The Spark

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

A UAW shop faces sweatshop conditions

Mar 15, 2004

A bootlegged memo is circulating among the workers at Chrysler's truck assembly plant in Warren, Michigan. The source of the memo can't be identified, but it appears to be from someone in management.

Workers are especially interested because the plant is supposed to add a third shift in May, but no details have been provided. There is only this memo – and if it is accurate, it reveals plans to drive working conditions further back than ever since the plant was unionized in 1936.

In July 2002, Truck plant workers were forced onto a 10-hour daily schedule, after the UAW national leadership set aside the 9 hour per day contract limit. The UAW promised it would be only temporary. Twenty months later, the plant is still on 10 hours.

Workers look to the third shift's start-up as a way to get back to a humane 8-hour day. It sounds like a big improvement – until we look at that memo going around.

The memo says that when third shift begins, all workers are scheduled to lose their 30 minute lunch break. Twenty minutes of relief time will be converted to a "lunch" break. Instead of the two normal 15-minute breaks before lunch and one 16-minute break after lunch, for years the eight-hour standard, workers will now have only one 12-minute break before their new "lunch" – and one after.

As anyone who has worked on an auto assembly line can witness, these few minutes of break are impossibly small – too small even to walk to the bathroom and back!

The memo also reveals that workers will no longer have the right to one Saturday off in every three – now, they can have only one in every four. And as for the ten hour shifts, that were supposed to disappear when the third shift came? Three of every four Saturdays will be 2 shifts, 10 hours!

These outrageous proposals go hand in hand with new attendance rules that are more harsh than in any worker's memory.

So far, the workers have only this one bootlegged memo to go on. But it's been circulating for several days, and so far, no one – neither management nor union – has denied what's in it. The memo is all the more believable, since these attacks are right in line with so many others that are fresh in workers' memory.

To keep from slipping all the way back to nothing but a modern truck-building sweatshop, workers will need to rely on their own collective strength and their own ability to organize – the same things their great-grandfathers relied on to unionize Chrysler and bring it to heel, so many years ago.