Video Interviews at SOS Rally to Protest Delphi Layoffs
Hundreds were expected for the February 16th picket line outside Delphi Flint East to protest the auto parts manufacturerís drive to layoff 24,000 workers and cut wages by 60 percent. But the day before the rally, officials from UAW Local 651 called off the event, citing a minor snowstorm as an excuse. There was no severe snowstorm or even any snow on the ground at the picket site.
Still, upwards of 75 workers formed a lively picket line, most of them supporters of Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS), the fighting opposition movement within the United Auto Workers who initiated the idea for the protest.
Below is a transcription of video interviews with some of the pickets who turned out to protest in spite of the sabotage. The video can be accessed at:
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Interviewer: Why do you think they called off the demonstration?
First picket: Well, I donít think they want to be involved. The schools werenít closed. Thereís a lot of people here, so, I canít speak for the union, but where are they?
Second picket: I believe they sabotaged the event. I believe itís very disheartening when youíre traveling six hours all the way from Kokomo, Indiana and, you know, losing pay and being away from my wife who is pregnant with my baby boy who is due anytime now and my seven-year-old daughter. I left them to come out here and stand in solidarity and itís extremely disheartening that weíre a day away from [a bankruptcy court judge] possibly throwing out our labor agreement—well, motioning to do so—and [United Auto Workersí leaders] will not support a rally that the rank and file and that the workers actually want.
Third picket: I donít know what they were thinking because Soldiers of Solidarity donít melt in the rain. And, if the kids can go to school I expect the UAW can picket.
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Interviewer: Why are you out here today?
Fourth picket: Well, I work for Delphi and I worry about what Delphi might do if they terminate our contract, or in turn, cut our wages, or eliminate our pensions, our benefits—and the bankruptcy hearing is tomorrow and thereís a big rally scheduled today to protest whatís going on.
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Interviewer: Why do you think the union canceled?
Theyíre saying itís because of the weather, but I donít know, I mean, itís February in Michigan but I came out here because I was afraid some people might not know and show up. And Iím glad at least it didnít get canceled [by SOS] and some people showed up.
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Interviewer: What message would you like to give to [Local 651 UAW President] Russ Reynolds right now?
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Interviewer: What do you think?
Fifth picket: I donít think weíre going to sit around and wait for people to stand up and fight. People are already gearing up for this fight. Because they know the seriousness of the situation, you know. But this was also called not only because of a court date but because they ended spark-plug production in January and anybody that grew up in Flint knows that, you know, this is all we knew was these AC spark-plugs. I mean, my mother retired from here. Sheís passed away now. I have a sister who retired from here; another sister who started working here—Iím the only woman in the family who didnít work at AC. It was so many women that worked here even during the war. This was like a poster child for ďRosie the Riveter.Ē
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Interviewer: How is this movement going to spread to a lot of these workers who may be afraid at this point?
Sixth picket: Itís going to spread because of what Millerís going to do. You know, when he kicks the hornetís nest he canít predict whatís going to happen. Nor can the local union leaders. You know, leadership, by nature, wants to stay in control. You know, thatís what leadership is about. But this is beyond leadership. They have lost control. And Iím sorry that they are not out here with us. I donít know what their problem is.
Especially when people are out here right now! This is solidarity!
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Interviewer: Do you think itís telling the public that grown men and women canít walk half a mile in the rain?
Seventh picket: I think the group of us who are out here sends a message to the public and to the union that this small group, in this case, is the conscience, heart and soul of what the UAW is all about.
Eighth picket: I talked to some people once they came out of the factory shift change and it seemed like all the wind was out of their sails as far as taking part in this demonstration because the union came around and told them that it was off and everybody assumed it was because of the weather and they seemed to follow it pretty easily, what the union wants them to do.
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Interviewer: How do you get the average rank and file people to stay involved and do something like this, which may be against what the union wants?
Ninth Picket: Itís going to take solidarity, real unionism from the bottom up. I think a workerís a worker, and educating the other members and activists by getting on the floor and letting people know the truth is the thing. I think itís extremely disheartening to know that, you know, like what you said, that the sails have been let go from these people, because here this rogue bureaucracy essentially told them, you know, weíre going to do this and weíre going to do that; and they delay and then they wait and slowly but surely they let peopleís hopes down. We have the same problem at [Local] 292. They tell us to wait and see. They hold rallies then they donít really tell us anything about the bankruptcy but they tell us to vote for Democrats and thatís not what the people want to hear. They want to come and they want to fight back but it seems like the bureaucracies—and it could be all around the country, but as far as the Midwest is concerned, it is happening to people in the places that Iíve traveled to—that theyíre essentially blocking any type of real movement or any social movement within the rank and file.
Tenth picket: Not only these workers are going to suffer, but also how itís going to ripple through the whole community and everyone is going to be hurt. And also, they need to focus on the fact that all the benefits are going to the one class. And itís being taken from the other. See, last week when the judge said executives deserve bonuses and workers deserve wage cuts, what he was indicating was a transfer of wealth from one class to the other class. And he said thatís what would make us competitive. But that sort competition is going to ruin the whole community. I donít know who they think will buy tires and other products when these wages are cut so severely?
Eleventh picket: I am in the UAW in Chicago but I think that working-class people are under attack everywhere from the corporations. And if we donít do something about it theyíre going to take back everything that we won in the í30s and in the í60s. Bush has actually said he wants to take back all the gains of the í30s and the í60s. So I think that all working people should get out there and support these workers.
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Interviewer: Have you heard any background on what happened today—the union canceled the rally last night because of weather and kind of took the wind out of the sails? A lot of the workers at the plant, they didnít end up showing up? This is a fringe group here that is really rallying and trying to advocate for the workers. The Delphi hearing is tomorrow where a lot of their contracts could be thrown out. What do you think could capture the imagination of the rank and file workers, not just here in Flint but all around the country in order to support the plight of the auto worker?
Eleventh picket: I think the overwhelming majority of working-class people in America are very angry in this country but they canít find a way to do anything about it. And the labor leaders are the big problem. Calling off this rally today because of the weather, in my opinion, itís just terrible. What signal does it give the working people? You canít fight for your jobs because thereís a little snow around? I mean, itís ridiculous! But I think anyway, thatís not the real reason. The real reason is that the labor leaders donít want a movement from below that will prevent them from collaborating with Delphi and GM.
I believe that we should go back to the í30s. Look at what happened in Flint in the í30s. The workers took over the plants; physically fought the cops; pushed GM to its knees and won the union. Weíre going to have to do that again. Thereís no way the employers are going to stop what theyíre doing until theyíre stopped! And thereís no way theyíre going to be stopped by injunctions, or lobbying, or pleas. They are going to have to be stopped the way they were stopped in the í30s.
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Interviewer: It does send an awful message because they didnít even close schools in Flint today. So itís almost sending a message that we can send our children to school but grown men and women canít come out and fight for their rights. How is this going to be changed? How are the workers going to change what their union is doing?
Eleventh picket: I think the SOS—Soldiers Of Solidarity—is a really good step. I believe that we have to build on every front and in every local an opposition group. And it should be based on the idea that we have to carry out direct action and go back to one tactic.
Like Iím active with a housing group in Chicago and we have a few basic principles. One is we donít lobby. We donít protest. But if somebodyís evicted, we find out who the landlord is and we go there and we put the person back in their home and go find out where the landlord is—go to his church; go to where he goes to get his chow in the morning; we ask people not to serve him with gas; in other words we fight them. This is a real way to fight them. Direct action is what we call back to one tactic. Who are the big shareholders in Delphi? Who are the big shareholders in GM? Find out where they live. Find out where they are making their decisions.
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Interviewer: Should the same tactics be used on UAW leadership?
Eleventh picket: I think the UAW leadership are never going to fight Delphi and GM. I think they believe thereís no alternative to the system. They think weíve got to make a deal or weíll lose everything. I believe the opposition group in the UAW has to set their sights to replace this leadership. Itís a hard job, I know. And itís easy for me to talk but youíre never going to defeat GM with this leadership. I only knew the detail of their calling off this rally but I think itís just disgusting. I mean itís just enraging.
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Interviewer: It was on the front page of the local paper here today that it was called off because of weather and it must have been called off last night, before there was even any snow. So, then we talked to some workers that came right out of the factory at shift change and they said that first thing in the morning all the UAW representatives were around on the shop floors calling off the rally and they had flyers telling people not to come out here. Obviously there are some people who are going against that, but it seems like the people who came out at the shift change were perfectly fine and understanding that, you know, it was the weather and weíll do it another day. How do you capture the imagination of people in the plant? How do you get them to understand really whatís at stake here?
Eleventh picket: I think that most of the workers understand whatís at stake but they donít know how to fight and they canít see an alternative. And itís up to SOS, to the people like myself, to help SOS to show them that you can have victories. I think work-to-rule and occupations have to be continually argued for. Whatís work-to-rule? You know, it slows up the plants. Itís very easy to organize. But occupations, thatís a bit harder to organize. But I think we have to conduct a campaign saying that those are the tactics we have to use. Look at the union leaders. Look at what theyíve done. They sent their full-time officials all around the plant today to break this rally. We should send our full-time officials around the plant to make this rally but theyíll never do it. Weíve got to build our own movement.
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Interviewer: Do you think that itís going to come to violence here at some point?
Eleventh picket: I donít believe that itís a good thing for working people to have violence. Because weíre the ones that usually get the worst of the results. But I do believe that the corporations might. And what do you think the American corporations are doing? Theyíre out there to take over all the oil in the world; to take over every country in the world if they can. And they claim the right to take over all the gains that the working people have won. And theyíre not going to be easy to stop. Theyíre not going be stopped by voting for the Democrats, who have the same agenda anyway.
So how do we stop them? I think there will be violence unless millions of people take to the streets and occupy the plants. If enough people do that then that can avoid violence because the corporations will be so frightened that they will retreat. But if thatís not organized then I think there will be violence.
Look at the í60s. Black people would have never won their rights unless they went to the streets. But where did the violence come from? It came from the racists and the State until the movement became so big that they had to retreat. So I hope there is no violence. Iím not in favor of violence. But Iím not in favor of the violence of the corporations either who fire these people, take away their benefits. Many workers will die younger than they should have—thatís violence. Suicides will increase. So I believe in organizing as many people as possible to make as little violence as possible necessary.
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Interviewer: If you had the opportunity to say something to Russ Reynolds who is the president of this local here that called off the rally, what would you say to him?
Eleventh picket: I would say itís another scandal, what heís done. I would say if he couldnít believe his membership then he should resign, step aside. I would say also, that he had no right to call off this rally without having a meeting of the membership and getting their opinion on it. And if he canít fight the corporations then he should step aside. I donít know him personally, but I know the general attacks that are carried out on the workers. And if you canít fight those I donít think you should be a union leader.
Interviewer concludes: We showed up here the date of the rally. Russ wonít talk to us. Russ Reynolds, heís president of UAW Local 651. Apparently heís afraid to talk to the news media. I want to ask Russ Reynolds if he thinks the bankruptcy hearings will be called off tomorrow because of the weather?
—Transcribed by Socialist Viewpoint