The Spark

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

Ford Workers Shout “No!”

Oct 26, 2009

On October 13, the UAW’s Ford Council was called together to approve re-opening negotiations with Ford, to give Ford even more concessions.

The local presidents were to meet to vote at 11:00. But at 10:30, Ford and the UAW announced an agreement already, before negotiations were even authorized. And the Highlights summary for the membership had already been printed!

In the Ford Council meeting, only Gary Walkowicz, a Bargaining Committeeman from Local 600’s Dearborn Truck Plant, stood up to argue against making concessions. Others were silent, but not necessarily happy. Later on, some of those others came out in their own locals against the deal.

There is plenty to be against! In the first place, workers already voted last March to give up wages and benefits worth about 500 million dollars a year, because Ford was supposed to be hurting. Today, analysts expect Ford to show a “surprising” third quarter profit, close to half a billion dollars, and its executive ranks are still “good where they’re at,” as CEO Alan Mulally told Congress regarding his 21-million-dollar compensation.

Yet Ford demands that it be allowed unlimited hiring of entry-level, second-tier workers who stay at the same low pay until 2015; that skilled tradesmen accept drastic job-cutting team reorganizations; and worst of all, that workers accept a no-strike agreement that de facto freezes their wages for six years, at the new lower levels set last March.

The top UAW leadership argues that if workers don’t accept the deal, then Ford will be at a “disadvantage” in the marketplace compared to GM and Chrysler, and jobs will be lost.

But workers say that they do not want their hands tied with a no-strike pledge! They point out that from the year 2000 up to now, Ford was at no disadvantage, and they still cut 59,000 jobs. They point out that Ford has not lived up to previous commitments on jobs, and without the power to strike there is no way to force them to honor any commitments at all.

The clearest expression of the workers’ anger was during an attempt by UAW VP Bob King to speak to a shift at the Dearborn Truck Plant. Ford shut down the assembly line and told workers to go listen to King. The gathered workers began to chant NO, NO – and the speaker was silenced before he began. Workers on other shifts were upset ... because King did not come to their shifts, giving them a chance to shout their “No”s at “Boo” King – his new nickname.

Soon after the Ford Council, signed leaflets appeared in the Ford Rouge complex opposing the new concessions. These began to spread, picked up by workers in other plants, who used them to mobilize the opposition. Signs, leaflets, posters, buttons, even T-shirts began to appear. Workers posted their sentiments at their work stations. In fact, workers were publicly voting NO even before the balloting. At the same time, many said they doubted that the “No” votes would be fairly counted and reported.

Only a few results were in at our press time. The first two votes reported were “Yes.” But one was from Cleveland, where one Brook Park engine plant had been scheduled to close and will supposedly get a “reprieve” if this deal passes. The other was from Wayne Assembly, and it was very suggestive. Wayne had voted 78% “Yes” for the March concessions, but this time the “Yes” was only 50.3% – and the Stamping plant in the Wayne local voted a majority “No.” Then came the Sheldon Road parts plant, which had voted 64% “No” in March, and voted 81% “No” this time. And then Livonia Transmission voted it down.

No reason has been given by the UAW for its unusually long-drawn-out voting, but workers can read between the lines. The strongest NO plants were put last: Saline ACH and Dearborn Truck. Saline voted 76% “No” in March. The Dearborn Truck Plant has been the most influential center of opposition for the last few years. The DTP unit president, vice-president, and five elected reps signed a letter to their membership rejecting the concessions and urging a “No” vote. Votes at these plants would certainly encourage more opposition if the votes were taken and made known early on.

A new layer of Ford workers created a wave of activity to clearly express themselves. They moved the battle forward. The struggle now is to insure that officials dare not record a different decision than what the workers have already made.

Workers can loudly and clearly let their local officers know that they will be held accountable if the vote they report does not accord with what the workers already know. A fair count or out the very next election.

Workers can organize to monitor the election process. And they can demand their right to examine and verify the lists of those who voted. No extra ballots!

The ferment in the Ford plants is important not only for Ford workers alone. Workers in Detroit and other cities have a growing feeling that someone should do something – something about the continual job cuts, wage cuts, foreclosures, and public service cutbacks, while the elite at the top do nothing but protect their riches. A struggle that breaks out somewhere can pull other struggles afterward.