(from Detroit Workers' Voice #72, March 20, 2008, which also reports on
the situation at the Detroit postal "call center")
. 3,650 workers have been striking American Axle and Manufacturing (AAM) for the better part of a month. Five plants in Michigan and New York went out on February 26, with over half the workers involved at the Hamtramck plant. Since the strike started, one GM plant after another has shut down, till twenty-nine plants have been partially or fully shut down as they ran out of parts from AAM.
. American Axle wants to slash workers' wages and benefits by more than half. They aim to cut wages by $10, or even $14, dollars an hour; eliminate retiree health benefits; and replace worker pensions with investment plans. In the last contract, in 2004, they imposed a two-tier wage plan, and now they want to slash everyone's wages and benefits. This would continue the pattern of slashing that has happened at Delphi and Dana and even the Big 3, where new hires will receive wages and benefits a half or a third of what they used to be.
. American Axle demands all this, although it made a $37 million dollar profit last year. And its CEO, Richard Dauch, got over $9 million in compensation in 2006 alone. But he demands that any concession granted by the UAW to any other company, be granted to American Axle.
. This time, however, the workers have fought back in the only way that can make a difference: they have gone out on a serious strike. They know how strong the opposition is, yet they are determined and standing firm.
. But the workers face not only the problem of dealing with American Axle, but with the
treachery of the UAW leadership. It is the willingness of the UAW to accept drastic wage cuts
elsewhere that led to American Axle's demands. The UAW had the opportunity, at Delphi and
the Big 3, to wage strikes that would have inflicted major pain on the auto capitalists. The
workers were enraged at the cuts in their wages, health benefits, and other compensation. But the
UAW leadership only made token efforts in order to save face before its membership, and was as
scared of a serious strike as the auto capitalists. It identifies its interests with those of the auto
capitalists, and so doesn't want to really fight them.
A class-wide struggle
. Just as the outcome at Delphi, Dana, and the Big 3 have set the stage for the present struggle, so the outcome of the strike at American Axle will affect the position of all workers. Just as American Axle arrogantly declares that it won't pay any better wages than Delphi, other capitalists will declare that they won't pay any better wages than auto.
. Indeed, wages, pensions, and medical benefits are being slashed in one company after another across the country. And it's symbolic that American Axle CEO Dauch is also chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers. Or, to be precise, the National Organization of Millionaires Who Live Off the Labor of Manufacturing Workers.
. The strike at American Axle shows that workers have the power to fight back. When the strike first broke out, auto industry flacks pooh-poohed it, and pretended that the auto companies didn't care. Look at the inventories of unsold cars, they said. But as the affect of the strike reached its second and then third week, a note of panic started to creep into the business columnists. There was talk of how there really had to be a quick end to the strike.
What the national UAW leadership is up to
. Unfortunately, the UAW leadership has identified its interests with those of the auto capitalists. In a recent statement on the American Axle strike, UAW President Gettelfinger declares that "we've worked through complex problems at Chrysler, Ford, GM, Delphi, Dana and other companies" and that "we have repeatedly proven that we will work with this company [AAM]". (UAW News, March 1, 2008) That's precisely what American Axle management is counting on. They want the same type solutions as the UAW national leadership worked out elsewhere.
. What does this mean at AAM? Documents from the UAW and American Axle, leaked from the
negotiations, were published in the Detroit Free Press on March 4, and are available for
inspection on the Free Press website. They set forward the positions of the UAW and the union
on Feb. 25, just before the strike broke out. Both sides agreed on major wage cuts, but differed
on the size. Both sides agreed on buyouts, whereby high-paid workers would be encouraged to
leave so that other workers could be hired at a fraction of their cost. They differed somewhat on
the amount of compensation. All together, the UAW leadership had already agreed to half of
what American Axle was demanding.
Class-collaborationism brings a once-powerful union
to its knees
. Things weren't always like this. The UAW, at one time, had a reputation as a serious organization. It was founded in the midst of sit-down strikes in the middle of the Great Depression of the 1930s. But the radicals in its leadership were defeated, and the UAW leadership turned long ago to labor-management cooperation. And then, at the end of the 1970s, it began giving up a series of concession contracts. Since then, it has presided over the elimination of jobs, while asking for positions in joint labor-management bodies.
. This led the UAW to support wage-cutting piecemeal, by negotiating two-tier wage structures that impose severe cuts on newer workers. The two-tier system makes a mockery of labor solidarity, and paves the way for cuts for all workers.
. It is this labor-management cooperation that has led to the present round of wage cuts. The
UAW promises that this will save jobs, but time after time, as soon as the ink is dry on
concession contracts, the companies announce new lay-offs and buyouts. In February this year, it
went so far that GM offered buyouts to all its upper-tier workers, trying to replace as many of
them as it could with new workers who would be paid a mere fraction of the old wages and
benefits. But the UAW leadership doesn't care, so long as the companies let them administer
multi-billion dollar scams such as the VEBA plans that will replace the Big 3's responsibilities
for retiree health benefits.
. But a union isn't just its leaders, especially when those leaders see themselves as working partners of management. The essence of a real union is the spirit of solidarity among the workers. It is the spirit of standing up to oppression and fighting against the exploitation from the rich. To preserve this spirit, workers have had to organize against the sell-out policy of labor-management cooperation. At one point in the 1960s, rank-and-file workers organized "revolutionary union movements" such as DRUM (Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement) to fight racial discrimination and against speedup and exploitation. Such groups lasted several years and led wildcat strikes and denounced racist practices of the auto companies. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, there were also some wildcat strikes that helped put a limit to the concessions made by the UAW to the auto capitalists.
. More recently, there has been the development of new rank-and-file organizations of union members to oppose the current round of sell-out deals. Such groups, such as Soldiers of Solidarity at Delphi, haven't been strong enough to force the UAW to carry out a real strike. But they are a sign of the growing anger among autoworkers.
. Today the workers at American Axle are carrying out a protracted strike. They are showing that the potential that the UAW squandered in the other contract struggles. But they do not have their own organization that could stand against the treachery of the present UAW leadership. There is a danger that the national UAW leadership will take over the negotiations completely, and impose an unpopular agreement on the strikers. Indeed, the UAW has already tended to exclude representatives of the union locals from the negotiations.
. The American Axle workers are showing that serious strikes are possible even now. They are waging a just struggle in defense of their livelihood, and it deserves solidarity from other workers. But we need to keep our eyes open about what the UAW leadership is up to. We need to stand firm against both the capitalists and the corrupt practice of labor-management cooperation that is championed by the present pro-capitalist union leaderships. <>
. For more about the auto-workers struggle, read "The sellout unionism of the UAW leadership
and the class struggle alternative" in Communist Voice , Feb. 20, 2008.
(from Detroit Workers' Voice #72, March 20, 2008)
. Workers at the postal "Call Center" in Detroit have been fighting for shop-floor representation for a year. The NALC Branch 1 leadership dragged its feet on this. When union officers finally recognized a steward was needed, they postponed elections further after management objected. Fortunately, the Call Center workers persisted in pressuring management and the Branch 1 leaders. For example, over a dozen of them showed up at a union meeting to demand immediate elections. The rank-and-file pressure led to recent steward elections. Call Center workers elected a steward who takes a militant stance against management and exposes the betrayals of the union leadership.
. Yet this victory was only partial. The Branch 1 leadership didn't let the majority of the workers vote, though nearly all of the disenfranchised workers were currently paying dues. The problem, according to the Branch 1 officials was that some back dues were owed. Branch 1 officials ignored that this was largely because many Call Center workers have had serious injuries, and when they were off work, dues payments weren't taken out of postal paychecks. The union leaders could have proposed waiving the back dues, or made some other reasonable arrangement. But whether the workers got to vote wasn't so important to them.
. Now, the union leadership is opposing elections for an alternate steward. The Call Center has over 50 letter carriers working there, and according to the national contract, management would have to accept a second steward (alternate) if the union desires it. But at the local NALC meeting on March 13, Branch 1 President Sandy Laemmel said she doesn't see the need for an alternate steward. At most, she would consider the possibility -- if there was a need for it.
. This is another slap in the face for Call Center workers. Virtually every letter carrier station in Detroit has an alternate steward. The alternate is needed to help fight management abuse and to act if the steward is off work for some reason. The Call Center workers have the same need as all other letter carriers.
. But the Branch 1 leadership thinks otherwise. They believe the Call Center letter carriers (and clerks and mail handlers there), don't need equal rights. Why? Call Center workers are mainly those with long-term work-related injuries, and the union leadership acts like management is doing them a favor by allowing them to work at all. Management is attacking injured workers nationwide, forcing them from their previous work assignments, and threatening to remove them from the postal service altogether. This is the so-called National Reassessment Policy. Many at the Call Center were pressured to leave their stations for the Call Center under this program. But rather than mobilize real opposition to management's program, the union leaders are putting obstacles in the way of the workers defending themselves.
. Call Center workers continue to demand their rights, however. At the March 13th NALC
meeting, two Call Center workers spoke out against the union leadership's opposition to alternate
steward elections. They, like other postal workers, are learning that their union officers are more
interested in getting along with management than protecting the rank and file. The lesson is clear.
If the rank and file wants to offer serious resistance to management's anti-worker agenda, they
will have to organize themselves independently of the sellout union officials. <>
Last modified: March 20, 2008.