The Spark

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

How the UAW brass sold GM and Chrysler workers a pig in a poke

Nov 5, 2007

The new auto contract at GM was presented so quickly to workers, they hardly had time to discover the lies in it: new hires working for less than half current wages, the workforce divided, promises to retirees dumped.

In the brief contract “Highlights” put out by UAW officials, losses were called gains. Job cuts were called job security. Wage cuts were called improvements. And UAW leaders said, but didn’t dare write, that the new high-risk health care plan for retirees was “good for 80 years.” The brass implied that all temporary workers would become permanent, but only half the temporary workers will get that.

Workers at GM had little time to get their hands on the contract and organize to spread what was in it. The contract passed – but by the lowest margin ever in an auto contract up to then. Eight GM units did vote No. Overall, 66% of production workers voted for it and 64% of skilled trades.

Then when it came to Chrysler, Shawn Fain, a skilled trades committeeman from Chrysler Local 1166 in Kokomo, Indiana posted the following on the Local 1166 website:

“The National Committee was, at first, unanimously opposed to the agreement. After a little pressure was put on, a second vote came out 6 against and 3 for the agreement, after a little more pressure was put on, the vote was 5 against and 4 in favor, and finally after more pressure from the International the final tally was 8 members of the National Negotiating team in favor and 1 opposed.” The one person still in opposition at the end, Bill Parker, the chair of the National Negotiating Committee and president of Local 1700, issued a written Minority Report opposing the contract and some of its drastic take-aways.

Union activists at many plants used the detailed information about the contracts posted on Internet websites to organize to turn the contract down. The first two assembly plants to vote, both in St. Louis, voted NO! Jefferson Assembly voted NO. They were followed by a foundry in Twinsburg, Ohio and by Detroit Axle, the home plant of a UAW vice-president, despite a visit from him. Four transmission plants in Kokomo, Indiana voted a loud defiant NO.

But other plants got no accurate information about what was in the contract. And the UAW leaders sent hundreds of reps and appointees to campaign with threats, “If you vote No, your plant will close,” or with promises, “Vote Yes, help us save the union.” “We have secret deals we can’t reveal because of the competition.” Over it all was the threat: “If you don’t accept this then you will be out for a long strike, and you’ll have to take a worse contract at the end.”

Even so, the union leadership could produce only a very narrow Yes vote – 56% of production, 51% of trades, still smaller than at GM.

The Ford workers have yet to vote. If they vote down the contract, all bets are off. Because GM and Chrysler workers were sold a pig in a poke.