World Labor

SOS Won’t Fade Away

By Gregg Shotwell

The latest rank-and-file meeting of Soldiers of Solidarity [July 22] was better attended than I anticipated. I expected to nosh and schmooze in Walli’s Restaurant with maybe twenty old SOS diehards. Instead forty-five showed up. Some I’d never met before. Management had to take a wall down to make room for us which seemed fitting.

Only one thing gets my blood pumping faster than a room full of rebels—a picket line.

After four hours management asked us to leave. They wanted to clean up. Someone suggested we barricade the doors and exit through the windows when we were damn good and ready. (I’m kidding. No one was threatened. Don’t call the FBI.)

We talked frankly about our successes and our shortcomings.

We failed to win a dignified agreement at Delphi but we didn’t fail from a lack of trying. We demonstrated a readiness to fight but the Concession Caucus brokered a buyoff rather than a collective-bargaining agreement. In the end Delphi workers didn’t feel they had much of a choice. It wasn’t a matter of voting and standing together in solidarity. It was retire or transfer. Consequently, the UAW lost bargaining leverage but SOS hasn’t lost spirit.

SOS established an extensive communication network, raised the level of expectations, and gained more notoriety than anyone expected. Work To Rule was a practical preparation for strike. We learned a lot from the experience. We are better prepared for upcoming negotiations in 2007 than any dissident group the UAW has seen since New Directions.

The buyouts at Delphi created an unforeseen opportunity. The newest retirees left work under threat and duress and their future is still uncertain. Their mere presence in UAW retiree meetings will rock the boat. These retirees aren’t content. They will be watching and questioning developments closely. The UAW International is on notice. At the first sign of trouble from Delphi, Miller is likely to have problems he never heard of. The retirees not only know the plants inside and out, they know the new hires.

When we began these meetings we told everyone that signing in did not commit them to a caucus; we did not intend to manipulate the crisis for the purpose of some other political cause; and we meant to stay focused on action rather than ideology in order to maintain unity around the straightforward goals of defending jobs, pensions, benefits, wages, and humane working conditions.

I remarked to the group that e-mail discussions in lieu of action become debates on isms that fracture unity. (Simply saying the word “politics” created a divisive, distracting debate that quickly unraveled in a tangled skein of mistaken identities and mis-accusations.) We moved on.

There was a discussion about structure. Personally, I’m leery of the structuralists. They usually end up with an edifice rather than a movement. Some suggested that we failed to provide a clear direction or purpose and that we should write up a mission statement or list of principles.

Mission statements and lists of principles are plentiful. If that’s all we need we can go on line and pick one or simply amalgamate and plagiarize.

Let our principles be defined by our actions. Let our mission be formulated in struggle. Let our politics target the heart of the conflict between management and labor. Let our philosophy arise from our own experience. Let us organize in our own workplaces and communities and may our struggle inspire others to do the same. That’s what I heard.

After all was said and done we arrived at one conclusion. We will picket Delphi headquarters on August 11, the day Delphi petitions the court to void union contracts.

“There is no seniority date for dignity and justice,” Rob Wilson said. To which I may add, “There’s no retirement date for solidarity.” Make all temps permanent. Uphold union contracts. Equality and democracy are not bargaining chips. Fully fund pensions not the crooks’ pockets.

Soldiers of solidarity won’t fade away. We showed up in rain and snow and we will show up in sunshine. That’s the SOS I know and I’ll always feel proud to be among you.

Stay solid.