SOS: Why You Need to Join the Soldiers of Solidarity Now!
By Melodee Hagensen
When Steve Miller threatened to slash the wages of hourly Delphi workers to $9.50 last October, he inadvertently woke a giant: the rank and file autoworkers. Many, who have, for years, gone with the flow of the steady stream of concessions negotiated between the UAW and the auto companies, have had enough. Now calling themselves the Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS), the shop floor is determined to change the tide in the auto industry, beginning with Delphi.
Since November, the SOS message has spread through eight meetings in five states, drawing support from workers at Delphi, GM, Ford, American Axle, Chrysler and Visteon, leaving in their wake smaller groups organizing in individual plants. Though Steve Miller withdrew the infamous $9.50 wage concession proposal, these workers continue swimming upstream in order to put a stop to all concessions through a work-to-rule strategy in preparation to strike.
Local 599’s Dean Braid asked at the January 22 SOS meeting in Troy, MI for active Delphi workers only: “Are people believing what Miller wants for us to believe? That it is Miller Time? Sit back, have a beer, and forget things? Or are people more likely to remember the language that he used when he threatened to cut over 60 percent of our pay?”
Cheryl Daigle, who works at Delphi East, is concerned that many at her plant have resigned themselves to the belief that their jobs will be made secure by the union. “People at my plant expect to be transferred to Saginaw. There are about 3,300 of us. I don’t think that Saginaw can support 3,300 of us.”
Jonelle Sayles, who also works at Delphi East said: “People think, ‘Oh, they won’t cut our wages that low. We’ll take $20 an hour and we’ll be fine.’ But where are the cuts going to end? I think we have become lazy. We sit back and let someone else fight our battles and they are not doing it.”
Saginaw Delphi worker, Stacey McKinney said: “At our plant, they stick the bug in everybody’s ear that if we are really extra good and keep our mouths shut, then GM might buy our plant back. There are a lot of people who are afraid of rocking the boat because that will ruin the chance of our plant being the only plant that GM buys back, and then we are going to be safe.”
McKinney is concerned that management at Delphi is pitting one factory against another in an attempt to convince workers that any struggle to maintain their wages and benefits will result in the closing of their factory, while more “company oriented” factories will be spared.
Flint workers complained that many Flint Journal articles were assisting Delphi with their “be good or be gone” muzzling of workers. They pointed to an editorial in the Flint Journal the day of the meeting, which they felt suggested that workers fighting to maintain adequate pay and benefits will result in the loss of Flint auto jobs to other areas. The editorial argued that products made in Flint, “which take little skill to manufacture,” may be produced in other “low-wage locales.” The editorial seemed to play plants off each other, explaining, “Flint’s instrument cluster work may stand the best chance to remain. However, that could be shipped elsewhere, too, just like products made in Kokomo, Ind., Ohio or New York might be relocated to other Delphi towns, or be picked up by different companies.”
McKinney is convinced that SOS members will not be manipulated so easily, “If keeping my job means that somebody else has to lose theirs, then I don’t want that blood on my hands.”
SOS is organizing across the Midwest in order to assure that autoworkers are prepared to stand together, across plants and across companies, in order to obstruct management attempts to force members and locales apart by forcing them against each other.
At the heart of the SOS battle is the chance to maintain basic middle class standards, such as adequate wages, health care, and pensions. David E. Cole, head of the Ann Arbor based Center for Automotive Research, told the Los Angles Times, “When the history of this period is written, Delphi will be viewed as the tipping point where the auto industry either got its act together or failed. The spillover to the rest of the economy is going to be tremendous.”
Donald Kemp, who works at Flint Truck and Bus, has felt pressure from some of his coworkers due to his involvement in SOS. “I just tell them, ‘Hey, I am going to save your job whether you like it or not.’”
One worker at Delphi East has been concerned that Local 651 may not support SOS.
“Our union Local paper, The Sparkler, put out an article calling this group ‘union busting,’ saying that we are trying to break up the union. But they can’t even produce the Local Sparkler without everybody having a different opinion. The recording secretary is totally dead-set against this group, but Art Reyes is saying that he supports us in many ways. If our own local can’t even stand in solidarity, how can our actions be union busting?” The worker added that SOS could create the kind of purposeful solidarity that the workers on the floor have gone without for years.
Longtime union fighter Jerry Tucker was then asked to address the audience of active Delphi workers. Tucker has a wealth of experience within the UAW, including public policy work in Washington DC, serving as a UAW International Union Executive Board member, and as a co-founder and national organizer for the New Directions Movement, which called for accountability, democracy, and solidarity from UAW leadership.
“Together you can make a difference. I believe that Delphi has sufficient supply and sufficient credit to face just the cost questions that you raise,” Tucker told the Delphi SOS workers.
“You say some of your co-workers are ‘apathetic,’ but I think that ‘confused’ is a better adjective. I don’t know how in the hell you are apathetic when someone wants to cut your wages by two thirds and tell you that you can’t have a truck plant, you can’t have cost of living, you are going to go into a 401k, and your health and safety is going out the door. I don’t understand the word apathy being connected to that in any way,” said Tucker.
“Do you guys think for a minute that Miller’s idea of consensual behavior really means stopping concession making? Or even reducing the level of the concessions to a satisfactory place?” asked Tucker, “Nobody in this room wants any concessions. There shouldn’t be any thought about that. Any concession you mentally agree to is a defeat. You and your allies do not even have concessions in mind. There are plenty of folks who do. Your day-to-day activity cannot accept concession number one. You start out saying, ‘I don’t make any concessions, and if they get them, they get them totally against my wishes.’”
Tucker explained that it is not necessary for the UAW International to lead the shop floor tactics. “The International couldn’t teach you work-to-rule. In the first place, they wouldn’t have the slightest idea. They are sold out of the organization of resistance. They have become professional concession makers,” said Tucker. “You can teach yourself. You have the capacity to do more good in developing effective resistance and creating an agenda for finding ways to make your point.”
Tucker explained that the most important part of the SOS campaign at this point is getting workers to start communicating with each other. “The International lacks the backbone to stop making concessions unless you make them stop making concessions. I’m not going to say that the people at the top want you to make concessions, but they will allow it to happen—unless the UAW leadership sees that the rank and file is so mobile, asking each other how they feel about concessions, and getting each other on the program.
“The program doesn’t have to mean that you will take concessions. It doesn’t make Steve Miller suddenly give up because you cut productivity down a little bit. But it does if you get everybody on the same page and at the same tempo. That makes it hard for the UAW to be a conduit for the concessions. It can make it impossible for the UAW to be a conduit.”
“Concessions suck,” added Tucker. “This is a profitable company. This is a profitable industry. It is not leaving the United States. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, BMW are moving into this country to get out of the third world and produce in this country. It’s not on the agenda for the whole industry to leave the country. They are taking it down as much as they can; as much as we let them. People may feel like they have thirty years in and they are going to get out of here. There ain’t no sanctuary. No sanctuary anywhere. They are coming for those legacy costs whether you get out of there or not,” said Tucker.
Tucker shared many war stories of working-to-rule with the SOS. “It’s way harder to work-to-rule than to strike. Striking means you walk out the door and picket. You are not facing the boss everyday, every hour, and in effect change him by your actions to agree with you and what you represent here and now. In the course of standing up the way you are, using what is defined broadly as work-to-rule, you are engaging in an activity that has some legal exceptions. Since you are under a contract, there are limits.”
“Management may want to say that you are engaging in slowdown,” noted Tucker. “You are not engaging in slowdown here. What you are doing is making sure our livelihood is protected from shoddy production, mixed application systems, inappropriate safety considerations and all of the other things. You are doing it for the good of the company and the good of the product.”
“If at a certain point Miller effectively, through the courts, gets the termination of the contract accomplished, which is ultimately what he is looking for, it changes the rules. Without the contract in place, working-to-rule becomes a much more graduated process. It’s more described as an in-plant strategy. Then the concerted activities take on a different tone. When you are not under contract, some of the so-called procedures of the agreement are gone,” said Tucker, who noted that workers could consult each other and The Troublemaker’s Handbook, available at www.labornotes.org, to find more information on in-plant tactics and working-to-rule.
Workers at the meeting were hesitant to describe exactly what they were doing, but Tucker encouraged them to talk with their coworkers in more private arenas to see what they can do to support the work-to-rule campaign and stop concessions. Flint Delphi workers are encouraged to join the Flint Solidarity meetings, which are held on Sundays from 6 pm to 8 pm at Capitol Coney Island, at 4021 Van Slyke Rd. near Bristol Rd. For more information, visit www.flintsolidarity.org.
“Our attention right now needs to be focused on American workers in the auto industry. What can help stop this direction is an organized force against one concentrated industry. Your concentration right now should be, ‘What can we do as Delphi workers to make sure our collective voice is heard day-to-day on the shop floor,’” said Tucker. “Soldiers of Solidarity sounds martial, sounds military. I don’t know if Victor Reuther, Roy Reuther, Henry Krauss, and all of those guys involved in the Great Sit Down Strike ever took the time to call themselves anything. But I don’t think that they would be ashamed to call themselves ‘Soldiers of Solidarity.’ Whatever they were called, what mattered was what they did.”
For more information and upcoming meeting dates, visit www.soldiersofsolidarity.com. For daily updates, visit www.futureoftheunion.com
—The Uncommon Sense, February 2006