Nov 9, 2009
“No one will do anything.” Haven’t we heard that complaint before? Well, Ford workers did something. Massively, they voted down a package of concessions pushed on them by the company and top union leaders.
This vote was significant. It is one of the few times in decades that workers at a large national company refused demands for concessions. And it was the first time since 1982 that a national UAW auto contract was voted down.
Ford workers had to face down most of the top union leadership, nationally and locally, who pushed the deal, repeating threats about plant closings and empty promises of jobs. Workers also waded through insults and false advice put out by the media.
With 40 Ford plants spread all across the country from Buffalo to Kansas City, from Detroit to Louisville, workers had to find the ways to communicate with each other. With the international union spreading out the vote over eleven days so staffers could go from plant to plant twisting arms, the workers got the vote totals at almost every local to make up their own tally. Ironically, they posted the results on an online discussion forum set up by Ford!
This fight was led by a few people who held local union offices – in particular by Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman at the Dearborn Truck Plant, joined by Nick Kottalis, chairman of the same unit. They were joined by a few other reps in various Ford plants, as well as many rank and file militants. Expressing the resentment that had been building for a long time in the ranks, they opened the floodgates to that very big NO!
The turning point came when International UAW Vice President Bob King was ushered into the Dearborn Truck Plant by Ford management, which shut down the line for him, costing Ford $750,000 in lost production! King got a very warm welcome – hot, actually. Workers shouted “NO! NO!”, sending him right back where he came from. King tried the same thing a few days later at Kansas City. K.C. workers were happy to give him the same reception. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger fared not much better at his own local in Kentucky.
The NO votes started rolling in from the big plants: 92% at Kansas City; 81% at Sterling Heights Axle; 72% at Auto Alliance; 75% at Sharonville; 75% at Saline; 80% at Chicago Stamping; 78% at Chicago Assembly; 84% at Louisville; and then 93% at Dearborn Truck Plant. Overall, the vote was almost three to one against: 22,952 “NO” to only 7,816 “YES,” according to the workers’ tally.
One vote won’t reverse the situation of the working class. Ford workers themselves have to be prepared for whatever tricks the union leadership and the company come back with. They have to be ready to defend their comrades who led the fight, when the company tries to pick the activists off. Ford workers will have to fight if they want to get back even part of what they have already given up. But they can use the links they formed in this fight to prepare for the next one.
And that next fight is coming – the fight to begin the process of taking back the concessions extorted from them and to take back their union.