United States

A Message from Lockport

By Gregg Shotwell

When we first read the New York Times report on the outcome of the vote by Delphi’s UAW members in the latest round of concessions cooked up by UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and his corporate partners, we couldn’t help but be dismayed by the news that Delphi’s autoworkers had voted themselves a drastic reduction in wages.

Gettelfinger stooped to a new level of betrayal by recommending his latest union-busting contract. In addition to another cut in wages, UAW members also voted to give up their supplementary unemployment benefits plan. This is no small concession. It means that when Delphi’s UAW members will be laid off, they will no longer be entitled to take home 90 percent of their regular (though much reduced) paycheck in accord with the UAW’s supplemental unemployment benefits plan—still enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of the union’s members employed by the Big Three—GM, Chrysler and Ford.

It also means that a precedent has been set for extending this concession to the rest of the Big Three. And if recent trends are any guide, it can engulf the entire unionized sector of the auto industry sooner than anyone may think!

But things are not always as they may seem. And the bad news that we have already noted was accompanied by an important piece of very good news—which counts far more heavily than all the bad news that has recently come down the pike. We refer to the message from Lockport that appears below. It was the first real test of how the overwhelming majority of the Big Three’s traditional autoworkers, who are not newly hired, second tier or part-time employees, are going to vote on their new four -year contracts slated to be negotiated in the period immediately ahead.

Shotwell and other autoworkers with many years on the work benches and assembly lines of GM and Delphi are in a far better position than those of us outside the auto industry to see the whole picture, not just the part about the big vote by all Delphi autoworkers in favor of the latest cut in their wages. Based on his report and similar reports from other traditional autoworkers, we are now also able to see why the mass media has not said a word about the most important part of the message from Lockport, its 60 percent rejection of Gettelfinger’s latest round of wage cuts. The last thing the pro-employer mass media want the half-million autoworkers to know is the message from the ordinary grunts at Delphi’s Lockport plant.

Shotwell notes that over 80 percent of the UAW members who voted were new hires—that is, except those at the Lockport, New York plant where 60 percent were traditional UAW members. In Lockport the latest concessions contract was defeated by a lopsided 4-to-1 vote.

Besides, according to the Buffalo News, “Autoworkers at Delphi Corp.’s plant in Lockport voted overwhelmingly against a tentative agreement that would cut wages in order to preserve jobs, a union official said. Members voted 80 percent against the “buy down” plan, said Paul Siejak, president of United Auto Workers Local 686 Unit 1 in Lockport. Of 1,382 voting, 1,107 voted to reject the proposal, and only 274 voted for it in balloting on Wednesday, Siejak said.”

In other words, it stands to reason that the reaction to any such wage-cutting contract by the great majority of UAW members is far more likely to reflect the negative response of Lockport’s traditional autoworkers than that of the other Delphi plants that are composed of 80 percent new hires.

—The Editors of Socialist Viewpoint

When Gettelfinger praised GM for making the Delphi deal possible, he not only spit out a mouthful, he made the bed. How comfortable he and his corporate partner will be in that bed is questionable. Gettelfinger lost credibility with UAW members, and Wagoner won’t be able to deliver on two tier and health care.

The outcome of the Delphi vote is very telling.

In all of the Delphi plants over 80 percent of the UAW members who voted were new hires. All of the plants—that is, except Lockport, NY where 60 percent were traditional UAW members. In Lockport the concession contract was overwhelmingly defeated.

UAW members in Lockport clearly understood the broader ramifications of the deal. They weren’t fooled by the “Vote Yes” and be-glad-we-saved-your-job-bullcrap. They know that concessions never save jobs. They know that COAs [Competitive Operating Agreements] destroy unions. They know the difference between a collective bargaining agreement and a yellow dog contract.

Lockport sent a message. UAW members at GM are more likely to vote like the traditional workers in Lockport than new hires in Saginaw.

Delphi, just like Miller said in the beginning, is shutting down, chopping up, and selling off all U.S. operations. And yes, like Gettelfinger confessed, GM made it all possible. The deal was conceived in a back room in Flint in 1998. But that’s one for the history books. In the present tense four plants—Rochester, Lockport, Kokomo, and Grand Rapids—were sent to death row to bide their time. The rest will be executed promptly.

It’s increasingly evident that concessions are irrelevant. Concessions will not delay the transfer of jobs to Mexico and China and non-union chop shops. Concessions won’t increase market share or design better products. Concessions only serve to deflect accountability for incompetent management and inadequate planning. Concessions don’t make a company lean, they just cover up defects temporarily.

Traditional UAW members feel like they already made health care concessions; they’ve seen the results of two tier at Delphi; and they think Gettelfinger is a failure to put it kindly. They are not going to buy any more of his bullshit.

While the Con Caucus carpetbags around the country convincing Local Unions that if they don’t concede “work rules” they won’t get new investment, workers are winking and nodding. In the end work does rule, and we know how to wield it and how to with hold it.

We may have to bend to lift, but we don’t have to kneel to live.

That’s the message from Lockport, New York.