Quorum325 is a webpage for autoworkers of UAW local 325.
Editor: Dennis Gallie

Shut It Down!

Reject concessions on UAW healthcare.

Reject the bankruptcy court.

Nationalize empty plants.

By Dennis Gallie, Nov. 3, 2005

Voting starts today for the UAW workers at General Motors, and I'm thinking this is the "beginning of the end" for our union, as we have known it. The international leaders, and many local leaders as well, are recommending that they vote for these big concessions on healthcare. Retirees will be forced to pay over $700 per year in premiums, and active workers will lose about one dollar per hour in wages.

I work on the line at Ford's St Louis Assembly plant, and I know that Ford has already said it wants the same concessions. It really doesn't matter that Ford has far fewer retirees to support, or that it has been turning a small profit lately. The reasons they give you for "take-backs" don't really have to make sense: they are just a trying to hide a frontal attack on our union, and on all workingwomen and men. It's just like the government saying that they have money for Iraq, but not for Katrina: money for business tax cuts, but not for education.

Ford had money to buy the Volvo car company several years ago, but no money to invest in the hybrid that we could be making right now. Instead, our plant is slated to close, maybe even before the end of the contract in 2007. We are supposed to be good until the end of our contract, but Explorer sales are so pitiful that the company will probably close it earlier, and then come up with some reason to tell the news media. Our leaders may counsel us to accept that, too, on the grounds that the company could do something worse.

"Shut it down, then!" That should be our answer as autoworkers to all the threats to close our plants, outsource our work, reduce our healthcare, and make us behave like teamwork monkeys. We are going to have to stop listening to our defeatist leaders at the national and local levels, and make them do their jobs. What are we paying them for? Why did we get them off the line? Certainly not to tell us that we better accept Delphi Corporation's wage and benefit cuts, because they would get deeper cuts from a bankruptcy court. If big companies like Ford and GM can't operate a plant profitably, we would be foolish to bribe them with tax breaks (our kid's school money and healthcare), or to clown around with their teamwork systems, which only weaken the normal solidarity of people who work together every day. We would be fooling ourselves if we play that "Please don't close the plant!" game.

You can't force the company to use profitable methods; you can't force them to put quality tires on the vehicle. We are still suffering from the poor judgment of Ford, in putting defective Firestone tires on the Explorer. Yes, some of us actually put those tires on the SUV. But NO, we didn't know they were defective. Nor did we see any engineering reports that said the SUV was prone to rollovers. Nor did we know that Explorers were being recalled in another country, because of rollovers. The teamwork system, which was in place at the time of the rollover fiasco (called Ford Production System, or FPS), did not avoid this problem. We can't "team up" with the company and solve quality issues unless they make public all of their financial and engineering data. And they will never do this because of executive privilege.

We also know that whatever concessions are pushed onto the Delphi workers will affect the future of all autoworkers. UAW workers at Delphi should just say "NO", and let the chips fall where they may. Sometimes we are threatened with job losses and plant closings, but the big auto companies have been closing plants for 50 years anyway, so why not refuse the concessions and organize ourselves to deal with the consequences. The big companies know that they cannot produce without our labor, so if they want to outsource the entire US auto industry, let them outsource themselves. My Local always talks about producing quality, and helping Ford get over on the State of Missouri and the city of Hazelwood, "to ensure our future at Ford in St. Louis". But our future really depends on what concessions we reject, as a local and as members of the international UAW.

I think the only way out of this mess is to :

    1. Insist on National health care, one payer system, guaranteed for all.

    2. Occupy the plants that our bosses are abandoning.

Occupying the plants may seem a little extreme, but what can we do when we are told that we just don't deserve to be healthy? How else can we react to the irresponsible actions of a rich minority that runs the global companies? We can't give up a big chunk of the wages we have bargained for, just to pay our healthcare, which is a human right, just like education. The companies, and the government that represents them, tells you that they don't care. They tell you in actions like Katrina, and words like concession demands. You have to believe what they are saying and act accordingly! If Ford cannot run the plant to their own satisfaction, then we will run it ourselves, and insist that it be nationalized without compensation. If GM cannot afford to have healthy employees, cannot decide to produce fuel-efficient cars, and wants to lay off thousands anyway, then GM workers should take over the closed plants too.

This is not so far-fetched as it might seem. Workers in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela have recently done exactly that, in cases where global corporations have abandoned their plants. They took the employers at their word: "We can't make a profit here." The organized workers did have one condition for the bosses, however: Just get out, don't come back, and don't try to sell your assets. The workers said "Don't worry about your debts and back taxes, because they are not our taxes and debts!"

Our own UAW occupied the plants back in the 1930's, and in fact we wouldn't even have a union if we hadn't sat in. That great labor upsurge was closer, in time, to the great Civil Rights struggles and the Women's Movement, than we are today in 2005. That should tell us that we are missing some of the solidarity that our union leadership abandoned long ago. We need solidarity with all the workers of the world. We need to take up the cause of Women's Equality, and we need to band together with the workers of all nations. My future is not with Ford Motor Company or St Louis, or Missouri. I don't need to be going to Jefferson City or Washington DC to promote my employer and try to get tax breaks for them. I don't need to clown around and snitch on co-workers and pretend to be concerned about "our" company. When anybody tells you that you better be for the company or you'll be out of a job, they are representing the company, and they are making a threat on behalf of the company

Every UAW member should vote against all these concession demands. More importantly, we should all be raising in each and every local, the need of our union to go on an all-out campaign for national healthcare. Above all, we should all be laying the groundwork for our locals to resist all company threats (bankruptcy, downsizing, layoffs, concessions, etc). I know that we are more in the age of getting put out in the street rather than going on strike, but we can turn this around by calmly declaring our right to be in these plants, with or without the current management. We can organize. The violent method belongs to the employers and the cops. Our power is in organizing all the women and men of the UAW!