The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Ford Explorer "Safety [!?!?] Confidence Rally"

Jun 25, 2001

"Attention: Active UAW Members and Retirees. If you own/drive a Ford Explorer, you and a guest may travel to Washington, D.C. to attend a rally to protest Firestone's accusations that the Ford Explorer is an unsafe vehicle!!"

With these words, the UAW extended Ford's invitation to Ford workers to defend their boss.

Ford, of course, made it worth the workers' time. They would be paid hotel expenses for two nights in Washington, travel expenses, meals and gasoline charges –as well as their wages for three work days they could miss. All in all, Ford was offering an all-expense paid time off from work and a little jaunt to Washington –and all the workers had to do was show up driving Explorers and holding signs proclaiming their confidence in Ford's concern for safety.

It's certainly true that Firestone has attempted to shift the blame for the safety defects in certain of its AT tires onto Ford's shoulders –just as Ford is attempting to throw the blame for the safety defects in the Ford Explorer into Firestone's lap.

But the fact remains that both companies put out products which were unsafe –and which they knew were unsafe –for years. Both companies had been told by their own engineers that there were serious safety defects in these products.

In 1989, when Ford engineers warned top management of the propensity of the Explorer to roll over, top management ignored the warning –and continued to ignore the warning for the next 11 years. The main step they took was to order under-inflation of the tires –which simply exacerbated the propensity of the Firestone tires to shred when running hot.

Both companies have paid out big bucks in settlements to the families of people who have died –in settlements which are sealed, thereby preventing evidence from being presented in open court. But those millions of dollars already paid speak volumes about what each company knows about its own responsibility in this affair.

And yet, the UAW would ask its members to defend Ford's concern for safety. This is the same Ford, in case anyone has forgotten, whose "concern for safety" resulted in six deaths and a dozen serious injuries in the explosion of its old Powerhouse at the Rouge Plant, in Dearborn, Michigan, in February of 1999. The top UAW officials who today are ready to organize a "UAW Explorer Safety Confidence Rally" are the same ones who not only refrained from indicting Ford for the Powerhouse deaths then, but even rushed to express their confidence in Ford's concern for worker safety.

The mounting deaths associated with safety defects in the Explorer illustrate very clearly where Ford's concerns are and have always been: the Explorer was Ford's cash cow. To stop production of it in order to eliminate a serious safety defect would have meant cutting into some of those enormous profits that Ford has been rolling up.

Ford would not do it. And the UAW leadership cannot bring itself to condemn Ford for making a decision which could only mean that people would die so Ford could make more profit. In fact, several UAW officials explained that if Ford's profits were cut back, so would be the workers "profit-sharing" checks. It is the perfect example of what it means when the union ties the workers' hopes to their companies' situation.

The workers' prospects do not depend on the company's prospects –they depend on whether the workers and their organizations are ready to put the workers' needs first. Period. If profits are reduced –let executive salaries, bonuses and stock option plans be cut down. Let stockholders be denied dividends. Let the company stop taking billions of dollars with which it today plays on the stockmarket and buys and sells other companies. But let the workers have the income they need.

This rally is certainly not the worse pimping that UAW officials have done for Ford, but it is a very clear expression of what their partnership with Ford means and how much they have abased the union to keep it going.