Autoworkers Under the Gun
Autoworkers Under the Gun
By Gregg Shotwell
Haymarket Press, 2012
$17.00, 237 pages.
Gregg Shotwell says he writes in plain English. He doesn’t. He writes in caustic, delicious, hilarious, scalding English. It’s the truth he writes that’s plain.
The blockheads we curse daily on the factory floor are transformed by Shotwell’s “large-caliber pen” into a bureaucracy “organized like a totem pole—one empty wooden head on top of another.” It’s more fun to laugh at your enemies while cursing them, and there are laughter and printable curses on every page of this selection of Shotwell’s Live Bait & Ammo shop floor papers that he began in 1998, spread to the internet, and continues today. Neither company nor union blockheads are spared.
Now retired, Gregg ran a Bodine machine, making fuel injector parts at a GM plant, later spun off to Delphi. One day he was convinced that the parts were gauging wrong. He called the job setter. Who called an engineer, who called a supervisor, who called two other engineers, and another supervisor. They checked the gauge and checked the machine and they couldn’t figure it out. But, Gregg says, “We set the benchmark for participation… For once, we were a unified team, showing more concern for quality than production counts. Despite the dearth of common sense, that must signify something.
“Then Brother Mahoney strolled by and we asked him to look. His mind was as clear as a blackboard in July. He checked two parts and said, ‘There’s nothing wrong.’ I had misread the gauge.”
In that Live Bait & Ammo from May 2003, Gregg tells of misleading a whole group of experts by pointing them in the wrong direction, and they followed. He then proceeds to liken the incident to Colin Powell holding up a vial of white powder at the UN, alleged evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He follows up by exposing CEO Dick Dauch’s lying claim that American Axle needed worker concessions to survive. And he finishes by telling how the UAW International leadership overrode the membership at American Axle’s Three Rivers plant, to impose from above a third tier of wages.
The point being: the rank and file is lied to and manipulated, on every level, by enemies and by false friends. All that in two pages and from one misread gauge.
Concessions don’t save jobs
Gregg’s mind stays as clear as that July blackboard. But he’s far more entertaining.
“Management thinks they control the plant with their clipboards, portable phones, and panties twisted in a knot. But when workers work to rule, the bosses find out who really runs the plant.”
“Shhh,” we’re not supposed to dwell on that. It’s a new era of worker-management cooperation, company-union partnership.
But Gregg Shotwell doesn’t believe in “Shhh,” not when workers are getting the shaft.
Over the years Live Bait & Ammo put together the picture of the UAW’s decaying company-union partnership: the massive loss of jobs, wages, benefits, working conditions, and morale. He reports from his post inside Delphi. But the pattern is everywhere the same. Wherever bosses demand concessions because of their alleged financial woes, there you will find a Delphi-like background, if you dig like Gregg does.
“Delphi was a debt-free corporation in 1999, after it was spun off from General Motors. Delphi owned the property, the machinery, the technology, the patents, the products, and the research facilities outright. The pension was fully funded. Delphi had no retirees. Six years later Delphi claimed bankruptcy. Today the pension is underfunded by over ten billion dollars, and the stock is worthless.”
“The plan to fail is a lucrative enterprise. No one could fail as successfully as GM-Delphi year after year without a plan to shelter assets overseas and break contracts—pensions, benefits, wages—in the United States. That’s not a corporate restructuring, it’s a swindle.”
Gregg’s collected Live Bait & Ammo’s combine the indignant heart of the exploited worker with the bloodhound instinct of a GAO auditor. His book is one of those rare reports from the floor that not only tracks history-in-the-making from a rank and file perspective, but proves its case with careful examination of statistics from the back pages, and juicy quotes from the business press itself. “Where did you get your information?” “From your quarterly report.” Future historians will need this book.
Soldiers of Solidarity
Gregg is not only a writer but an activist. In 2005 he used a network of rank-and-file contacts to call local meetings at several Delphi locations to see what could be done to defend Delphi workers. This forming movement was christened Soldiers of Solidarity, SOS. “Workers’ rights are not defined by law or contract. Workers’ rights are defined by struggle.”
SOS aimed to gather all who opposed the race to the concessions bottomland. At Delphi we dogged CEO Steve Miller’s tracks, told the truth against his lies, showed the flag of protest while our union leaders were AWOL. “Miller Isn’t Worth a Buck” was our favorite picket sign. We advocated “work to rule” and other direct action on the shop floor to rebuild the basis of union power.
Are we at the bottom of concessions? “Bottom is the point at which one worker says to another, ‘Enough is enough,’ and together they begin pushing back.”
What shall we do? “Wishful thinking is the notion that someone else will take care of your business and fight your battles for you. Hope is fighting like hell against all odds. I don’t believe in wishful thinking.”
Get the book. Be entertained. Read the truth. Gear up. Begin pushing back. Don’t believe in wishful thinking.
—Labor Notes, April 18, 2012