May 31, 2010
In May, Bob King, a UAW vice-president and the anointed president-to-be, spoke to a Federal Reserve Bank audience in Detroit. He declared that workers should share in the recovery, as the auto companies recover.
This was not in King’s game plan last November, when he and his staff put full pressure on Ford workers to accept new long-term concessions, based on those imposed on GM and Chrysler workers. Under his direction, UAW staffers flooded into Ford plants with threats that workers had to accept the concessions “pattern,” or their plants could not get new work. Local officers, reps and appointees were threatened with retaliation if they did not push the concessions through.
But Ford workers rebelled. They booed King off a company stage at the Dearborn Truck Plant, and then shouted him down at a local union meeting in Kansas City, and shouted down president Gettelfinger in Louisville. They voted down the concessions pushed by King – 72%, NO.
The Ford workers’ vote was the strongest expression so far of deep dissatisfaction in the ranks of the UAW. Ford responded to this discontent by offering a sop – a special “profit-sharing” bonus of $450 for each worker.
Auto workers have a lot to be discontented about. Ford and the top UAW leadership have broken promises to auto retirees of full lifelong medical coverage. They agreed to divide the union into top, middle, and bottom wage and benefit tiers. They agreed to tear up the idea of seniority, keeping workers for years in temp and part-time status. This year, the UAW leadership signed off on GM and Delphi opening new plants, related to electric vehicles, as non-union! And top UAW leaders helped push concessions on Michigan state workers and Blue Cross workers – also members of the UAW.
In mid-June, UAW leaders will come into a convention where some of this discontent will be displayed. And THAT explains Bob King’s new-found “militancy.”
But what’s a speech worth? Workers can compare it to the long series of concessions King backed, contract after contract, regardless of whether the auto companies declared a loss – or profits.
There are quite a few workers, and doubtless some delegates as well, who won’t fall for a pretty speech or two by someone who has always put the company’s interests first.