Jan 19, 2004
Workers at Chrysler's Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Warren, Michigan, finally accepted a new contract, which they had originally turned down in November with a 90% NO vote. One of their main objections to the contract is that it effectively gave away two weeks of their vacation time, by scheduling vacations on changeovers.
After the November vote, local union officials began to spread scare stories about how the plant might have to close if workers did not show more cooperation with the company. Rumors began about not getting a new product for the plant; or that giving up vacation choices would be compensated by adding a third shift to reduce the heavy overtime.
Workers on the line threw these threats and promises back in the leadership's face whenever officers or representatives appeared. The union leadership used a new trick. They set up a new vote, on a slightly revised contract and also a strike deadline – for December l9, just before Christmas! On December 24 the plant was scheduled to begin a week of Christmas vacation, and then to be closed for three weeks for new construction.
A strike during these weeks would cost the workers their holiday pay and their unemployment benefits, while posing no risk to the company, since the time was scheduled down any way. It was a sort of lock-out arranged by the workers' own representatives!
But the new contract proposal did make one change: workers would have to use up only one week's vacation, not two, during changeovers.
Workers were furious at these strong-arm tactics, and rightly so. Their own representatives had acted not as workers' leaders, but as management's enforcers. Nonetheless, faced with the threat of being locked out for Christmas, workers did vote to accept this deal.
Nevertheless, the workers had gained something in this whole affair. More exactly, they gave up less – one week of vacation time, not two.
But the workers' most important gain is in laying the base for further defense of their interests. It was their activity – and not the union's negotiations – that gained something. For many, it was the first time they felt the strength that comes from making a fight, all together. Workers also brought into the open how far union officials have gone in choosing to represent management first and their own union members last. The workers' action revealed how things really stand.
Those who stood up and helped to organize the fight can find ways to carry on from here. Even if we accept the official vote count, it means that 27% of 2900 – that is, 783 workers – did not yield, even up against the threat of a Christmas strike. These determined workers can be the core of a real change, if they discuss the situation with other workers, to widen their connections – and be ready for next time.
And they can put themselves forward as leaders at Warren Truck Assembly.