The Spark

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

Detroit:
McGraw Glass workers organize a protest

Aug 26, 2002

Chanting "Show Nate the Gate – You May Be Next," several hundred workers from DaimlerChrysler's McGraw Glass plant demonstrated in front of UAW headquarters on August 22. They flooded the sidewalk, three to four deep, for over six hours. There were signs workers made saying "Stop Plant Closings, Save McGraw" Other signs demanded, "Nate, Deny It or Take it Back."They had gathered at UAW headquarter to protest remarks that UAW Vice-president Nate Gooden made in an interview with Automotive News. When asked about persistent rumors that McGraw might be sold or simply closed down, Gooden told the reporter, "Chrysler made a mistake getting into the glass business."Did Gooden make a mistake in opening his mouth – like he usually does? Or were UAW officials giving the go-ahead to Chrysler to close McGraw?

Chrysler has certainly been threatening to get rid of McGraw. As long ago as 1987, it first proposed to put McGraw and other parts plants together into Acustar – and then spin them off into a separate company.

But, given the reaction among Chrysler workers, the company seemed to back off, signing an agreement with the union not to sell Acustar. In fact, it didn't sell Acustar – it simply began to close or sell individual parts plants one after another. By 1993, Chrysler had shipped out so much parts production, that it made only 30% of its parts in its own factories. The rest were produced in lower-wage companies.

This did not happen at McGraw.

In 1988 and '89, Chrysler certainly came back to workers there, demanding they agree to concessions in work rules and in job classifications. UAW officials at the time – local, regional and international – argued that the workers had to accept or Chrysler would close or sell the plant. Instead, McGraw workers refused company demands. They voted down these proposals three times, by margins of 7 to 1 or better, despite increasing threats coming from top UAW officials.

But Chrysler didn't close McGraw. It actually built a completely new plant on the same site, even while keeping full production going.

For awhile, the plant closing rumors disappeared. But in recent years, they have popped up again. But nothing happened.

Then, at the very end of last year, Chrysler gave the union 90 days to come up with a plan to save 50 million dollars at McGraw. If not, the plant would be closed or sold. So said the company. The International hired an "efficiency expert" who apparently proposed to the company that it close down parts of several departments, shipping the work out. About 200 jobs have since been cut. Nothing was put in front of the workers, but many workers were angry over what was happening, and expressed it in local union meetings.

The company continued to spread rumors about closing the plant.

Finally, at the July local union meeting, workers demanded to know how Chrysler could close the plant, since the UAW supposedly had a "no-plant-closings" agreement with Chrysler. A UAW regional rep replied that Chrysler could simply "mothball" the plant until the contract expired.

(In fact, this was what Chrysler had already done many times. For example, Chrysler closed down all production at a number of its stamping plants. As for the agreement not to close plants, the company announced that it was not closing the plants – only "mothballing" them until the contract expired, at which point union negotiators agreed that those plants could be closed before the new contract started.)

This is the background to UAW Vice-president Gooden's remarks. What Chrysler is doing now sounds like earlier threats it made to close the plant if it didn't get the concessions it wanted. And what Gooden said sounds like earlier threats UAW officials made to convince workers they had to give up concessions or face the loss of their jobs.

In that earlier time period, workers at McGraw were united enough and determined enough to face down all these threats. Not only did they refuse the concession demands, they kept all their jobs. In fact, the number of jobs at McGraw increased.

None of this is to say that Chrysler couldn't close the plant – and with very little notice. Or it could just keep shipping out production, one line at a time.

But regardless of Chrysler's intentions, workers can resist any and all company plans.

The demonstration that was organized shows that there are a lot of McGraw workers ready to make a stand. Over a quarter of the whole plant came out to demonstrate, including most local union officials and reps.

Of course, by themselves, McGraw workers can seem powerless and isolated. In fact, that's not true – as they've already demonstrated. But McGraw workers, if they are determined to resist, can get a fight going that would pull other workers along with them. And that's what really counts. It's also what will force union leaders to back off of so openly taking the company's side.

During the demonstration, other workers driving by honked horns, raised fists and otherwise signaled their solidarity to the McGraw workers. Everyone is under attack these days. Most workers would like to resist. The workers at McGraw, who have a history of resisting, can be the ones who get the ball rolling.