The sellout unionism of the UAW leadership
and the class struggle alternative

by Mark Williams
(CV #41, February 2008)


A token strike to cool off workers
VEBA: ending corporate heath care obligations
Low wages and benefits
Huge job losses continue
Technological progress and protecting the workers
Labor-management cooperation leads to disaster
Social-democracy vs. the militant struggle
The class struggle alternative

. The recent auto contracts negotiated between GM, Ford and Chrysler and the top UAW officials decimated the auto workers. The UAW officialdom has long had an undeserved reputation as militant fighters for the rank and file. In reality, they have for decades presided over colossal job losses and never-ending concessions. Nevertheless, until recently, "Big 3" auto workers still had some of the better wages and benefits among the working class. The new contracts end this. They ensure that future auto workers will have lousy wages and conditions and that health care benefits for tens of thousands of retirees will no longer be the responsibility of the companies, but will be shifted to under-funded trust funds controlled by well-paid union officials. All this was necessary to save jobs said the sellout UAW bosses. Yet, before the ink was dry on the contract, the auto companies were announcing huge new layoffs.

. This disaster has been long in the making. The UAW leadership has long subordinated the workers' needs to ensuring fat profits for the auto capitalists. The strikes and plant occupations led by radical leftists that gave birth to the UAW in the 1930s were stepwise abandoned. Instead, the union bureaucracy preached that the workers and capitalists could reach common ground beneficial to both. At the end of the 1970s, the endless wave of concessions began. When the workers were saddled with concessions in the 1979 Chrysler bailout, the UAW leaders assured the workers that a few concessions would help restore the company, and then they would reap the benefits of increased profitability. Profits rose, but this only whetted the companies' appetite for further concessions. The long decline in the autoworkers' livelihood has lasted nearly three decades. The latest dramatic push to destruction of the workers' conditions began with the ruinous contract foisted on Delphi workers last year. This year it was the "Big 3" auto workers' turn to be pushed over the cliff.

. The path to ruin had its historic roots in the triumph of the class collaborationist and social-democratic trend in the UAW leadership in the union's early years. These misleaders suppressed the radical left-wing activists who were the backbone of the auto workers' struggle to organize. They were frightened by the successful efforts of the then-revolutionary Communist Party and others to build up fighting class unions among the autoworkers in the 1920s and much of the 30s. The triumph of the class collaborationist leadership has been a heavy weight around the workers' necks.

. But the history of the auto workers' struggle is not merely one of betrayal by corrupt bureaucrats. There have been periods when the capitalists seemed to have crushed the workers, and the obstacles to worker resistance seemed overwhelming. But there have been periodic upsurges of struggle, and workers have found ways to once again build up militant organizations. While the UAW bureaucrats have tried to keep the struggle under wraps, the rank and file have found ways to break through their chains. Alongside the sellouts, there's the glorious history of wildcat job actions and strikes and of militant rank-and-file organizations defying the capitalists and the cowardly union leadership. Anger is brewing among auto worker today, too. And there are activists in the plants who despise the present UAW leadership and are organizing to resist concessions.

. Today, the auto workers stand virtually defenseless against the auto capitalists. But the deep setbacks will over time foster a new period of struggle. There will be a yearning for new organization that can really stand up for the workers. The present pockets of rank-and file militancy must be encouraged so as to build up new organizations of class struggle, without and against the labor traitors. This will lay the basis for real fighting unions.

A token strike to cool off workers

. In the recent contract negotiations, the GM workers were the first to be led to the slaughter by the UAW labor traitors. To give the appearance of resistance, at the end of September the UAW bosses called a two-day strike. But it was a strike they had no intention of winning. The strike was not aimed at staving off concessions, but over their exact form. In fact, token strikes are a tried and true method of the UAW bureaucrats to cool off the anger among the workers. Indeed, according to the Washington Post of Sept. 26: "A United Auto Workers official said on Tuesday that the union had taken into account GM's inventory before the strike and had warned the automaker before negotiations began to build up inventories of key vehicle lines." (1) If this is accurate, it further shows the UAW leadership didn't intend for the struggle to have any serious affect on GM's profits. Such treachery wouldn't be surprising given how tight the UAW leaders are with management.

VEBA: ending corporate heath care obligations

. One of the key concessions at GM and, subsequently, the other US auto companies, was the use of a so-called VEBA (Voluntary Employee Benefit Association) that enabled the companies to end their health care obligations for some 340,000 retirees and their spouses. In return for wiping tens of billions of dollars in heath care obligations off their financial books, the auto companies agreed to pay a fraction of their obligations into a health trust fund controlled by the union. The company payments don't come close to covering the present and future health care costs. For instance, Citigroup analyst Itay Michaeli estimates that GM paid a mere 68 cents to the trust fund for every dollar of its former health care obligations. Chrysler reportedly got an even better deal. And according to Michaeli, the Ford capitalists did best of all by using a much lower rate of inflation to estimate their health care liability. Through this financial trick, Ford will wind up paying only 46 cents on the dollar. (2) In short, the gap between the projected real costs of future health care and the financing provided by the company will be enormous, running into tens of billions of dollars. (3)

. How is this shortfall to be made up? The union leadership says their funds will be invested in the financial markets. This means any economic downturn, bad investment or corporate Enron-type scandals in the coming decades could lead to major funding shortfalls. And health care costs keep soaring. Under these conditions, the union heads will inevitably find themselves in charge of slashing benefits. Moreover, a good portion of the funding provided by the auto companies is in the form of auto stocks. Any decline in stock values will lead directly to more benefit cuts. As well, this arrangement means the UAW officials will have another motive to help the companies keep stock values high by lowering the workers' pay and working conditions. The union officials sold the VEBA idea on the grounds it would provide secure health benefits should the US auto manufacturers hit rough times or go bankrupt. Actually, as we have seen, VEBA provides no protection against this.

. The only party that benefits from the VEBAs are the auto capitalists themselves. Ford executives boast that the VEBA deal will allow them to realize a new operating cash gain of $1 billion annually. (4) GM will reportedly see its health care obligations reduced to one-fourth of its present tab. But perhaps the most damning testimony is from UAW president Ron Gettelfinger himself. He wrote an opinion piece in the Detroit News of December 7, where he unashamedly states "VEBAs help automakers". He explains how when the companies have to carry large health care obligations on their books, they pay more for the large loans they assume. But now "Chrysler, Ford and GM can remove projected retiree health care costs from their books, immediately improving their financial positions." Gettelfinger, of course, pretends that VEBAs help the workers. He ignores that he's sacrificed the health of hundreds of thousands of workers so that the "Big 3" can get better interest rates from the banks. (5)

. The UAW leaders' acceptance of VEBAs also exposes their stand on national health insurance. Gettlefinger still mouths phrases about how nice it would be to have single-payer universal health care. Indeed, it would be an advance for the workers to abolish the greedy health insurance industry and replace it with national health insurance. Instead, Gettelfinger found ways to cut the capitalists' health costs by destroying workers' health care benefits.

Low wages and benefits

. The new auto contracts pave the way for future auto workers to be stripped of decent wages and benefits. The notion of equal wages for equal work has been completely tossed aside. Instead newly hired auto workers will get a combined wage and benefits package that costs the companies only about one-half to one-third of that received by the present workers. The pay-scale of around $14-15/ hours for new hires will mean that a one-earner family of four will be lucky to barely get by. The second-tier workers will also have far inferior pension and medical plans and will have to pay more out of their wages for these measly benefits.

. This dramatic wage cutting is a blow to all workers. Higher auto wages tended to raise the wages of non-auto workers. So this slashing of auto wages will undoubtedly assist all employers to suppress wages in general.

. The Ford contract allows the company to fill up to 20% of the UAW workforce with new second-tier workers. They can be hired for any non-skilled job. At Chrysler and GM, the new hires can be hired only for so-called "non-core" jobs off the assembly line. But some analysts say that GM will still be able to convert 19% of its workforce to second-class status. Moreover, contract provisions allow many more workers to be second-tier as time goes on. For instance, while initially about 16,000 jobs would be classified as "non-core" at GM, the company says the contract allows it to shift many more jobs to lower-tier status as workers retire. (6) At Chrysler, four plants will be entirely "non-core" workers, including a future axle plant in Marysville, MI. Ford can also go well past the supposed 20% limit. Ford wages for new workers will be so low, it will be more profitable for them to "insource" work currently done for them by other companies. Such workers will not count toward the 20% limit. Already Ford has plans to insource 3,200 workers. And Ford plants at two former Visteon plants (Visteon was originally spun off from Ford to lower wages/benefits) with 2,200 workers will be staffed completely with second-tier workers.

Huge job losses continue

. In order to sell this contract to the rank and file, the UAW big shots promised it would save lots of jobs. This was a hoax. Only a few days after the Chrysler contract was approved, Cerberus Capital Management, which owns Chrysler, announced cuts in shifts at five assembly plants and the elimination of 12,000 more jobs. There were guarantees to keep some Chrysler plants open for the life-cycle of the vehicle now produced there. But after that there are no guarantees, and this threatens big plants like the truck plant in Warren, MI and two St. Louis assembly plants. These job guarantees are so weak that even the lead negotiator with Chrysler for the UAW, Bill Parker, was forced to denounce the contract and admitted "the plant-by-plant threats we've experienced . . . will continue ."(7) Ford still plans to go ahead with closing ten plants it was starting to close down even before the contract. Six more Ford plants are targeted for closing by 2012. Some Ford plants supposedly saved from closing can still be idled if demand for their product drops.

. The UAW leaders' mantra of "concessions save jobs" rings as hollow as ever. They started this chant at the end of the 1970s. At that time they had 1.5 million workers in their ranks. Today, membership is down to 557,000. When this concessions wave began, there were 450,000 UAW members at GM. Today, there are 73,000. No double-talk from Gettelfinger can change the fact that concessions go hand-in-hand with massive job loss.

. The UAW sellouts contend that if the company does well, the workers will benefit. But despite certain down years. the auto capitalists raked in billions of dollars year after year while laying off more and more workers. The auto capitalists used the profits produced by the workers to automate the plants and replace humans with robots. They combined job classifications and increased workloads. Through such methods they realized huge increases in productivity. Even without losing market share to foreign competitors, this would have resulted in dramatic job losses.

. The UAW leaders cannot be held responsible for the inevitable workings of the capitalist economy, nor the ups and downs of competition in the world auto market. But they have not put up a serious struggle to protect the workers and have caved in on what limited protections they had in the past. Thus, this contract further destroys the "job banks" where previously the auto companies paid the wages of a section of laid-off workers. And they pass off phony protections as "saving jobs ."

Technological progress and protecting the workers

. Technological progress and a subsequent increase in productivity are not in themselves the problem. But under capitalism it results in overwork and mass unemployment. While it is neither possible, nor desirable, to imagine the productive process will not change, or that products will always require the same number of workers to produce them, this by no means excuses letting workers simply suffer the consequences. Moreover, in auto and many industries, a good deal of the layoffs are not simply a case of machines doing the task a worker once did, but of intensifying the pace of work or demanding constant overtime of the workers who remain even where the basic production process hasn't changed. Shamefully, the UAW officialdom has collaborated with the companies in sanctioning job combination and growing workloads, thus paving the way for mass unemployment.

. Regardless of whether or not there really is a necessity for as many workers in certain types of production, there needs to be protections for laid-off workers. Workers in the auto plants have, over the years, raised the just demand for "jobs or income", meaning that if workers get laid off, the capitalists should still maintain their wages and benefits. Moreover, the pathetic present system of unemployment benefits needs to be replaced with a system that provides decent compensation for as long as the worker needs it. The capitalists as a class are rolling in their fortunes made through decimating the workers, and elemental justice demands they be made to pay to maintain a system of unemployment insurance that meets workers' needs.

. But such demands will require a revival of the working class movement, not the belly-crawling of the UAW bigwigs. The scourge of unemployment will only end with the overthrow of capitalism itself. But that doesn't mean accepting whatever the capitalists do in the meantime. No. Workers will need to fight over the effects of the new technology, strive against overwork, and fight for real protections for those whose jobs cannot be saved. The issue isn't to try to keep everything as before in the workplace, but to fight for the best possible conditions for the workers in the evolving work environment. This can only be done if the rank-and-file gets organized and breaks the limits placed on its struggle by the sellout UAW leaders. It also means not only battling against this or that employer, but finding news ways of uniting workers of different industries to press for more worker protections on a national scale.

Labor-management cooperation leads to disaster

. The destruction of the auto workers' livelihoods with the approval of the UAW leadership has been long in the making. The period of non-stop concessions goes back to the end of the 1970s. In 1979, then-UAW president Doug Fraser supported a government bailout of Chrysler which included several hundred million dollars of worker concessions. The UAW bosses sold this bill of goods as a brief tactical retreat that, by helping out the capitalists, would ensure jobs and good wages and benefits in the future. Some 28 years later, when any honest evaluation shows this path led to ruin, Fraser still parrots this big lie. Amid the ruin of the autoworkers in 2007, Fraser hailed the 2007 contracts, saying "I frankly don't know any other alternative ."(8)

. Indeed, it's true that none of the UAW's top officials over the last three decades has known any alternative than selling out to the auto billionaires. In this period, the poison of concessions slowly killed the living and working conditions autoworkers had fought for in the past.

. The idea of fairly equal wages for all autoworkers was being abandoned in favor of multi-tier wages well before the 2007 contract. The splitting up of auto workers into multi-tier wages was one of the driving forces behind the auto capitalists' efforts to spin off parts of their companies into semi-independent entities like Delphi and Visteon. The UAW leadership squawked a bit over how this would be done, but in the end they worked to reconcile the rank and file to the spin-offs. Of course, the multi-tier wages did not save the higher-tier workers from wage and benefit concessions, either. Thus, for instance, sporadic "bonuses" linked to company profitability, and not incorporated into the workers' base pay rates, began to replace regular hikes in base pay rates.

. The attack on worker solidarity was furthered also by the practice of "whipsawing ." This meant that various local unions bid against each other for the right to produce a product. Through this method, workers "voluntarily" raced to worsen their conditions under the threat of their plant closing down. As local union officials took up whipsawing, the national UAW leadership sometimes complained this was going too far. But they tolerated it, and they themselves were touting how wonderful their own concessions were.

. In fact, their own contracts began to include provisions to abandon contract provisions at a moment's notice. The idea of a contract guaranteeing certain conditions for a time was gutted by the acceptance of the UAW officialdom of so-called "living contracts". The "living contract" meant that regardless of what the rank and file wanted, the UAW leaders were willing to reopen the contract at any time and concede to more company demands.

. The UAW contract became little more than a collection of concessions. But did it save jobs? Hardly. As we have seen, one plant after another has been closed down. The profits wrung out of the workers by concessions have been used to install robots and other automation making the workers expendable. As the 1990s came to a close, the auto makers were recording record profits. But they were doing so with hundreds of thousands less employees.

. The massive concessions went hand-in-hand with the further merging of the capitalists and union officials into joint bodies. Union officials recruited thousands of employees into these committees. Those on the committees enjoyed special seniority and other rights. They operated behind the backs of the mass of workers. And they often made decisions that circumvented contractual regulations and even the minimal protections offered by the grievance procedure. As well, the joint committees solidified the network of loyalists to the ruling clique in the UAW, the Administrative Caucus. Far from serving as a means for the workers to have more clout, the committees descended into a company policing agency over the workers. For example, they helped the company crack down on workers using sick leave.

Social-democracy vs. the militant struggle

. How did it come to pass that an organization born out of the militant workers' upsurge of the 1930s became a union of abject servility to the capitalists? To understand this, one must go back to the early history of the UAW, and the struggle of different orientations for the union.

. The union movement was in ebb in the 1920s and early 30s. The existing unions were mostly weak and fragmented, and they were dominated by leaders who preferred to crawl before the bosses than to wage a struggle. The workers saw their conditions devastated by the Great Depression. But then there was a turn.

. The 1930s saw a dramatic upsurge in militant workers' struggles, in particular, the fight to create industrial unions. The reactionary AFL leaders of the time, who arbitrarily split workers in one industry into a number of weak craft unions, showed little interest in the efforts of workers in mass industries to organize. The fight to organize these workers was led not by them, nor even by the dissident faction of AFL bureaucrats who broke away to form the CIO, but by the then- revolutionary Communist Party, USA. Years before there was a UAW, CPUSA militants were diligently organizing in the auto plants, preparing the ground for unions that stood for the class struggle. They organized groups of militant workers, established shop newspapers in plant after plant, and led various struggles. When the UAW was born, the CP was the driving force behind the union's famous battles to organize the plants. CP organizers led such struggles as the 1937 Flint sit-down strike.

. All this was done despite the opposition of the union establishment of the time. Indeed the CP organizers of the Flint sit-down strike had to organize it in secret from the local UAW officials who were still steeped in the old rotten AFL traditions. The success of the strike was only possible because the organizers had created a strong apparatus of their own, independent of the union bureaucrats.

. The powerful struggles of the rank and file and the impetus given to them by the radical left-wing activists frightened the class collaborationist leaders in the UAW, and they set upon the CP and other militants with a vengeance. They worked to drive them out of the union. In this they were aided by the turn of the CPUSA leadership, which in the mid-30s took up a policy of placating the treacherous union officials, and for that matter, the liberal wing of capital itself, represented by the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. This led to the CP abandoning its independent shop-floor press and organization in the name of "unity ." (Various Trotskyist groups in the plants shrieked about this turn of the Stalinist CPUSA, while in practice they too begged for unity with the social-democratic misleaders. ) And it was this that allowed the social-democratic trend, soon to be headed by Walter Reuther, to finish driving the communists out of the union leadership and consolidate the triumph of the social-democratic leadership over the workers.

. Reuther saw the goal of the workers' movement as bringing together the capitalists, the government and labor. Social-democracy preached that joint bodies of these forces could run society. This required breaking the militancy of the workers' movement and rank-and-file initiative. It paved the way for the later practice of joint union-management committees and union representatives on corporate boards.

. On the political front, the social-democratic leadership of the UAW embraced the pro-capitalist Democratic Party as the political representative of the workers. The UAW leaders tied themselves to the liberal imperialist wing of capitalism, which, like the conservative capitalists, wanted US corporate domination over the working people around the world. The union bosses were allegedly for progressive causes, but were terrified every time the masses really challenged the capitalists. Thus, the UAW officials stood against the truly militant class trends in the great social movements, such as the anti-racist and anti-war struggles.

. While the social-democratic UAW leadership under Reuther made the union "respectable" to the bourgeoisie, in the late 1960s there were new rumblings of rank-and-file revolt. The powerful mass movement of the 60s gave birth to a new crop of revolutionary-minded activists and workers. Self-proclaimed "revolutionary union movements" such as DRUM (Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement) became a powerful force in a number of key auto plants. These organizations were based among and led by black workers, although they influenced sections of white workers as well. They organized struggles against speed-up and other working conditions as well as rampant discrimination against black and other minority workers by management and within the UAW bureaucracy. At times there were also appeals for workers to take action on the big political issues, such as stopping the imperialist war in Vietnam.

. By appealing to the militant stirrings among the workers, these organizations became a formidable force not only challenging auto management, but the UAW leaders. They were able to lead wildcat strikes, shutting down plants. In May 1968, black and white workers alike walked out of the Dodge Main plant in Hamtramck, MI to protest line speed-up. A few weeks later, DRUM led a three-day wildcat strike. Workers shut down the plant, and a rally of 3,000 workers took place in the plant parking lot. The strikers demanded reinstatement of workers fired in the original walkout, denouncing the racist practices of the company which singled out militant black workers for punishment. And the demonstration demanded an end to discrimination in the plants.

. There were many weaknesses in the leadership of the "revolutionary union movements" which played a role in their eventual collapse and with some of their former leaders becoming little more than militant-sounding reformists hovering on the outskirts of the Democratic Party. Despite this, the "revolutionary union movement" groups showed the ability of the rank-and-file to organize independently of the UAW bosses, the capacity of the rank and file for struggle, and the viability of independent class organization. In fact, the struggles waged in this period did eliminate some of the more odious aspects of racism by the auto companies and the UAW bureaucracy.

. Wildcat strikes continued into the 70s. The UAW leadership, meanwhile, could only think of ways to put down the revolts among the workers. When radical activists organized the occupation of Detroit's Mack Ave. plant in 1973, for instance, the UAW leaders organized goon squads to beat up rank-and-file activists and help the police smash the struggle.

. Independent rank-and-file organization went through a period of decline in the ensuing decades. Still, there were examples of wildcat actions upsetting the UAW officials' dreams of peaceful cooperation with the company. In 1985, for example, there was a wildcat strike at Chrysler against a union-management plan to saddle workers with a concessions-ridden contract. The Marxist-Leninist Party, the immediate predecessor organization of our group, the Communist Voice Organization, played a role in organizing this. It linked up with loose networks of militant workers who had wide influence among the workforce for organizing against various outrages in the Jefferson Ave. (Detroit) Assembly plant. Together the MLP and the activist networks saw that the mood was ripe for a walkout, and worked in coordination to make this happen. Just before a sellout settlement was about to be reached, workers emptied out of the plant and into the streets. A spontaneous rally and celebration took place, with workers carrying anti-concessions picket signs of the MLP. This shocked the UAW honchos, and they were forced to call a national 12-day strike at Chrysler which beat back certain of the concessions.

. The last couple of decades have seen massive setbacks for the autoworkers overall. Meanwhile, the UAW leadership has gone from bad to worse. The social-democratic vision of labor-management cooperation envisioned by Reuther only went so far during his time. But it laid the groundwork for the age of concession and joint labor-management bodies that has been the trademark of the modern UAW bureaucrats.

The class struggle alternative

. Try as they might, however, the UAW misleaders cannot erase the contradictions between the workers and the business tycoons. Rather, the rotten conditions being imposed on the workers are bound to lead to new resistance. The turn to struggle may not come quickly, but there are signs of resistance even today.

. In order for the rank and file to build real fighting organizations, the struggle against the UAW bureaucracy must be sharpened. This is not merely a matter of getting rid of a few bad leaders or breaking the domination of the Administrative Caucus under Gettelfinger. It is about making a clean break with the class-accommodationist stand of the UAW leaders and taking the path of class struggle. As more workers seek an alternative, they will have to confront the efforts of the UAW leadership to put down attempts at independent organization.

. Not only that, there are trends that oppose the present UAW leadership, but do not represent a clean break from the policies of the past. For instance, even among the UAW officials today there are those who dissent at one time or another, but do not reject the overall orientation of the UAW bureaucracy. During the recent contract negotiations with Chrysler, the lead union negotiator, Bill Parker, actually denounced the contract. But his opposition was simply that the concessions had gone a bit too far and that it didn't include job guarantees that were contained in the GM and Ford contracts, guarantees that were a fraud.

. There are also reformist trends within the UAW like New Directions, which was founded by dissident union bureaucrats. They curse the present leadership and some of its policies, but overall retain a class-collaborationist orientation. New Directions founder and one-time UAW District 5 Director, Jerry Tucker, expresses their stand this way: "We are not talking about confrontation, but about intelligent, adversarial relations. Unions and corporations do not have common objectives at all times ."(9) Adversarial relations -- without confrontation, that's not a "new direction" but a new version of the hoax that workers can rely on "intelligent" discussion with the auto billionaires, not a real fight against them. Indeed, hasn't the history of the sellout UAW bureaucracy been one of nice chats with management while giving up on strikes and other work actions?!

. A real alternative must be based on class confrontation. History shows that this is what has won the workers gains. Indeed, industrial unions like the UAW would not have come into existence without bitter clashes against the capitalists. Nor would certain victories against the racism of the auto capitalists and the union bureaucracy have been won without the walkouts and protests of the late 1960s and early 70s. And worker wildcat actions in the 80s helped beat back certain concessions. Even with the big setbacks of recent years, there are stirrings of revolt. There was significant opposition to the 2007 contract, and the contract at Chrysler passed by the skin of its teeth. Rank-and-file groups such as Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS) reflect the widespread anger of the workers at management and the union higher ups. Various protests called by SOS show that even in the harsh conditions facing the workers today, the rank and file can mobilize for action on their own, without the UAW sellouts.

. Mass action has proven to be the only reliable way to stand up to the capitalists. The appropriate form of collective action will vary according to the situation. It may take the form of pickets, protests, slowdowns, strikes or other methods. Grievances and other legal dispute resolution processes have their place, but they should not be used as a substitute for waging mass actions, but as a supplement to them.

. Struggle and workers organizing independently of the UAW officialdom go hand-in-hand. Organization is needed to transform the anger at the auto capitalists and sellout union officials into a real force against them. The strikes that created the union and the wildcat strikes that fought racism and concessions did not materialize out of thin air. They required militant activists taking up the daily tasks required to build an apparatus of their own and apart from the bureaucratic UAW machine. The rank and file needs its own voice: it needs its own analysis, leaflets, web sites, etc. And activist workers should mobilize their coworkers into participating in this media and its dissemination. Rank-and-file workers need to hold their own meetings to discuss issues of concern, formulate demands and sort out how to proceed. The small battles that erupt today should be used to further the growth of independent structures that can prepare workers for the bigger battles of the future.

. The revival of a powerful workers' movement will not happen overnight. Nor will a few different faces in the leadership of the class collaborationist unions change them into fighting organizations. The new class struggle must be built from the ground up. Workers and activists who want to see a bright future of struggle should not despair as the rot of the decaying UAW bureaucracy becomes ever more obvious. Rather, their disgrace should be seen as an opening to fan the small flames of resistance of today and unite groups of workers, even relatively small groups, on a militant basis. This is what will begin the transformation from the tattered remains of the old sellout unionism to future class battles. <>


(1) Sholnn Freeman and Frank Ahrens, "Ripples Felt Beyond GM On 2nd Day of Strike/Parts Plant Begins Layoffs; Effects Spread to Canada", Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2007. (Return to text)

(2) See Bryce G. Hoffman, "UAW-Ford agreement: Ford deal gets mixed reviews/Investors watch while analysts debate whether carmaker met its needs," Detroit News, business section, Nov. 7, 2007. (Text)

(3) According to "A new look at the 80-year promise" in the Dec. 23, 2007 Detroit Free Press, automakers agreed to pay the union retiree health care trust fund about $52 billion, while health care obligations totaled $88 billion. Moreover, the plan assumes health care inflation falls to about half of what it presently is. The article states, "Union members and outside experts said the UAW will have difficulty keeping its commitments unless the federal government has a national health care system within 5-15 years." And the article quotes a consultant on VEBAs stating that "They've got ridiculous assumptions on health care costs . . . Unless they make drastic changes to the way they treat health care, I'd be surprised if the money lasts 20 years." (Katie Merx, "A new look at the 80-year promise: UAW health trust faces big doubts/Some experts, workers fear retiree funding will run out".) (Text)

(4) Bryce G. Hoffman, "2007 UAW-Ford contract: Ford narrows Asian labor gap/UAW pact helps firm come close to removing cost disparity with rivals, hire more lower-paid workers," Detroit News, business section, Nov. 16, 2007. (Text)

(5) "Ron Gettelfinger: Labor voices/Union pact protects health care benefits: VEBAs help automarkers, but don't solve U. S. problems," Detroit News, December 7, 2007, emphasis added. (Text)

(6)Sharon Terlep, "2007 UAW contract talks: GM job costs to plummet/75% of plant workers may retire by 2011; hires may get half as much pay," Detroit News, October 16, 2007. (Text)

(7) Louis Aguilar, "UAW local chiefs OK deal with Chrysler: But some dissidents vow to fight ratification over job security," Detroit News, October 16, 2007. (Text)

(8) Tom Krisher, "Ex-UAW boss: New deals for carmakers necessary/Fraser says pacts save jobs, make Detroit 3 more competitive," Detroit News, November 8, 2007. (Text)

(9) Quoted in John Holusha, "UNION REBEL: Jerry Tucker; The Man Who Is Fighting the U. A. W. From Inside," New York Times, October 23, 1988, emphasis added.

. Tucker's stand of avoiding confrontation with the auto capitalists remains unchanged today. On Sept. 26, 2007 Tucker and two other former UAW International Executive Board Members, Paul Schrade and Warren Davis, issued a "Statement on the [2007] GM-UAW Tentative Agreement". The "Statement" criticizes the VEBA plan and "the lack of any real discussion or debate" in the union about this. It even calls for a "no" vote on the then-tentative contract. But this bureaucratic opposition also fears a rank-and-file struggle and encourages Gettelfinger and the other sellout officials to keep the workers under their control. Thus, they tell the Gettelfinger leadership that "We respectfully recommend that the GM UAW membership vote 'No' and that the leadership instruct the workers to remain at work while they rejoin the negotiations to correct the VEBA mistake and other unjust concessions in the tentative agreement ."(emphasis added) (Text) <>

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