The Spark

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

American Axle strikers rally, begin 9th week on strike

Apr 28, 2008

An estimated 1200 - 1500 UAW strikers and supporters packed the sidewalks and streets around the American Axle (AAM) headquarters building on April 24. The strikers came to greet the annual meeting of AAM stockholders and to question why this profitable company, which has paid its CEO over 257 million dollars in the last 10 years, won’t agree to pay its workers a living wage.

Police and tactical units from Detroit and Hamtramck were out in full force and brought a bus to use for arrests. The strikers joyously posed for a group photo in front of the bus. Strikers asked police, “Aren’t you union?” and called out, “You’re next. You’re next.”

Several strikers who own AAM shares went to the meeting and put direct questions to CEO Dick Dauch. Dauch’s basic position is that his profitable company, with its huge regular yearly sales to GM, should nevertheless get all the breaks that the UAW has given to companies that claimed bankruptcy.

Officers and delegations from several UAW locals were on the crowded picket line. “What happens to these folks will happen to us” was a remark often heard.

While this comment is true enough, it’s quite late for many of these folks to be waking up. Many of them helped the UAW leadership push through previous concessions that did indeed set the stage for the battle at American Axle – or at least they didn’t openly oppose the concession drive.

Top UAW leaders cooperated with General Motors in the spinoff of Delphi, not fighting its phony pre-planned “bankruptcy,” pushing Delphi workers to take deep wage and benefit cuts.

Those same leaders took Delphi-style concessions into Ford, Chrysler and GM contract negotiations last fall, telling workers their jobs would go away if they didn’t vote for two-tier wage structures, and for a risky VEBA fund instead of guaranteed pensions.

So yes, it’s true every concession digs the hole deeper for the next ones. That’s why this strike is so important and why it’s important for other workers to get involved.

Top leaders of the union certainly aren’t giving the support needed. UAW strike funds and other resources would easily allow it to pay workers $400 or $600 a week strike benefits – enough to hold out until GM uses up its last driveshaft and axle and has to “explain” things to Dick Dauch.

Instead, workers have been out with only $200 a week. This policy lets GM cheaply reduce its inventory while helping AAM as it tries to starve the strikers into submission.

Workers at AAM can’t count on Solidarity House. That was shown when UAW President Gettelfinger scheduled a rally for April 18 in downtown Detroit – and then cancelled it. He claimed “progress in negotiations” – but no progress developed.

It was in reaction to that cancellation that Local 235 of AAM in Detroit called for the April 24 rally at the stockholders’ meeting.

The turnout and spirit certainly did build up morale. Commonly heard were statements like, “I didn’t strike all this time just to settle for a poverty wage.” “What good is a job if I can’t pay for what I’ve got, my house and car?”

Also heard were indications that some workers understand the trickery coming from national UAW headquarters: “If the International doesn’t sell us out.” In fact, the UAW’s very first offer to Dauch – an offer he refused to accept – was exactly a sell-out: an offer to pull wages down to $14.50 and to install basically the concession pattern from Delphi.

As the strike’s impact on GM grows, impacting at least 30 plants at last count, Dauch has begun a stronger fear campaign against the strikers. He says he will move all his plants overseas if he doesn’t get the low wages he wants.

Companies have found that their most effective tactic against workers is the lie about “moving overseas” to “be competitive.” In fact, the labor costs of automotive products are only 10 to 15% of the products’ total cost. But if they can lie and intimidate workers into accepting lower wages, well, they will do that.

We have to start thinking past these corporate lies. How will we keep decent jobs and decent wages? What good is a job that won’t even pay for gas, or put enough food on the table? Our struggle is about having a job at high enough wages so we can have a decent place to live, good transportation, and to provide our children a decent start in life. If CEO ten-million-dollar paychecks stand in the way, too bad.

Workers everywhere will need to follow the lead of the American Axle strikers and stand up and fight, to keep corporate greed from destroying our lives.

Whatever it takes. And the strike at American Axle has changed the relationship of forces, opening the door a little crack for other workers to begin their own fight.