The Spark

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

Detroit's McGraw Glass workers:
Under attack by the company and the heads of the union

Sep 23, 2002

At the end of August, Daimler-Chrysler sent a letter to the workers at its McGraw Glass plant, reiterating its threat to get rid of the plant if sufficient labor savings were not found.

This repeated the ultimatum Chrysler had issued last December when it demanded that the union come up with 50 million dollars in cost savings in three months – that is, in reduced labor costs – or face the closure of the plant.

Since January, rumors have floated throughout the plant. The UAW international called in efficiency experts from the University of Michigan to look for cost savings.

Nothing, of course, came of it, since the level of money talked about could only mean that wages and benefits be reduced by a very sizeable amount, and the workers at McGraw had a long history of not caving in to outrageous demands.

In all the months since, the top union leaders have essentially ignored the fact that Chrysler was threatening to close a plant (a plant which, it should be said, was completely rebuilt and doubled in size only ten years ago).

That all changed, however, when 200 workers at McGraw went down to Solidarity House demanding to talk to someone in the union, following a statement made by UAW Vice President Nate Gooden that Chrysler never should have entered the glass business in the first place. Of course, during the rally that the McGraw workers organized, no one came to talk to them about their problems.

But a big delegation from the top levels of the union did come to the next local union meeting in the middle of September: one rep from the region in which McGraw is situated; one from the other Detroit area region; and four from the international staff. But if workers thought that the delegation came to discuss their problems, they soon discovered otherwise.

The delegation had come ... to defend Nate Gooden, and they all said it.

Workers at the meeting wanted to know why the union reps came out to McGraw only to defend Nate – where were they when Chrysler first started closing down lines and laying people off? Where were all of them, when the workers went to Solidarity House to speak to someone from the International about our problems?

While one of the reps said that every one knows that Nate sometimes speaks before he thinks, the statements made by the delegation showed that they accepted Gooden's stance: that is, that it's up to Chrysler to decide what to do about the workers' jobs.

Worker after worker got up to indict management for McGraw's problems. They reported how they had often told management about problems – only to be ignored. They reported that they had noted that glass was bad – only to have management ship it out. And so on.

The problems of McGraw were caused by management. The workers wanted a way to make management solve the problems and pay the price to do so.

One worker asked the international reps what their solution was to the plant closing. An international rep said he didn't know if there was a solution.

It's true – if the union goes on doing what it's been doing, there is no solution.

The union's current policy, during the last 30 years, as the companies closed down one plant after another, was simply to accept what the company did. And that's no solution.

The people who have led the union during all this time have never once proposed to the workers to make a real fight to stop the plants from being closed. They push the idea that there's nothing the workers can do – since the contract and the law give the corporation the right to close plants if it wants.

When some workers raised the idea that other workers are having the same problem, an international rep replied that it would be against the contract for workers at other plants to go out in support of workers at McGraw.

Another International rep said that if you don't know what you are doing when you try to make a fight, you'll make things worse.

NO! The worst thing to do is to sit back and do nothing. That's what the union has been doing and that's why auto workers keep losing jobs, wages and benefits.

It's why the union itself keeps losing members. Since the early 1970s, almost 400,000 jobs have been lost at the Big 3. The UAW itself has lost all those members at the Big 3, not to mention all the ones at other workplaces. The longer the union accepts plant closings and layoffs, the weaker the union becomes.

It's clear that the people who today lead the union do not have a policy of fighting against plant closings – even when it threatens the union itself.

It's up to today's workers to find the way to make that fight – with or without the heads of the union. It's the only way that the working class can begin to reverse the last two decades when the bosses felt free to attack the workers, but the workers didn't respond.