Socialist ViewPoint and analysis for working people

January/February • Vol 6, No. 1 •

GM/Delphi Autoworkers Prepare for Showdown Fight with Auto Bosses

A major attack against one of the country’s most powerful unions, the United Auto Workers, has been formally launched by the Delphi Corporation. But while Delphi, a recent spin off from General Motors, is formally independent, it nevertheless remains under GM’s decisive control.

In other words, GM is orchestrating what is shaping up to be the most far-reaching assault on the working class and its unions since the smashing of the airline controllers’ strike and its union in 1981-82. Thus, a victory by GM/Delphi would benefit not only all auto-industry employers, but also capitalists as a class.

After all, the economic fate of American capitalism is not only determined by its gains or losses relative to its main domestic class antagonist, the workers. Capitalist America is also engaged in an economic war for market share with its most powerful global competitors. A war that the U.S. is presently losing, as shown by its rising balance of payments deficit, soaring budget deficits, and skyrocketing national debt.

Many perceptive observers, including GM stockholders, are fearful of the growing likelihood that rank-and-file autoworkers will not allow their so-called “middle-class” life-style to be taken away without a fight. Moreover, because GM is entirely dependent on Delphi products—without which its car and truck production would be paralyzed—they also have good reason to believe that a strike against Delphi could spread to GM. If so, there is no guarantee that this strike will be another easy victory as has been the case for most of the last quarter-century.

Their greatest concern is that instead of stealing a march on their foreign competitors by once again drastically reducing U.S. labor costs, the world’s largest automobile corporation could come out of this confrontation mortally wounded.

After all, the only reason that America has not lost more ground to its global competition in world trade is because its employing class, backed by the bipartisan capitalist government, has succeeded in lowering the cost of production in its internal economy far more than its chief global competitors have been able to lower their own workers’ wages.

However, as risky as is the possibility of a major stoppage of GM/Delphi production, the bosses have set a course toward dealing the workers and the UAW a major defeat and qualitative reduction in living standards.

The two main reasons for GM’s decision are these. First, despite its great success in lowering its labor costs, it continues to lose ground in the world marketplace to its global competition. And secondly, GM has once again received a commitment from the UAW leadership that it is willing to “share the sacrifice.”

Meanwhile, in anticipation of another easy victory and belying its bankruptcy claim, Delphi has arrogantly requested the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to approve its decision to reward its executive team with bonuses and stock potentially worth more than $500 million while workers “share” the sacrifice.

It just so happens that no sooner did word get out that the UAW’s top officialdom would cooperate with GM, than Ford and Chrysler indicated that they would follow suit by demanding comparable concessions from their workers.

That, in a nutshell, is the nature of this race to the bottom dictated by the bosses with the shameful cooperation of the labor bureaucracy. It’s a race that pits autoworkers in one GM, Ford or Chrysler plant against another plant producing the same product. Thus, by threatening to close the one that will not agree to a wage cut, leaders of local unions in each of the two targeted plants are egged on by the company to bid against each other with the “winner” being the local that agrees to the deepest cuts. And it’s all being done with hypocritical irony, “in the name of saving workers’ jobs”!

The role of the mass media

While it cannot be denied that there is a limit to how low living standards can be driven before workers will say “this far and no farther”—no one knows when that point will be reached.

That’s why one of the most important weapons in the hands of ruling elites in every land is their control over the sources of information about what is happening in the world. And since every major national source of information is owned and controlled by multi-millionaires and billionaires, the preponderance of printed and electronic news reports reaching the entire working class solely reflects an “interpretation” of world events exclusively by the rich and superrich.

This, after all, is one of the most important means by which a small minority is able to rule over the great majority of workers and their natural allies. That is, by making it very difficult for the average person to know the true facts, and even more importantly, to effectively discuss their common problems on the basis of all the facts, workers are greatly disadvantaged.

In effect, public opinion is being literally manufactured by the monopoly over mass communication in the hands of the rich and superrich. We only need to point to the way the mass media printed the lies about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs knowing them to be false from the start. But now they seek to pretend that they did not know that “Bush lied to us.”

After all, it had been amply reported everywhere that since the time of Saddam Hussein’s defeat in the first Iraq war in 1991, the UN had been conducting a thorough search of all possible places in Iraq where these alleged weapons might have been hidden. And while UN inspectors, including many Americans among them, had indeed identified, collected and destroyed all sorts of conventional weapons, not a single unconventional WMD, allegedly secreted by the Saddam Hussein regime, was to be found.

The role of the Internet

A far more democratic medium of mass communication has come into existence. Starting in the 1980s, the Internet has grown into a major alternative medium of communication accessible to anyone in the world with a computer and an Internet connection—whether owned or rented by the hour for a fee. It has enabled anyone with access to the world-wide web, to exchange information with anyone anywhere in the world.

It is now possible for organized or unorganized working people and others whose interests are not in accord with those of the ruling elite, to pass on to others information previously inaccessible to the great majority.

Furthermore, it has not only made it possible for workers to access all sides of every question, and conduct a democratic discussion, it has also created a vast new organizing tool never before available to the world’s workers and other victims of capitalist injustice.

• • •

In early November, we began receiving reports via the Internet from a small but strategically located group of union activists in the heartland of American industry. These workers are actively engaged in organizing a rank-and-file movement among Delphi, GM and other workers—organized and unorganized—in auto and other related mass production industries.

Their immediate goal is to build a serious and effective movement against this latest attack by the auto bosses who are demanding a cut in average hourly wages from about $27.50 to $12.50 an hour—not to mention the gutting of workers’ pensions and health benefits which are paid for by deductions from their hourly wages—not by employers!

One of the principal leaders of this emerging rank-and-file movement is an autoworker and long-time UAW activist by the name of Gregg Shotwell. He and other leaders of this movement have shown a deep understanding of labor history and its lessons which evidently serve as their guide to effective class action.

Here is a sample of what they have to say and how they say it from one of Shotwell’s reports, “Workers Will Rule When They Work to Rule.” There are many more by Gregg Shotwell and by other leading figures in the following pages. All of which constitute a sizeable portion of this edition of Socialist Viewpoint magazine. Shotwell writes:

Our history makes us unique. There are people who don’t want us to know our history. They want us to believe history is about millionaires and kings, not the struggles of working people against millionaires and kings. There is power in knowing our history .…

The slogan “work to rule” has a double meaning. Work to rule is a method of slowing production by following every rule to the letter. The aim is to leverage negotiations. Work to rule is also an invocation for workers to govern collectively, to control the conditions of their labor. Work to rule means power to the people.

Work to rule is an in-plant strategy, a method of influencing negotiations without going on strike. Workers follow the boss’s orders but do nothing on their own initiative. They keep their knowledge and experience to themselves, defer all decisions to the straw boss, and let the pieces fall where they may.

Work to rule has roots to an article by Frank Bohn printed in the IWW [Industrial Workers of the World] newsletter Solidarity in 1912. Bohn wrote: “Sabotage means strike and stay in the shop. Striking workers thus are enabled to draw pay and keep out scabs while fighting capitalists .…”

In the 1930’s union members occupied factories. The sit down strikes were illegal, but there is a higher authority than the bossing class. When workers work to rule, human rights take precedent over property rights. In the 1930’s workers claimed ownership of their jobs and stared down the barrel of a gun to win union recognition .…

Management thinks they control the plant with their clipboards, portable phones, and panties twisted in a knot. But when workers work to rule the bosses find out who really runs the plant, who keeps machines humming, production flowing, and the money coming in.…

Workers are not saboteurs. Workers want to build, not destroy. Work to rule simply means: to rigorously adhere to Process Control Instructions and strive to meet the stated goals of high quality, lean inventory, and just-in-time delivery in order to compel “cooperation” from the boss. Working to rule is like keeping kosher a strict code of law.…

Another important development in addition to the extraordinarily high caliber of this rank-and-file leadership, is the fact that they are getting more than a modest response from workers directly and indirectly affected by this latest major attack on the labor movement. And that, along with many other reports appearing in the mass media, as well as on the Internet, suggests that the time when workers will say, “this far and no further” is rapidly approaching.

Moreover, this emerging new rank-and-file leadership is proving its right to lead by its highly sophisticated campaign of planning and organizing in open preparation for a strike. Most importantly, although Shotwell knows that the labor movement’s official leadership, especially at the top, are adamant supporters of class collaboration, he has left the door open to their possible support of class struggle action if rank-and-file pressure rises to explosive proportions.

Apparently, one of their major organizing tools is through several websites and blogs [i.e., web logs—Internet sites set up and run by individuals] they have helped organize. One of these, called Future of the Union is one of the most important next to Shotwell’s own Internet site, And there are others independently established by labor and socialist activists and progressive-minded individuals and groupings.

But rather than going into further detail as to our view that this could be the beginning of something new and big, we will let the leaders of this emerging rank-and-file movement speak for themselves.

We are interested in what readers have to say regarding this development as well as their response to our assessment of the significance of this emerging new movement and what it portends for the future.

—Nat Weinstein

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