Delphi: the need for struggle
and independent organization

by Pete Brown
(CV #38, July 2006)

.

. The assault on workers by the Delphi auto parts capitalists continues. Delphi executives have declared bankruptcy so they can tear up the workers' contracts and impose massive wage and benefit cuts. Recently, Delphi announced plans to move most of its U.S. jobs overseas. Delphi workers are angry, and rank-and-file activists have been organizing.

. But the sellout UAW leaders and officials of the other unions at Delphi aren't interested in a serious struggle. They are touting a buyout plan financed by General Motors, from which Delphi was spun off several years ago. Under this plan various levels of bonuses and pensions (based on seniority) are being promised to workers to entice them to retire. Under threat of losing their jobs, and seeing the weakness of the union leaderships, thousands of workers have opted for the buyouts. But even to get this limited cushion, workers must remain vigilant because time and again GM and Delphi have failed to follow through on their promises to the workers.

. For those remaining at Delphi and even those opting for buyouts, the only way forward is to continue to organize for struggle. While the workers face great obstacles, it's also true that GM is fearful of being crippled by a strike that would cut off its supply of parts by Delphi. Indeed, the stirrings among the rank and file have already forced GM to promise to subsidize Delphi workers' wages, somewhat reducing the original proposed wage cuts. As well, the threat of workers taking action has led GM and Delphi to sweeten their original buyout proposal.

Delphi's attacks

. On May 10 Delphi officially requested from the bankruptcy court that its labor contracts be voided so that Delphi could unilaterally impose wage and benefit reductions. The UAW and other unions are arguing against this to the judge. And on May 16 the UAW held a strike authorization vote of Delphi workers, which resulted in a 95% "yes" vote.

. But in 1999, soon after Delphi's spinoff from GM, the UAW bureaucrats helped drive down wages for new-hires. Any new workers at Delphi are paid barely half of what the older workers are paid. And now the higher seniority workers are under direct attack. Delphi's latest proposal is that wages be cut from $27 an hour down to $22 an hour in July, and then cut again to $16. 50 an hour in September 2007. And even this cutthroat proposal is based on GM subsidizing Delphi wages.

. Three-way negotiations are going on between Delphi, UAW and GM, which has stepped in to provide a certain amount of "cushioning" to the wage cuts. This is because, if the Delphi workers were to go on strike and shut down production of parts for GM cars, auto production at GM would quickly cease, and GM would suffer another huge loss of market share.

. As soon as GM stops its subsidies, wages will drop to $12 an hour, less than half of what they are now. If a three-way agreement is not reached, Delphi's corporate leaders say that wages must immediately drop to this $12/hour level. Delphi also insists that it shed 23,000 of its 33,000 workers in the U. S. and close or sell 21 of 29 plants.

The buyout plan

. Besides offering to prop up wages at Delphi, GM also recently offered some older Delphi workers a chance to retire under GM benefits. GM also offered to take back up to 5,000 Delphi workers as GM employees, as current GM employees themselves take early retirements. And GM is propping up an offer of buyouts and early retirements for Delphi workers, hoping to ease workers out the door and avoid a crippling strike.

. The buyouts offered by GM and agreed to by UAW are the following (buyouts agreed to by IUE, the other major union at Delphi, have a few differences in details but are about the same): Workers with 30 years seniority, hence eligible for full retirement, will get a $30,000 bonus to retire now. They will receive their full pension and paid health care. Workers with 26-29 years seniority are eligible to receive a monthly stipend of $2,750 (about two-thirds regular pay) until they reach their retirement age, at which time they retire. Workers with 10-26 years seniority get a bonus of $140,000 to leave now. At retirement age they will receive pensions based on however much time they had vested, but no health care coverage. Workers with 1-10 years seniority get a bonus of $70,000 to leave now, with similar vested pension but no health care. Workers with less than one year (not many) can get $40,000 to leave now.

. Future pension payments are dependent on Delphi and GM keeping their word to retirees. It's hard to take these promises at face value, since Delphi is already in bankruptcy, and GM just last year broke its word to its own retirees about paying their medical benefits. GM's offers may be just a bait-and-switch campaign to distract the workers while GM stockpiles the parts it will need to survive a strike. Meanwhile Delphi is paying out $60 million in bonuses to its executives this summer for the fine job they have done so far in keeping Delphi running while implementing their plan to gut workers' livelihoods.

Role of the UAW

. Present tactics of the UAW are to call a strike vote but not organize for a strike, while at the same time promoting cooperation with the auto capitalists. While allowing a strike vote to be held, UAW leaders are doing nothing to prepare for a strike. In fact they are keeping Delphi workers on the job while Delphi and GM stockpile.

. The struggle at Delphi has been significant if, for no other reason, it decisively buries the myth of the UAW as a militant union. The UAW leaders have stabbed the Delphi workers in the back at every step of the way and refused to organize any struggle. Leaders of the rank-and-file group Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS) went to the UAW convention in June and lobbied for a one-day strike in auto to protest the destruction at Delphi, distributing a leaflet calling to "draw the line at Delphi. " But they got no response from the UAW leaders. At the convention's plenary session SOS leader Greg Shotwell raised a question from the floor: "What happens if Delphi stops paying on the pension fund after the GM benefit guarantee expires?" He was ruled out of order by the bureaucrat (UAW VP Richard Shoemaker) chairing the session. Meanwhile UAW president Ron Gettelfinger was bragging to the capitalist media about his "flexibility" ­ that is, his willingness to go along with whatever the auto capitalists demand. He bragged that under his leadership the auto companies have not lost one day's worktime due to strikes or job actions. Decades of class collaboration have hollowed out UAW to the point that today the UAW leaders consider agreeing to wage and benefit cuts a victory.

. UAW leaders are still pretending they are shocked by Delphi's demand for wage and benefit cuts. But the whole reason for Delphi's spinoff from GM in 1998, which UAW leaders agreed to, was to break up the unity of auto workers and drive down wages and benefits at Delphi. Once this was done, workers at GM could be directly attacked themselves. And in fact the attack at GM has already begun, with the cutting of medical benefits engineered last fall by UAW leaders. Retirees who were promised ­ in writing ­ guaranteed medical benefits when they retired are now being forced to accept big increases in co-pays. They were not even allowed to vote on the issue. And the UAW leaders refused to release the vote count of active workers who did vote. The Delphi fiasco is an outstanding example of the sellout and traitorous role played by the union bureaucrats in auto. The lesson for auto workers is the need to develop organization for struggle independent of the UAW bureaucrats.

The struggle of the rank and file

. Delphi's threats against its workers have generated rank-and-file opposition typified by the group Soldiers of Solidarity. SOS has organized a number of demonstrations and marches which have attracted a good deal of publicity. SOS also advocates "work to rule", which in effect amounts to a slowdown. This has forced GM to step up with its offer of wage subsidies, its demand to be included in negotiations at Delphi, its buyout and call-back offers, etc. None of this would have happened except for the threat of a crippling strike at Delphi. SOS and other rank-and-file groups such as Members for Change show disgruntlement with the UAW leadership and show that auto workers are looking for more of a real fight against GM and Delphi.

. Regardless of what happens with the buyout plan, workers at Delphi will still be faced with a serious situation and the need for continuing the struggle. At last report about half the Delphi workforce had chosen to take a buyout. But that would still leave 16,000 workers facing Delphi's threats of immediate big cuts in wages and benefits, and Delphi's plan to cut the workforce down to 7-8,000 in another couple years. And, given the record of GM and Delphi as far as their promises to workers go, workers taking the buyouts also face an uncertain future. Workers taking the buyouts should remain involved in the struggle both for themselves and other workers.

. The concessions drive in auto is entering a new and more crucial phase. And this is only one part of the capitalists' neo-liberal drive against the working class in general. A strike at Delphi, if led by the rank and file, could put a spoke in the wheel of the capitalist juggernaut. But whatever the fate of this particular battle, the important thing for Delphi workers is to push for independent organization. The long-term organizing of independent trends will put auto workers in better position to oppose the capitalist onslaught as it continues.


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August 10, 2006.
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