no International support and resources are being poured into the work-to-rule campaign to actually make it work! That’s where the militant rank-and-file people come in: they are determined to make it work. They had all kinds of interesting ideas on how the withholding of our ordinary good will, initiative, and common sense, can slow production, how doing exactly what the supervisors say, can lead to utter chaos! The corporate press was kept out of the meeting to encourage folks to speak more freely. Some expressed how unprepared we are for a strike right now, and how Delphi would love to close some of its plants.
The meeting was chaired by Gregg Shotwell (He has a very informative website: www.greggshotwell.net), longtime activist from a Delphi plant in Michigan, and the local organizer was Todd Jordan, who works at Kokomo Delphi. All kinds of ideas were put out, and many personal stories were told. People have different organizations they belong to, and our jobs and plants each have their own features. Some folks thought that we should steer clear of any “political” issues, and concentrate on the very serious immediate emergency situation of the Delphi workers. But I was one of those who thought you also have to reach out and relate all of the other things that are tearing down labor today, such as the war, and racism and sexism.
Kokomo activists have a great website: www.futureoftheunion.com.
There were UAW members from Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Alabama. A real eye-opener for me was the fact that everybody had a pretty concrete appreciation for one fact: that you can’t just sit back, and expect your regular officials to get us out of the mess that we are in. Our leadership cannot and will not organize us to defend ourselves from these global corporations. If that makes us “Bottomfeeders” then how did we get to the bottom in the first place? (The local union in Kokomo put out a letter that said this was not an official meeting, just a bunch of “Bottomfeeders” who didn’t have any of the facts.)
Now, as far as Ford, and St Louis, and final assembly plants are concerned, I don’t think you really need a roadmap to tell you where all of this is headed, and it doesn’t look like much of a time delay is involved. Our job right now is two-fold:
1. Talk about Delphi and GM, spread the word about what is happening to our own UAW sisters and brothers, research it, build solidarity for them, be ready to caravan to another city to help them, organize information meetings of rank-and-file to discuss these things, get our local union to discuss these things (not just: “When we hear something, we’ll let you know”)
2. Reject all concession demands. When Ford comes to us and asks to re-open the contract and give something back, say “NO”, and let us organize from there. Of course they will threaten to close the plant; that is all we have heard for the last few years. (How do you know that they won’t close the plant anyway? Have you ever successfully appeased a bully?) Ford wants your local tax money that is needed for our schools and healthcare. They want you to be an FPS clown, and play ball with the company. We should reject all concessions, local and national.