Jun 20, 2005
For two months, GM has been issuing demands that the union come up with concessions on medical benefits. While GM was taking the offensive, top UAW leaders were bending over backwards to insist they were willing to work with GM on the issue. They even called local union leaders from GM plants to a meeting in Detroit, where the word was given: workers should expect to see increases in their co-payment, deductibles, premiums and/or other out of pocket expenses.
In the middle of all this, UAW leaders issued a bold statement asserting they wouldn't "reopen the contract."Say what? They'll give concessions, but they won't re-open the contract!??!! What they're really saying is that they won't give workers the right to vote on the concessions.
This wouldn't be the first time UAW leaders agreed to let the companies breach the contract in mid-stream, without opening it up for a vote. In fact, they recently bragged that they let GM avoid hiring 6,800 workers it should have hired to fill open jobs under the current contract.
Acting in such a "responsible" way, UAW leaders only encouraged GM to up the ante. And GM rushed to do it. In mid-June, GM execs announced that if they didn't get all the medical concessions they wanted, they might unilaterally cut off retiree medical benefits.
Right now, GM's threat is probably like the extortion demands made by street hoodlums – give us your money or we'll kill you! But they are also gauging the situation to see just how far they can go with this.
The response of UAW leaders could only encourage GM to go very far. Yes, UAW leaders immediately said they wouldn't stand for touching retiree benefits – just like they claimed they wouldn't re-open the contract. But what counts is not what they said, but what they are doing – and what they are doing is to continue to negotiate medical benefits cuts with GM.
You don't stop a bully from attacking your grandmother by giving him your money. He only comes back demanding more. And GM workers won't stop GM from attacking retirees by giving up some of their own medical benefits. The only way they can protect retirees and themselves is to throw every single one of those demands in GM's face.
And that's something the workers are going to have to do for themselves.