Saying “NO” Is Not Enough

Oct 4, 2015

Workers at Fiat Chrysler voted heavily to reject the proposed UAW-FCA tentative agreement.

This contract would have made two-tier permanent – it would have lowered the rate of pay for generations to come. And it would have added still lower tiers into the wage mix. New generations of workers would be working for less money than their parents, and even their grandparents ever did.

In a high-stakes chess game, this contract also would have moved almost all car production to Mexico, brought in some new truck production to the U.S., and moved almost all major vehicle production in the U.S. from one location to another. The result of all these moves would be still more jobs destroyed and a still faster pace of work.

The new contract included an open-ended proposal for a new health care cooperative that guaranteed reductions in current health care coverage and transferred cost to workers. It also gave company and union bargainers the right to change coverage mid-contract. If workers had accepted this contract they would have given a blank check to the very people who negotiated it!

After decades of saying “yes,” decades of swallowing concessions, auto workers finally said “NO.” With that vote, they declared that their lives and their children’s lives are more important than company profits.

But voting “NO” is not enough. If workers sit back and wait, what will happen? The same people who negotiated this contract will get together behind closed doors to figure out a new one. Who would trust them? Chrysler won’t add more money to the pot. UAW leaders will just move it around.

And going out on strike will not be enough – not if that strike is left in the hands of the very people who negotiated this contract. Remember what UAW leaders did in 2011 when Ford workers seemed poised to reject the 2011 contract. Top union officials threatened to “put them out on strike and keep them there until Christmas.” They threatened a strike to intimidate the workers, instead of using it as a weapon against Ford.

It is apparent that the leaders of the auto workers union at the very top level don’t want to lead a fight – and can’t!

If auto workers want something better than this contract, if they want everyone at the same, higher wage level, and no tricks and trade-offs on essential health care benefits, they will have to take the fight into their own hands.

Workers at Chrysler, Ford and GM will have to deal with the question of leadership in the UAW.

The leaders of the UAW, like the top leaders of all the unions today, are the assistant guardians of the capitalist economy – an economy that has piled up masses of profit, by driving down the workers’ standard of living. UAW leaders immediately assume, and say it, that increased health care costs, including a new tax on health care, will be passed on to the workers. Why? Why don’t they assume the opposite – that the workers should make the bosses pay, cutting profits and executive bonuses, for example.

The question at hand today is how to be ready for a fight against the auto companies, and how the workers will organize that fight. No doubt the companies won’t yield without a fight. But there is an opportunity to carry out a winning strike if workers organize their own meetings during this strike, decide what they will do, bring other workers along with them – first of all, workers from the other auto companies. They could call on workers in other industries to join the fight. And why not? We all have the same problem, watching our standard of living be pushed down, so a few fabulously wealthy people can exploit the whole economy in their favor. What starts in auto could spread throughout the work force.

In the course of organizing that fight, workers can push aside all those leaders who put the company first. They will develop their own leadership, a fighting leadership.