One Autoworkerís View
Dennis Gallie, January 9, 2006
I donít know if anyone bothered to put the ’Spin-o-Meter’ on Henry Fordís grave yesterday, but it probably would have registered way up in the red zone, when the rank-n-file UAW picketed the Auto Show in Detroit. In bygone days, workers didnít know much about global corporations and cooking the books. They didnít challenge the bossís rights until they were near starvation. They just reacted naturally to the local situation. Eventually, they banded together into a great industrial union known as the UAW, and secured many economic gains. Today, we may have lost our labor organization to labor bureaucrats, and we have lost some of our ability to act together, but we certainly have more information about the world in which we live. What is happening in this ’Information Age’ is a renewed democratic self-organization of labor from the bottom up. ’Soldiers of Solidarity’ is an example of this self-organization. There may be a globalization of the corporations that control our paychecks, but there is now a globalization of the exploited and oppressed.
We probably made a mistake by marching directly at the police line, as if to claim our free speech rights to be directly in front of Cobo Hall. We werenít prepared for a confrontation, and it was not on the agenda. Old Henry probably thought that the Detroit police missed a golden opportunity to bust heads, and the ’Spin-o-Meter’ might have overheated at this point. After all, when the unemployed Ford workers marched on Dearborn during the Great Depression, Henry just ordered his private militia to open fire.
As it was on Sunday, the march simply stopped and turned around, and went back to the ’free speech’ area. Later in the day, the same tactic was used, under a different rank and file leader, and had the same result. Many of us understood that this was a provocation, and remained behind. Some of the designated Soldiers of Solidarity Martials also saw the danger, and told us to turn around because we were not set up for this. Our movement is solid, but young. It is open, democratic, generous, and hardworking; but inexperienced in many ways. We have a lot to learn about the real nature of the courts, the police and the Democrat-Republican method of legislation. We need to learn that our ability to organize is superior to the company-government violence. Our purpose last Sunday was informational, not confrontational. Had the local government decided to take the opportunity to call us the aggressors, they could have made arrests and hurt some of us. I think the reason they chose not to do this, is because it would look so bad to have this contrast broadcast in the media: luxury and bravado inside the hall, and the beating of the autoworkers outside the hall. It was their call. Some will say that it is always their call, and that is true, but we need not make it easier for them. In the end, it wasnít our American flags that protected us. We have to claim more of our free speech rights, and there is always a danger in that, but we can learn some tactics from the anti-war movement and the movements for racial justice and womenís rights.
The contradiction of the newscasters is that they were there, but they didnít cover the picket! There were numerous local and national television crews, but the picket got only about five seconds on the local news, and a brief summary on national news. The Auto Show itself was featured for hours on local TV. I think there was no story for them unless things got out of order with some kind of police riot. The message that we had for them about our wages and pensions was not ’hard news’. In retrospect, we need to get the alternative media out there covering us, and we need to relate to the other movements, such as the anti-war movement and US Labor Against the War. Where was the ’Democracy Now’ cable TV alternative news program? I know that Amy Goodman does not have resources to cover anything and everything, but this rank-and file effort was important. We related to the local AFSCME workers in Detroit, and a few of them joined our picket.
The point about the flags is that we are not Americans first, and workers second. Delphi has shown you this by going bankrupt in the US, while remaining profitable worldwide, and getting the American courts to go along with this story. If we are to get anywhere in this struggle to save our jobs and pensions, we have to unite with other workers globally.
We are getting over the ’company loyalty’ that was foisted on us by the companies and by the UAW international. We are getting over our blind obedience to our UAW leaders, who do nothing but promote concessions. Now it is time to get over the ’American Jobs’ thing. There really is no such thing as an American job. You are in direct competition with the Bangladeshi worker and the Chinese worker. It really is a race to the bottom if the Global corporations hold all the strings. American workers have to somehow make their peace with workers in other lands, and proceed against the global corporations. UAW members have to make their peace with unorganized workers in this industry, as well as organized and unorganized women and men across America. Patriotism and the flag become irrelevant at this point. You canít win this life-and-death struggle as an American.
On the 6 oíclock news they reported that Honda had won both the car-of-the-year and truck-of-the-year awards: the first time in history for any manufacturer. The newscaster reported this with a furrowed brow, and assured us that the ’Big Three’ were doing well in other ways. But what do we care about the business fortunes of any one company? Any three companies?
Thereís really no difference between Chrysler and Toyota, because both of these corporations used to be in the Apartheid South African Nation, making money for their stockholders under the most extreme labor conditions. That tells you a lot, and thatís why we need to study our global labor history. The white guys were all foremen or skilled trades, and had their own ’union’, while the blacks worked on the line and had a separate union. African autoworkers lived in barracks, had near-starvation wages, could not get married, or even travel freely No women were allowed to work. Fast-forward to 2006, and the economic exploitation of the big global corporations is still there in South Africa. There is now widespread poverty and Aids. Apartheid came crashing down in 1990, and the government is no longer a white enclave; the dominant party is overwhelmingly Black. It was a long hard struggle to get something that could be called a Nation. So how can racial and economic injustice still prevail at this late date? And does this continued injustice abroad help the US autoworker at home? The answer is NO. When Apartheid fell, the South African majority was unable to get control the auto plants and the industry of their nation. Industry is still controlled by large global corporations, and a small number of local businessmen. Politics made a giant leap when Apartheid was scrapped, but economics stayed the same. We live in a global world where nations donít represent workers.
Chrysler is now DaimlerChrysler, a German corporation, which the Detroit media says is one of the ’Big Three’. These media misleaders are all confused and are trying to confuse us autoworkers. It makes no difference, which companies are in the Big Three, or call themselves ’American’. As autoworkers, it makes no difference whether we work for a company based in the USA, or Japan, or Germany. We have the same struggle to keep up our wages and pensions. DaimlerChrysler workers here in St Louis are facing the same take back demands that have just been passed at GM and Ford. They happen to be expanding the plant, but now the company is demanding Team Concept, as well as the pension and wage take-backs. Workers out there at DaimlerChrysler have two separate UAW locals for two plants that sit side-by-side, and that is something I could never figure out. But they have figured out that the company is making money, and has no right to demand concessions, and Team Concept rules that weaken the union on the shop floor. So there is a movement out there to resist, and even to elect more worker-friendly committeepersons.
Meanwhile the Ford plant here, where I work, is about to close. We are expecting an announcement Jan 23, 2006 from the company. Since the UAW international clams that we agreed 51% to 49% to the pension take backs, we feel like we have been robbed on the way out. GM is already making rumblings about getting out of their contractual job-bank obligations, just as they are getting out of their retiree healthcare obligations. Naturally, I expect Ford to follow suit, and try to leave me without a pension and without a job by 2007.
This is why I left the American flag at home when I went up to the protest in Detroit. I brought the ’US Labor Against the War’ banner that we use in St Louis, and strung it between two trees. It got a good reception from everybody that noticed it. Letís face it: the elephant in the middle of the room is the War in Iraq. Whenever labor gets together, as we did so effectively last Sunday, the enormous costs of the Iraq war are present but not accounted for. These enormous costs, in terms of lives and dollars, have been foisted on the shoulders of labor. Are we ignoring this? Are we following Solidarity House one last time? We passed an anti-war resolution in my local, but only after dodging a lot of ’flak’ from the local leadership. They used the Veterans Committee to oppose the resolution, but it passed anyway. And if you talked to any of the veterans in the plant, a great majority was against the war anyway! They all were familiar with this fact: the day the invasion was announced, our government cut veterans benefits.
In conclusion, I will do everything I can to remain active in SOS, as well as USLAW. As UAW members, our obligation is to support the Delphi workers in their work-to-rule and strike efforts. We need to push resolutions and actions in our locals supporting them.
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