Nov 23, 2015
Ford workers ratified their contract by the narrowest of margins, 51 to 49%. The result was up in the air until the last votes were counted – and questioned afterwards. A worker quoted by the Detroit News, said, “the votes didn’t matter, it was going to pass regardless, that’s how crooked they are.”
But whatever the count was, the fact is, this close vote at Ford demonstrates the enormous gap between what the UAW apparatus does and what the ranks want. A 51% percent “yes” vote, even if it were accurate, is not overwhelming approval – not especially when the apparatus pulled out all the stops to squeeze it out.
The lead negotiator Jimmie Settles appeared on television to threaten and brow beat workers into a “yes”. With no shame, Settles laid out his complete lack of confidence in the union to secure anything above and beyond what they had brought away from the bargaining table. He threatened that if workers didn’t accept it, the union would go back to find a worse agreement waiting for them. According to him, all bets would be off, you don’t just go to Door Number Two to see if something better is behind it. If that wasn’t bad enough, he said that voting “no” placed Ford’s nine billion dollar investment in U.S. plants in jeopardy and that parts plants workers would lose their jobs!
The pressure coming from Solidarity House brought 53 in-plant representatives at the Rouge plants to sign a statement in favor of the contract and then join the apparatus caravan through the Rouge plants. The only representative to stick with the workers and to tell the truth about what was in the contract was Gary Walkowicz.
In the face of this overwhelming barrage of threats and bullying from their own leadership, what were workers left to conclude?
What is clear in any event is that a majority of Ford workers were dissatisfied with the result, but saw a real risk in going up against a union leadership that had vowed to ruin them if they took on a fight.
Who can blame them? No doubt, the Ford workforce, in its majority, is not ready for a real confrontation, a real fight with Ford Motor Company to win back the concessions that were taken over a decade, and to resolve the problems and unfairness of the Two Tier system that was not only left in place, but was expanded.
Even harder is the idea of having to fight the International Union as well. Your own Union, sworn to betray you to a worse situation if you do not accept a contract they bring.
The Union based ratification of this agreement on a promise that in four years, in the next agreement, they would bring all workers up to the top tier. While workers are rightfully skeptical of this promise after so many broken ones, the way forward lies in workers deciding to make this promise a reality, and not entrusting the current leadership to do it.
As hard as it may seem, workers need a new fighting leadership. Workers need a fighting union, and in order to face the company again, there has to be a fighting leadership built to replace the bureaucrats and “yes” men that today face the bosses at the table. In the course of this fight at all three companies, workers learned which of their elected reps were honest enough and courageous enough to stand with them all through the fight. There may have been very few of them, but those few can count in the future. Equally important, some rank-and-filers stepped forward, standing up to the old leadership to openly oppose this contract.
In four years, and sooner, workers must be sure that at the point of a real fight with Ford, they won’t face an enemy in their own camp.