Jul 2, 2007
The United Auto Workers (UAW) leadership claimed a 68% approval vote for a new Delphi contract that drops top-tier wages and benefits to the lowest of the previous two-tier arrangement. Everyone’s health care benefits are scaled back to what newspapers call “bare bones” levels. Layoff protection, the “jobs bank,” disappears – when a production cycle lags, workers are laid off with no coverage. And with the lower pay comes harder work. Rules that previously helped keep workers from exhaustion and injury will be cancelled. Most plants will be sold or closed.
The UAW originally agreed with GM that Delphi would be a two-tier operation, artificially dividing the workforce into upper and lower pay levels (tiers). As soon as the union caved in on that, GM and Delphi began to scheme to eliminate the higher tier. The new contract, which reduces everyone to the same much lower level, is GM’s “Mission Accomplished” for Delphi. At the same time it is the preparation for enforcing a lower tier throughout the rest of GM. Some workers hired at Delphi will be able to transfer to GM plants over the next few years ... but they will carry their lower pay level and benefits with them! And the new contract will be used as a battering ram against all the Big 3 workers, whose contract comes up this September.
GM’s stock price immediately shot up 2.3%. Wall Street knows what it’s getting. In fact, auto stocks have been rising steadily for the last year. DCX shares are up by 56%, Ford by 23%, and GM stock is up 17%.
Unless workers wage a large and determined fight, there is only one outcome to two tier setups: the bosses force everyone to the lowest tier. This is true not only within companies but in the larger society as a whole. If there were not the millions of jobs offering less than $10 per hour, the GM/Delphi workers would not have been under pressure to settle for $14.00 “or else.”
The UAW, supposedly the workers’ leader, has in fact led the workers into this trap. Decades ago, it and other big unions agreed to fight for wages and benefits at individual companies instead of across the economy as a whole. At the same time, in other countries, workers’ unions and parties led fights for much higher minimum wages and for socialized medical care and pensions. Two-and three tier was the rule in this country.
As long as workers allow a lower tier to exist, every one of us can more easily be pushed down toward it.
In any case, workers can start now to reverse this situation. The vote at Delphi itself – standing up to enormous pressure, scare tactics, threats and outright arm twisting – shows that there is a steady core of workers who want to make a fight. There are many more workers like them throughout the country.
As one Delphi worker put it: Peace of mind doesn’t come from avoiding conflict, it comes from doing what’s right. Don’t wait for top union leadership to organize the fight. There are more than enough workers who see what’s wrong. They can pull others behind them. And every one of us has a reason to fight.