Rank and File Movement Continues to Grow
By Gregg Shotwell
Rank-and-File Meetings in Bay City and Flint, Michigan ratcheted up the intensity of shop floor resistance; organized a steering committee; agreed on specific action proposals; and for the sake of clarity and expedience, decided on a name—Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS).
Someone suggested we needed a name. The motion for SOS was initiated, seconded, and passed so quickly that after a break I requested that we revisit the motion.
I told the group that the action was processed so quickly I was afraid we were acting like the Administrative Caucus at a UAW Convention. I wanted to be sure that members did not leave feeling the motion was ram-rodded through without adequate deliberation and debate.
In further discussion members expressed (1) they felt like soldiers; (2) SOS was the signal for emergency and they felt it was an emergency; (3) the name didn’t restrict the organization to active UAW members and they wanted to be inclusive; (4) it has a militant ring.
In all four meetings there was a consensus expressed that we needed to broaden the struggle and be open to all workers—union and non union, active and retired, employed or unemployed, healthy or injured, skilled and unskilled, and professional as with teachers or nurses.
The name, SOS, has another practical expedience, i.e., only “concerted” actions are protected by the National Labor Relations Act. Concerted means organized, mutually agreed, and conducted for a group purpose. If an individual acts out of self-interest, even self-protection, the action is not concerted and therefore may not reside in the category protected by the NLRB
Most Delphi workers in the U.S. are union members and are protected by provisions in their contracts. Nevertheless, the SOS designation bears the added significance of a group of union members who have organized with the specific intent of mutual protection not only of wages and benefits, but also working conditions. The primary condition of our labor is the increasingly adversarial relationship between union and management wrought by Miller’s antagonism, arrogance, and insults.
SOS recognizes that in labor disputes management is likely to discipline workers more harshly. SOS means all for one and one for all. SOS is organized protection.
For example, if you notice a discussion between a supervisor and a member appears heated, move within earshot and witness the interaction. If workers are spaced too far apart, a signal of some sort, even an “SOS” shout, should be used to alert coworkers that their presence is required. Don’t let a coworker confront the boss alone. SOS means danger alert.
At the November 2 meeting in Detroit with Local Union officials President Gettelfinger said it was time to work to rule. Since neither the Locals nor the Regionals have followed through with educational programs on Work to Rule, i.e., how to conduct oneself in a safe and legal manner on the shop floor, we should make motions at our Local Union meetings to implement educational programs for all members. We should make a motion to pay members lost time to go to the Union Hall for instruction on Work to Rule tactics. It is irresponsible for a leader to declare war and not arm the soldiers. We deserve information and direction from our leaders.
Work to Rule means strict adherence to Process Control Instructions and Safe Work Methods. The precaution is prudent. In times of uncertainty and stress it is wise to exert caution and encourage diligence. Workers are not only anxious, they feel threatened. It is normal and just for people to feel angry when they are threatened.
The threat is not the result of what psychologists call “cognitive distortion” or irrational thinking. The threat is real. Delphi has expressed the intent to permanently and drastically undermine the financial security of our families.
Dr. Weisinger directs clients in his Anger Work-Out Book to determine whether their anger is just or unjust by asking themselves, “Is my anger directed toward someone who has knowingly, intentionally, and unnecessarily acted in a hurtful manner?”
Just anger is normal and healthy. Dr. Weisinger describes just anger as “a source of energy to help you defend yourself from being abused or treated unfairly.”
Indeed there are those who would argue that it is necessary for workers to be beaten down in order to enrich the more deserving members of our society, but that notion does nothing to soften the blow. Workers are experiencing righteous anger and responsible leaders should help them contain and direct that energy in a safe and effective manner. By effective I mean a method that achieves the goal of protection from both attack and humiliation. Effective anger management preserves self esteem because it asserts dignity and prevents harm to both parties.
SOS advocates Work to Rule as effective anger management. SOS discourages workers from acts of violence or sabotage. We do not want to harm the quality of the product we manufacture, nor the tools and machines we care for. Destructive behavior is harmful to a worker’s sense of dignity. Intentionally breaking a tool is the equivalent of expressing anger by inflicting injury on oneself. It’s not only stupid, it doesn’t accomplish the goal.
Work to Rule is a modified strike. In other words it is a civilized method of withholding one’s labor in order to promote negotiation. In the case of Work to Rule however, the worker doesn’t withhold his or her labor, they withhold their knowledge. All decision-making is left to the knowledge workers, i.e., the bosses. The lawn mowers just follow orders, or Process Control Instructions and Safe Work Methods, to the letter!
Work to Rule is less threatening to both the company and the union. It encourages workers to concentrate on working safely, methodically, and conscientiously. Of course, that is not the Delphi Manufacturing System as we know it, but it is certainly a more therapeutic reaction to the threats Delphi is directing at its workforce than all out war.
A button that says “Work to Rule” or “No Concessions” is not a curse or a threat, it is a boundary, a line in the sand.
Boundaries are essential to good mental health and constructive relationships. Work to Rule is healthy and wise as early to bed and early to rise. Or as Brother Wittek always says, “When the going gets tough, the tough take a break.”
All four rank-and-file meetings attracted workers from other sectors than the auto industry. There were nurses, retail workers, teachers, students, writers, and teamsters. I received an email from a Delphi worker in Brazil pledging support and another email from a German activist.
The only effective response to globalization is inter-national solidarity.
As a result of our diversity SOS formed a broad based, wide ranging steering committee open to all who have a desire to participate in planning events and guiding the resistance. We decided on a set of action proposals for the month of January.
For example, we will picket the Auto Show in Detroit on January 8 from 12-4 pm to protest GM-Delphi’s attack on workers. The steering committee devised a flier and will compose a leaflet to distribute at the picket.
On January 23 we will picket Delphi headquarters and demand our legal right to examine the annual audit of the pension.
SOS meetings are planned for Lockport, NY on January 8 (yes, the date conflicts with the Auto Show picket but it is imperative that we continue organizing WTR and extend the network) and Milwaukee, WS on January 15.
On January 22 we will hold a meeting in Troy, MI that will be restricted to active Delphi workers so we can get down to the brass tacks of resistance to concessions.
We decided to distribute Work to Rule and No Concession buttons.
A sub committee is organizing an event to protest the outsourcing of spark plug production from the Delphi Flint East plant.
And finally, we want to put Steve Miller on trial for economic terrorism. Working people are increasingly recognizing that the real terrorists in our midst are homegrown and wearing suits.
Anybody know a filmmaker in the Flint area who might be interested in directing?