The Spark

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

UAW International shows where it stands
– with GM

Apr 18, 2005

Top officials of the UAW and General Motors held their annual joint leadership meeting April 13-15. GM did its usual play-acting about its dire financial situation and how badly it needs to cut back on workers' health care benefits.

This is laughable, coming from leaders of a company with around 23 billion dollars in financial reserves AND another 24 billion held by GMAC, its financial unit. Perhaps the 26.7 million dollars paid to GM's top 5 executives in 2003, with their millions (not yet announced) for 2004, is partly a reward for their acting skills – their ability to keep a straight face while claiming poverty!

But the UAW International leaders' response was not the horse-laugh the GM farce deserved. It was a sympathetic pat on the shoulder!

As Detroit newspapers reported, UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker said that while the UAW would not re-open contract negotiations, nevertheless it understood GM's problem and would "keep working to help GM." And then he proceeded to give examples of their "help." GM, under the current contract, was supposed to have already hired 6,800 new workers. The UAW has let GM slide, giving "a greater savings to GM than the cost of health care," according to one union official. In other words, the UAW International deliberately helped GM violate their contract and keep 6,800 workers unemployed! – and the rest working harder.

More help was given to GM on health care directly. Even though UAW members were told that this contract contained "no cost shifting" on health care, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger told reporters that "the UAW has already made several adjustments along the way."

None of the adjustments were favorable to workers. And none of the adjustments were brought before union members for a vote. Workers were simply informed by letters that certain medical plans could no longer be used, that certain doctors were no longer covered, that retirees could only get drugs from certain mail-order firms, that certain co-pays were boosted, and even, at Chrysler, that workers must suddenly pay deductibles in addition to their co-pays!

Yes, the UAW certainly has been making "adjustments along the way." Adjustments dictated by GM, Ford and Chrysler. Adjustments never taken to the workers for a vote. Adjustments based on contract obscurities and deeply buried from workers' sight.

UAW International leaders are showing workers that contracts are worthless pieces of paper, changed at the whim of those at the top.

Workers need a lot more security than such pieces of paper offer. Nothing but workers' own power, in their organized thousands and tens of thousands, will suffice.