UAW Rank-and-Filers Organize
Against Major Attack by Auto Bosses
By Gregg Shotwell
Rank and file meetings in Grand Rapids and Kokomo revealed a firm resolve to fight back and resist concessions. Both meetings were well attended by union members not only from Delphi but also from GM, Ford, Chrysler, Caterpillar, American Axle, Visteon and others who wanted to demonstrate support. There is a broad consensus that the assault on Delphi workers is a threat to all working people.
Delphi union members are resolved to prepare for a strike by working to rule. The general concept is understood, but specific tactics will need to be tailored to each location. [Pdf files on Work to Rule strategies are available online at http://www.uawndm.org]
Rank and file members believe a strike is inevitable and that we need to prepare ourselves for that event. Work to Rule is a tool for strike preparation and a method to leverage negotiations.
Work to rule is a tactic that strives
to achieve two things
1.) Reduce inventories by strict adherence to rules and regulations so that a company is more vulnerable to a strike and the economic hardship for workers is thereby lessened.
2.) Reinforce solidarity and build the communication network needed for a successful strike.
Limiting Overtime And Building Solidarity
We have our work cut out for us, but Millerís threats make strike pay look more lucrative than working once the judge revokes the contract. Now is the time to prepare by working to rule.
Some members still work overtime knowing full well that Delphi and GM are building inventories. When we point out that the overtime prepares the company to sustain a strike, they respond, I need the money, or, if I donít work it, somebody else will.
We must bear in mind when trying to convince fellow members to work to rule and refuse voluntary over time that each member has a personal life fraught with anxiety and responsibility. Be respectful and patient. We donít always know what our coworker is going through at home. Be considerate and show concern. Their fears and anxieties are legitimate. Help them gain the will and motivation to fight back. Convince them we are worth fighting for.
Someone asked George Cornwell, a veteran activist from Caterpillar UAW Local 974 what we should do about members who will not participate in work to rule. George advised: Keep talking to them. If you give up on them, the company wins them over. Befriend them. Donít harass them. Let them know that if they arenít working to rule, they are hurting their own chances of survival, but never reject them. Winning them over is the key to victory.
The shop floor is an arena in which we can exert tangible power and achieve measurable results. We need tools not political theories. The impending economic crisis provides the motivation to fight back with all and any means at our disposal. What develops from that struggle will be determined by actions, not rhetorical abstractions.
Ideology sounds like wishful thinking to a person with medical bills and a house payment. We should strive, in the words of Samuel Gompers, to provide a practical solution to an urgent need. Work to rule is a practical method for preparing to strike. Solidarity grounded in thoughtful interactions with fellow workers on the shop floor meets the urgent need for mutual support in times of duress.
Working without a contract
In the event that we must work without a contract, we discussed the importance of protected concerted activity as defined by the National Labor Relations Act. Only action engaged in a concerted, organized way is protected by law. For example, if I stood up in a company update meeting and start singing ďSolidarity ForeverĒ at the top of my lungs, I would get fired. If all the union members present started singing together in defense of wages and working conditions, itís protected concerted activity.
Retirement: Is it Safe?
Many Delphi members are eligible to retire but unable to decide. Many official as well as rank and file members have sought answers to questions about the Benefit Guarantee that GM is supposed to provide Delphi employees. The trouble is, no one to date has seen a signed and dated document that appears legally binding. Retirement is too important to be decided on hearsay.
Even if the Benefit Guarantee is secure, itís still a banana peel. There are no safe harbors. Security in retirement is based on who we leave behind. If we cut a deal to save ourselves at the expense of lower seniority members, the betrayal will come back to haunt us. Gettelfinger has already negotiated cuts in retirement benefits. In 2007 GM will be back for more. Fight back now to resist concessions. After you retire it will be too late. We should protect retirees as they protected us and protect new hires as we expect to be protected. Our Solidarity should not be divided into sectors and subdivided into tiers. [Emphasis added (Editor).]
We are concerned that Delphi wants to push for a massive retiree exodus which may enable them to hire employees who will then be trained before a strike is called. These new hires will likely become scabs. Delphi has already begun to advertise for scabs. We hope that those who are eligible to retire will stay and help us fight.
Take Control at the Point of Production
The corporations control the courts and the politicians. The most effective control we can exert is at the point of production. We have more leverage on the shop floor than anywhere. Thatís where the battle must be fought. Reliance on politicians to fight our battles is naive. Politicians are notorious for supporting corporations not workers. Dependence on the political process fosters helplessness, complacency, and defeat. Take control at the point of production.
Workers are angry. They came to the Rank and File Meetings to learn how to channel that anger into an effective resistance. The workers who attended represent the growing ranks of union members who are infuriated by Delphiís demands that workers sacrifice in order to cover up gross mismanagement and fraud. Rank and file members are determined to launch a rebellion and demand accountability.
The meetings we have held and will continue to hold are designed to clarify and direct workers anger into a formidable resistance. What is important is not what happens in the backroom but what happens on the shop floor between workers. We brought back from the meetings a concerted desire to organize resistance and tell members: Get ready to pull the plug.
Rank & File Meetings are scheduled for Bay City/Saginaw, MI. and Flint, Michigan.
All working people are invited: active, retired, or unemployed. The corporate media will not be permitted to attend the meeting but we will not discourage anyone from speaking to the corporate media before or after the event. We encourage UAW officials to attend on an equal footing with rank and file members.
The main topics will be:
1.) Preparing for a strike at Delphi by working to rule.
2.) Preparing to work without a contract.
3.) How should a strike be conducted?
4.) Is there security in retirement?
GreggShotwell@aol.com, UAW Local 2151
—Future of the Union, November 23rd, 2005