While the UAW leadership plots another sellout

Delphi rank and file step up the fight against concessions

From Detroit Workers' Voice #54, Jan. 21, 2006.


. The media preview of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on January 8 presented a classic illustration of class differences. Inside the exhibition hall auto corporation executives in uniform black suits ran around glad-handing one another and making last-minute adjustments to their glitzy displays. Meanwhile, outside the exhibition hall, the people who actually build automobiles were loudly protesting the way they are used and abused by the corporations. Hundreds of workers from Delphi corporation were present, protesting Delphi's plan to eliminate the great majority of Delphi's jobs in the U. S. and to drastically slash wages and benefits. They were supported by other auto workers and various leftist groups. Some Detroit city workers were also there protesting the city administration's plan to cut jobs and salaries. Marching in the cold January wind, angry workers shouted 'Delphi, GM, you should know, we won't be your PATCO!' Workers held homemade signs denouncing the auto capitalists and some also denounced the UAW officials' mild response to Delphi management's vicious assault on the workers.

. Last October, Delphi filed for bankruptcy so it could void its labor contracts with the UAW and other unions and destroy the workers' livelihood. The response of the UAW leaders has been weak, as they're more worried about maintaining the capitalists' profits than the working and living conditions of the auto workers. This led to various dissident groups among the Delphi workers organizing the January 8 protest and other actions.

. As Delphi tries to drive its workers down to WalMart conditions, dissident workers have organized a series of rank-and-file meetings throughout the Midwest including one of 200 workers in Flint, Michigan on December 11, where the possibility of a strike against Delphi was discussed. Under pressure of the rank and file, some official UAW protests have also taken place. Some UAW locals have organized workers to wear red clothing at work to protest the 'bleeding away' of their wages and benefits, and the UAW along with other unions have organized large parades in some cities ­ especially Dayton, Ohio and Kokomo, Indiana ­ to protest Delphi's projected plant closings. At these parades and rallies workers in attendance discussed the need for a strike against Delphi, though the official union speakers avoided the topic. Workers have also staged rallies right outside Delphi plants in Flint, Kokomo and Grand Rapids.

Crisis in American auto

. The two biggest domestic auto makers, GM and Ford, are in a crisis of declining sales and market share. While 2005 was a relatively good year for the auto industry in the US, the share of sales claimed by the Big Two continued to decline sharply. In the 1960s GM had over half of US market share; now its market share is only about one-fourth.

. The crisis for US auto companies is, at bottom, a crisis of the capitalist economy. The intense competition in the US is only part of the intensified worldwide competition in auto. Japanese, South Korean and European auto companies have made big inroads in the US and world markets. And as each auto giant hopes to increase their share of the market, they increase their productive capacity, leading to a glut and even more intensified competition. The way the capitalists maintain their profit margins in these conditions is by cutting labor costs, slashing wages and benefits and cutting back on the number of workers needed to produce cars by replacing them with automated machinery and robots. The more the capitalists cut jobs and wages/benefits in auto and other industries, the more they reduce the ability of the masses to up their products.

. So even if the US auto companies do better, there's no guarantee previous job levels will come back. Indeed, though GM has made colossal profits on the whole for decades on end, their US workforce has declined from 600,000 in the 1960's to about 120. 000 today.

. GM and Ford made billions in profits off of workers' backs in the 1990s. But now that profits have fallen temporarily they're on the rampage against workers. GM, with the UAW leadership's cooperation, got health care givebacks this fall, soon followed by Ford. GM also announced job cuts of over 30,000 in the next two years. Meanwhile Ford plans to cut 8,000 jobs. GM is closing five assembly plants and seven other facilities, while Ford is expected to announce the closing of four assembly plants soon. GM plans to cut its white collar workforce by seven percent in 2006.

. This onslaught on the workers exposes the lie that labor-management cooperation will save the workers. In fact, some of GM's more successful plants ­ the Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee and the truck assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario ­ are slated to close.

Worst case: Delphi seeks to wipe out workers

. The most extreme example of the crisis is Delphi, the auto parts manufacturer. Delphi is the nation's largest parts manufacturer and GM's main supplier, providing everything from radiators to radios. Before 1999 Delphi was an integral part of GM corporation, but in that year it was spun off. Workers at Delphi were told this move would keep their jobs healthy by giving Delphi more flexibility. But this 'flexibility' was actually a tool in the hands of GM and Delphi management to drive down the cost of parts for GM by breaking up the united force of auto workers at GM and Delphi and cutting Delphi workers' wages.

. Now Delphi has declared bankruptcy to drive down the workers' wages even further, to match those of unorganized temporary workers in auto job-shops. Delphi filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 8, throwing retirees' health and pension benefits into doubt. CEO Steve Miller said workers' wages would need reduction from $26-27 an hour down to around $9. 50-10.50 an hour. Miller also demanded the elimination of Supplemental Unemployment Benefits pay to idled workers and the jobs bank, dropping dental and vision coverage, cutting back vacations and holidays, and other outrageous demands. Later Delphi offered to ease up a tiny bit on their wage demands, but announced plans to eliminate 24,000 of its 34,000 US manufacturing jobs. Delphi isn't after "normal" concessions, but to totally ruin the workers.

. Miller is a bankruptcy vulture who takes over troubled corporations for the purpose of 'saving' them by trashing workers' pay and benefits. He was hired just last summer by Delphi and given a signing bonus of $3. 7 million. Formerly he took Bethlehem Steel into bankruptcy and also trashed workers' pensions and health benefits at United Air Lines.

The UAW's response

. The UAW leaders rejected Delphi's original demands, but beyond that have done little to organize opposition and prepare the workers for a strike. UAW president Ron Gettelfinger at one point endorsed work-to-rule slowdowns, but dissidents charge that in most plants, little is done to actually carry them out.

. The UAW bureaucrats' main concern is the health of GM. They're worried that a strike at Delphi may cripple GM and send it too into bankruptcy. Militant workers see this as an advantage, a weapon to use against the auto capitalists, but the UAW leaders see it as a reason to keep things cool at Delphi. The UAW leaders are sacrificing Delphi workers for the sake of labor-management cooperation with GM. But as GM's latest round of cuts shows, this will not save jobs at GM either.

. The UAW's focus has been its campaign against Delphi's plan to pay its executives $90 million in bonuses when it emerges from bankruptcy next year. To show his commitment to saving the company, CEO Miller is 'working' for only $1 in salary this year. But he received a signing bonus just last summer of over $3 million, and if he's successful in bringing Delphi through Chapter 11, he stands to gain many millions more in bonuses.

. This is good to protest, but it's not the main issue. Workers should not demand 'equality of sacrifice'. Instead they should oppose workers being sacrificed. While whining about the high pay and bonuses for Delphi executives, UAW bureaucrats at the same time have signaled their willingness to take big concessions at Delphi if Miller would only back off a little from his outrageous assault. The UAW leaders accepted the spin-off of Delphi in 1999 and in 2003 agreed to lower pay for new-hires at Delphi. The UAW has also brought its favorite theme of foreign-bashing in to the campaign on Delphi, blaming China for 'stealing jobs'. This only weakens the campaign against the auto capitalists.

. After the first two public offers by Miller were rejected by the UAW, GM stepped in and promised to provide financial assistance to Delphi while Delphi negotiated a settlement with the UAW. Miller has hinted that GM will help provide Delphi workers with buyouts, early retirement offers or other incentives. Miller officially took his former public proposals off the table in late December and put off the January 20 deadline for negotiations, saying they could be continued at least into mid-February. Apparently GM blinked when faced with the possibility of a strike at Delphi, and told Miller to cool his jets. So Delphi will pursue negotiated concessions a bit longer to avoid disrupting production, while the threat of bankruptcy court decisions still looms.

Delphi dissidents

. Dissident workers at Delphi are actively organizing through caucuses, newsletters, websites, etc. Rank-and-file meetings have been organized in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Meeting sponsors include New Directions, Members for Change, Future of the Union and Soldiers of Solidarity.

. The most prominent Delphi dissidents are Gregg Shotwell and Todd Jordan. Shotwell is a Delphi worker in Coopersville, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). His website is greggshotwell.net. Jordan is a Delphi worker in Kokomo, Indiana. His website is futureoftheunion.com. These two were prominent in organizing the rank-and-file meetings, and Shotwell is active as a spokesman for Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS).

. Various activists involved with SOS have bitter things to say against the UAW leaders. Such criticism is necessary for independent organization, and the development of an independent workers' struggle is what's most important for this battle and future ones. Certain worker-activists advocate a 'work to rule' slowdown. This is good, although some dissidents exaggerate what a slowdown, in itself, can accomplish. SOS has published flyers telling Delphi workers "prepare to strike." This is also a step in the right direction, because without a strike, Delphi workers don't stand much of a chance. At the same time, certain activists have expressed skepticism about a strike. And undoubtedly there are many workers who are weighing the question of whether to strike.

Work towards a strike!

. Workers at Delphi and at other companies have faced the issue of whether to strike a company declaring bankruptcy. But if threatening Delphi's profits through 'work to rule' slowdowns can help beat back concessions, why wouldn't a strike be even more useful? Moreover, the target of a strike wouldn't just be Delphi, but GM, which gets over half its parts from Delphi. If Delphi is shut down, GM would quickly run out of parts -- and this at a time of intense competition for market share. The 1998 Delphi strike quickly shut down GM plants across North America. So a Delphi strike would further pressure GM to use its resources to satisfy the demands of the workers against concessions. A strike at Delphi would also gain sympathy and support of workers at GM. It would increase the chances that they would also strike.

. Workers also face the inevitable attempts of the UAW bureaucrats to oppose or sabotage a strike at Delphi. But the tactics of the struggle shouldn't be based on whether the UAW bureaucrats approve of them, but what the workers are willing to do. So the UAW leaders' disapproval shouldn't discourage dissident activists from telling the truth to the workers -- a strike would make their anti-concessions efforts much stronger. If rank-and-file activism increases, this will put pressure on the UAW leaders to call a strike. If the UAW officials call a strike, the rank and file should strive to develop their own strike tactics and demands. If the UAW higher-ups refuse to strike, then the question will be whether or not the workers are willing and organized enough to carry out a strike in defiance of the UAW traitors. If so, that would really shake the Delphi/GM bosses.

. But whatever forms of independent struggle the workers are able to develop, this will move things forward. The more the rank and file take matters into their own hands, the better the prospects to beat back Delphi and GM's concessions. <>

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Last modified: February 17, 2006.