To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
November 24, 2015 (corrected version below)
RE: Worker resistance to the 2015 auto contract

The 2015 auto contracts:
The auto capitalists make record profits,
while the UAW accepts a third tier of workers
with lower pay and no rights

Introduction

It took several months, but the UAW has pushed through contracts with Chrysler (FCA), GM, and Ford. These contracts have been signed at a time of record profits for the Big 3 auto companies, and yet they make permanent the cutbacks from 2007 and 2008. So it's not surprising that Justin Mayhugh, a GM worker, wrote the following about these contracts:

"...I am repulsed that they [the UAW leadership] are claiming some big victory when GM's contract only passed by 55% and Ford's contract passed by a few hundred. I am repulsed that they willingly negotiated a third tier. ... I am repulsed at the lavish lifestyles these people lead while negotiating horrible contracts for their membership all in the sake of 'jointness' and 'competitiveness.' ... I'm tired of our union doing absolutely nothing to tell the truth about the lives of autoworkers to the public. I'm annoyed that the companies spend God knows how much money making us out to be greedy bastards to the general public, and our leadership does absolutely nothing to counter this message. I wish our leadership cared. I wish they got angry at the companies for their greed." (The complete statement is appended at the end of this article)

Some features of these contracts

* There isn't equal pay for equal work. Workers continue to be divided into two tiers, with tier 2 workers making far less money than tier 1. Workers were told that there is an eight-year path for the tier 2 workers to reach the wages of tier 1. But since the contract only covers four years, this is pie in the sky.

* Indeed, there is now a third tier of temporary workers who are in the worst position of all. Oh yes, the UAW leaders eliminated the two-tier system - they created a three-tier system. Indeed, the contracts have even more gradations among auto workers than that.

* Cost-of-living adjustments are still gone.

* There are some wage increases, especially for a section of the tier 2 workers, but the major wage cuts of the concessions are not restored.

* In 2007, the UAW allowed the auto companies to abandon health care responsibility for retirees by transferring it to a VEBA (VoluntaryEmployee Benefit Association). The auto companies were required toprovide the VEBA with only a fraction of what the health careobligations were likely to be, and with that the Big 3's obligationsended. The UAW officials get to handle the VEBA funds, but the VEBA isunderfunded, and this is a threat hanging over retirees' benefits. Nowthe UAW leadership wants to do the same thing to the health benefits of current workers. The 2015 contracts are written to allow this to be done.

* There is no increase in pensions for retirees.

* It's a "living contract", which means it can be changed during its term without approval of the UAW membership. This applies especially to the health care plan, but to everything else as well.

* Working conditions are going to get worse. Job classifications are being merged; an inhuman attendance policy has been strengthened; and AWS (Alternate Work Scheduling) is continued, which creates a jumbled workweek with ten-hour days not paying overtime.

The wave of anger

The miserable features of these contract proposals led to a wave of discontent. There is now a sense of opposition across all three companies to the concessions that are being forced down workers' throats. This has been especially manifested in discussion on social media. As workers discovered various of the negative features of these contracts, they wrote about them on Facebook sites and hashed out the rights and wrongs about what was being proposed. UAW members were also afraid that their votes wouldn't be counted, and many workers posted pictures of their ballots marked "no!" There were debates among workers as to how to vote, and discussion of how the UAW had gotten into this situation. Some of the most lively sites were:

The lack of an extensive organization uniting militant autoworkers hindered the struggle. But the discussion on social media provided some connection among workers; spread knowledge of the different parts of the contract; and encouraged activity.

A few months before, some autoworkers from "UAW Real Talk, GM. Ford, FCA" had begun "Equality Rallies" (i.e., against the two-tier system) in front of Solidarity House (UAW headquarters). At Labor Day in Detroit this year, they passed out leaflets denouncing the two-tier system and calling on autoworkers to insist on eliminating it. These activities only involved a handful of workers, but they reflected a rising anger among autoworkers and helped spur the mass discussion on social media. This was seen in the vote. Despite the weight of the UAW bureaucracy, and the PR firm the UAW hired to present the contract to the workers (yes, the UAW hired a PR firm, not to oppose the lies of the auto capitalists, but to lie to the UAW membership), the tentative contracts were in trouble:

* The first Chrysler tentative contract was voted down; this was a major event as the last time Chrysler workers voted down a tentative national contract was in 1982. The UAW leadership had to renegotiate the contract and provide greater wage increases for a section of the tier 2 workers, and it had to pretend to back down on its plan for a VEBA-like health care "cooperative". This allowed the second tentative contract to pass.

* The GM contract only passed with a 55% vote. Moreover, the skilled trades section of the UAW voted it down, but the UAW leadership overrode the skilled trades' veto by claiming that it had changed some details in the proposal.

* The Ford contract barely passed at all.

But did most of the left care?

It's common in the left-wing sections of the environmental movement and other struggles to talk about the need to unite with the labor movement. Unfortunately, this is often regarded as coming to terms with the labor leaders. Yet the struggle over ratifying the auto contracts shows the gulf between the workers and the UAW leadership, which is intent on working closely with the auto capitalists.

Much of the left tries to ignore this gulf between the workers, who are struggling to get by, and the pro-capitalist top labor leaders, who often make fantastic salaries. So a number of left groups will promote strikes against the capitalists, but remain silent when the union bureaucrats trample on the workers' interests. Perhaps this is why there was so little action this year by left groups in support of the auto workers against the proposed contracts. There are generally modest-sized demonstrations in Detroit all the time, but not in support of this year's auto worker struggle.

All this raises the question of what the left-wing movement should base itself on: the mass of workers and their struggles, or the present union leaders, no matter what their stand is toward the capitalists? Does anyone really think that rich hacks like UAW President Dennis Williams, who betrayed the UAW's own workers, will treat the anti-racist, environmental, and other struggles any differently?

For this or other reasons, it seemed that most of the left showed little interest in the auto workers' struggle. There was far more argumentation on which candidate for president, if any, should be endorsed by the unions, then how to give support to the auto contract struggle.

The Green Party, for example, runs candidates in Michigan and elsewhere in the US, and devotes a lot of effort on electoral politics, and it talks about its support of labor. But it didn't help the workers in this campaign. Amy Goodman's popular news program Democracy Now! had the UAW dissident Greg Shotwell of "Soldiers of Solidarity" on a program in years past, and some other news about the UAW over the years, but was silent in this campaign. Black Agenda Report wasn't concerned either, despite the importance of the auto industry for black workers. The opportunist would-be Marxist Monthly Review has carried some material about UAW dissidents in the past, but was silent now. And so on.

On the other hand, Labor Notes, which describes itself as "Putting the Movement Back in the Labor Movement", carried a number of articles supporting the opposition to these contracts. It didn't ask questions about why the UAW leadership would do this, but it did oppose the tentative contracts. The World Socialist Web Site was active in the struggle, and its many articles on the tentative contracts were posted on social media. Unfortunately, the WSWS promoted the sectarian, ultra-left view that unions, and democratic institutions in general, are obsolete. Representing one of the variants of Trotskyism, it didn't just oppose the perversion of the union apparatus, but the unions themselves. WSWS wrote: "The auto contract struggle has demonstrated once again that the trade unions function as vital props of the corporate and political establishment in suppressing the class struggle and imposing the dictates of the financial aristocracy. Just as every other institution of bourgeois democracy has been hollowed out under the weight of class tensions and unprecedented levels of social inequality, so has the institution of 'collective bargaining.' Far from giving workers a democratic voice to assert their interests, the 'negotiations' between the so-called unions and the corporations are nothing but a conspiracy to suppress the aspirations of the working class." ("Lessons of the the autoworkers' battle," 23 November 2015, www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/11/23/pers-n23.html)

Of course the union bureaucrats betray the working class. But the fight over contracts is going to remain; the fight for union organization is going to remain; and the fight over the nature of the unions is eventually going to heat up. These are real fights, not just conspiracies. The WSWS sees the whole world as utter betrayal of the principles that only it upholds. It sees the present existence of unions as simply something permitted by the capitalists. It believes "…the UAW only continues to exist due to the good graces of the corporations and the government, which employ it as an industrial police force against the working class". (Jerry White, "With Ford pact in jeopardy, UAW intensified economic blackmail", Nov. 19, 2015, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/11/19/auto-n19.html) If this were so, then strikes and organizing drives and the building of broad workers' organizations would be futile.

Where to go from here

The lack of a major organized opposition in the UAW hurt the contract struggle. The contract votes take place rapidly, and it took awhile for workers to develop a unified response to the lies of the UAW leadership. It took time to see what was in the contract: the contracts are hundreds of pages of long, written in legalese, and even refer back to other documents. Everything is done by the negotiators to ensure the passivity of the working class.

Social media provided a way for workers to get in touch in other with each other, learn about the features of the proposed contracts, and be inspired by comradeship from workers in other plants than their own, or other auto companies. It was also a forum for debate among workers on the contracts. But the use of social media is only one step son the path towards organization.

Now that the contract votes are over, workers are pondering what to do next. A good deal with depend on whether a core of more active workers come together to form more durable networks. The auto struggle is going to continue, and probably the auto companies are going to come back and ask for more concessions long before the next contract. Indeed, the UAW leadership has already indicated that it intends to move in the direction of a health care VEBA prior to the next contract. The question is whether a durable opposition to this will develop. Moreover, it's important for auto workers to support the struggles of other workers around the country.


From the history of the UAW

Doing this requires understanding what can be expected from the UAW leadership. Many workers, in shock at the 2015 contract, are asking how did the UAW descend to the level where its leadership could act like this? The UAW had a fighting reputation: how could it behave as it has been in the past years? Some workers, such as Mayhugh, look back to the days of Walter Reuther, but the story is more complicated. For example, black auto workers weren't given their proper rights in the UAW by Reuther, but had to obtain them by spearheading the formation of groups such as the Dodge, Ford, and Eldon Avenue Revolutionary Union Movements in 1968.

Examining this history is helpful in getting some perspective on what to do next. Below is a list of some articles that show part of this history:

* Obama's auto bailout: destroying the workers to help resurrect the capitalists (Presentation at the Detroit Workers' Voice Discussion Group meeting of June 14, 2009, www.communistvoice.org/DWV-090614.html)

* The incredible shrinking UAW: The sellout unionism of the UAW leadership and the class struggle alternative, by Mark Williams, Feb. 2008, www.communistvoice.org/41cUAW.html

* The CPUSA's work in auto and the change in line of the mid-1930s, article from March 20, 1987 that shows how auto workers and activists built a militant organization, www.communistvoice.org/WAS8703CPUSA-UAW.html.

- Joseph Green, editor, "Communist Voice" <>

Appendix: Justin Mayhugh's statement

For a long time now I've believed that any organization where there is money and power involved, humans will find a way to completely corrupt it. Whether we talk about the government, corporations, etc.

After seeing the way in which our union "leadership" has low-balled it's membership once again, while continuing to live like kings and queens by silencing the voices of their constituents and by pushing through their agendas through their rigged conventions, I think it's beyond safe to say that corruption has completely overtaken the UAW leadership. I can personally say that these people at the international level do not represent me. They represent FCA, Ford, and General Motors…the corporations.

They continue to lower the standard of living for their membership while lining their own pockets with our monthly dues. They continue to allow General Motors to cut jobs at my plant, while spending obscene amounts of dues money on golf courses, and vacations, and (imagine this) COLA! [while UAW workers no longer get cost-of-living raises.] They continue to allow General Motors to overload our jobs. They negotiated their membership a living contract... meaning there basically is no contract. If that fact doesn't make you see that the international simply does not care about the lives of their membership, I don't know what will.

I am repulsed by their actions during these contract negotiations. I am repulsed that they continue to insult our intelligence. I am repulsed that they planned out the voting in the best possible way for them to get their desired results. I am repulsed that they are claiming some big victory when GM's contract only passed by 55% and Ford's contract passed by a few hundred. I am repulsed that they willingly negotiated a third tier.

I am repulsed that they rammed through a dues increase by a show of hands at a convention when they knew that the vast majority of their membership were adamantly against a dues increase. I am repulsed that this dues increase was supposed to be to create a robust strike fund for 2015 to show the companies "we meant business," even though they had zero intention on actually standing up to the companies. I am repulsed that they pushed through the right to change the strike fund to a "strike and defense fund," so that they can now have legal access to dip into the money for whatever the hell they want to. Not that it really matters, since they were dipping into the strike money even when it was against the rules. I am repulsed at the lavish lifestyles these people lead while negotiating horrible contracts for their membership all in the sake of "jointness" and "competitiveness."

I am repulsed that our leadership is so hell bent on cooperating with these companies that they are willing to screw over their own membership by continuing to let the companies not give a damn about quality and to run the line at a breakneck pace. I am repulsed that at my plant it's gotten to the point where I have told myself I don't have a committeeman when management breaks the rules, because I already know my committeeman is powerless. I am repulsed that our leadership continues to tell us anything just to get us to the next step of lowering the standard, ("Hey Ford and GM, don't worry about the FCA negotiations, you guys are much more profitable and your deals will be much better"). In the 2015 contract this continuation of lowering the standard will more than likely be our health care, which I'm willing to bet my bottom dollar will change before this contract expires. I am repulsed at the whipsawing that the international allows to happen between local unions that promises products to the plants that are willing to let their workers get screwed over the most by the corporations through concessions.

I am repulsed at Dennis Williams smiling and hugging Sergio Marchionne like they were long, lost best friends. I am tired of our leadership being friendly with the companies. I wish our leadership were friendly to all of the membership, not just the few who spend every day trying to suck off the teat, vying for an appointed position. I'm tired of appointed positions. I'm tired of it being a matter of WHO you know and not WHAT you know. I'm tired of passionate members who want to represent their fellow membership being told "either play ball by the international's rules or go home."

I'm tired of the international not giving a single damn about retirees. I'm tired of retirees not having a voice. They pay union dues, they should have a voice. I'm tired of all of the fake bullshit.

I'm tired of hearing our leadership spout "solidarity" while creating another tier that will inevitably tear us apart. I'm tired of our leadership negotiating in bad faith. I am tired of our leadership moving us two steps forward, and five steps back.

I'm tired of our union doing absolutely nothing to tell the truth about the lives of autoworkers to the public. I'm annoyed that the companies spend God knows how much money making us out to be greedy bastards to the general public, and our leadership does absolutely nothing to counter this message. I wish our leadership cared. I wish they got angry at the companies for their greed. I wish our leadership would have told us "If you choose to go out on a strike, we will do everything in our power to fight the good fight. We have your backs" I'm tired of the bribes. I'm tired of our leadership accepting temp dues when they can't offer them any protection. I'm tired of our leadership bribing temps with 2000 dollars to vote yes on a contract that will screw them over in the long run.

Where is the union I thought I was joining? Where is Walter Reuther's UAW? When did the leadership become so passive towards management and so aggressive towards their membership? When did they quit caring? I suppose it's easy to stop caring when you segregate yourself as much as possible from the ones you are supposed to be representing, and you don't have to see the consequences of the contracts you are negotiating, and how those contracts will affect the membership on a day-to-day basis. How can they justify dropping 7 million dollars on upkeep for a golf course at Black Lake, and then tell you that an 8 year pathway in a 4 year contract was the best they could do? How many dues paying members do you think will actually play one damn hole of golf on that golf course? Wait... who actually gives a damn about that dumb golf course anyways? I know I don't.

Think about this... What does it say about our leadership that we can't trust them to tell us the complete truth about what's in the contract they are negotiating for us? Why should Joe Blow Line Worker have to work 8-12 hours a day and then go home and pour through hundreds of pages of a contract to get the truth because he knows there is hidden language in the fine print that's detrimental to the worker? Why? How is this type of reprehensible actions from the international okay with anyone in the membership? I don't get it. <>


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Posted on January 27, 2016
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