May 26, 2003
Auto contracts expire this September 14. The UAW (United Auto Workers) will negotiate with Ford, GM and Chrysler. A recent "leak" about so-called "backroom" talks indicates that the UAW proposes to go along with plant closings by the big manufacturers – IF those manufacturers help the UAW to unionize enough members in the supplier industry to offset the numbers lost by plant closings.
It's impossible to tell what a "leak" like this is worth. Who has leaked it? For what advantage? Is it something accurate? Or an attempt at some sort of manipulation through the news media?
Were this to be true, however, it would not break with UAW policy. This strategy, of replacing lost membership through unionization of suppliers, has been in place since the last contract – with little to show for it. The UAW leadership accepted further cuts in Ford employment. In exchange, Ford Motor agreed to send letters to its suppliers urging suppliers to take a positive stance toward unionization of their plants. Results have been negligible. DCX (DaimlerChrysler) made a similar commitment regard a Mercedes assembly plant in the South – unorganized to this day.
From the time of Chrysler's alleged bankruptcy in l981, the UAW has been finding ways to sugar-coat the concessions it has granted to U.S. automakers. Plant-closing "moratoriums," job banks, training centers, programs such as BEL (Base Employment Level) – and many other legal tricks – have disguised the closing of dozens of plants, the elimination and outsourcing of tens of thousands of jobs. A union of 1.5 million workers in l979, the UAW is now reduced to less than 640,000. In the last year alone it has lost 50,000 members.
During this period of plants and jobs disappearing at an alarming rate, the UAW has managed not to have a major strike over the matter. It's an awesome record of collaboration with the corporations. At each and every contract, the union shouts to its members that it has achieved great victories against plant closings. But after each and every contract, there are fewer and fewer plants! And many of those remaining are no longer named Ford and GM, but Visteon and Delphi – or XYZ.
For the last half year, DCX has already started to close down production at McGraw Glass in Detroit. Despite the contract's prohibition of plant closings or mass layoffs except due to "volume related" problems, and despite the fact that auto sales are and have been well above average volume, the UAW has not opposed such plant-closing preparations.
When we consider the massive losses, it is clear that less would have been risked – and a great deal more up for gain – had the UAW battled from the beginning against plant closings and concessions.