The Spark

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

The strike at American Axle

Mar 3, 2008

At midnight on February 25, 3,600 UAW workers at five American Axle Manufacturing (AAM) plants walked out on strike. The owner of AAM, Dick Dauch, forced the strike when he demanded that the wages of all workers be brought down to a rate no more than half what older seniority workers get.

As of Sunday March 2, workers still picketed and negotiators weren’t meeting. The impact of the strike was beginning to ripple out. General Motors had already shut down at least four assembly plants due to lack of axles for rear-drive vehicles. Some Chrysler vehicle assembly will be affected later.

The AAM workers also walked out briefly in 2004. A concessions contract recommended then by the UAW leaders was only barely approved. In fact, workers at the Hamtramck, Michigan plant voted majority NO, because they disagreed with a two-tier wage structure.

Now, three years later, the AAM owners and stockholders are much wealthier. One analyst estimated that Dauch himself has raked in about one hundred million dollars so far! The company is still profitable, and its stock price is holding up nicely despite its media “spins” hinting of bankruptcy. Only the workers have taken losses! And now the company wants more!

The official UAW policy at the International level is to bend over backwards to “partner” with companies, to “cooperate” in improving corporate “competitiveness.” This policy’s only result has been hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, and less pay and harder lives for the remaining workers.

It’s clear that if workers are to defend their own interests, they will have to take on the job themselves.

Some workers still angry at the 2004 concessions organized themselves to oppose any more cutbacks. They used a newsletter they gave out at AAM plants in Michigan and New York, trying to build up links between the different places.

So far the picket lines seem enthusiastic. And AAM workers don’t have to stand alone. The opposition inside the UAW began to grow larger at the time of the Delphi concessions, imposed in 2005 with the excuse of Delphi’s phony “bankruptcy.” In 2005 and 2006, GM and Ford retirees suddenly saw their future healthcare compromised by new VEBA deals, cut by the union leaders without retirees’ consent. Chrysler workers’ opposition in the plants was strong enough then that the UAW delayed the Chrysler VEBA plan until the 2007 contract.

In 2007, when the UAW proposed “Big Three” contracts dividing workers into regular-pay “core” and half-pay “non-core” jobs, plus other major concessions, a wave of protest arose in the plants. And today, at Ford and GM, workers are very reluctant to take the buy-outs which the companies and their union “partner” are using every trick to push.

These workers could be an enormous source of strength and support for American Axle workers. And even more.

The stakes are high. The corporate war on workers won’t be thrown back only at one company, no matter how strategic its position. But if the rank and file finds the way to stand together and let it be known, in a big way, that production will not be normal until all workers get a better deal, then the partnership will be out and the corporations will have to bow.