The Spark

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

Book Review:
Autoworkers Under the Gun

Jul 16, 2012

A new book, Autoworkers Under the Gun, by UAW member Gregg Shotwell, uses some of Shotwell’s shop-floor newsletters (167 and counting) to explain the inner workings of the Delphi bankruptcy. Delphi was General Motors’ plot against workers, from 1999 to 2007, when GM spun off parts plants into the legal fiction it called “Delphi” – and used Delphi’s bankruptcy to beat workers down.

Already in March 1999, Shotwell wrote about GM’s proposed scheme, “Is it the beginning of a calculated dismemberment of the union?” Of course the answer turned out to be a bigger “yes” than any worker imagined at the time.

Delphi and its spinoff clones – Visteon and ACH at Ford – were designed to fail. They were designed to fail in such a way that they could declare or threaten bankruptcy – but a certain type of bankruptcy: bankruptcy used by the corporations to dump retiree obligations, to reduce wage scales, to eliminate many thousands of jobs, to destroy established worker rights and protections. All of this while preserving assets, production, and profits for the corporations who planned it all.

Gregg Shotwell was among those militants who fought them all the way. Year after year, Shotwell counter-attacked against the concessions, the lies, and the betrayals. His Live Bait & Ammo newsletters became well known among workers opposing the concessions and used by them. Workers enjoyed his acid and accurate dismemberment of the con artists who were fleecing the workers – con artists of both management and union varieties.

Regarding those union officials who act as “partners” with the bosses: “When the bear comes for your lunch, you don’t have to unwrap it for him, heat it up, put it in a clean bowl, and spoon-feed him with a smile.” “When you roll over again and again, management takes you for a punk, not a partner.”

Shotwell operated a Bodine machining tool, making fuel injectors near Grand Rapids, Michigan, first for GM, then for Delphi. In 2005, when CEO Steve Miller was overseeing the Delphi bankruptcy sham, Gregg organized a series of meetings at different Delphi parts locations, to allow workers to express their opposition. From these meetings a larger protest, 400 strong, was organized at the Detroit Auto Show in January of 2006. A rank and file organization called SOS, “Soldiers of Solidarity,” took shape.

Gregg’s newsletters, travels, and encouragement were the glue that held the organization together. It picketed Delphi headquarters and Steve Miller’s various public speeches. “Miller Ain’t Worth A Buck” was a favorite sign. SOS also advocated in-plant tactics such as “work to rule.” If we follow the bosses’ orders exactly and precisely, and do nothing else, then things will be totally screwed up in no time flat! “Show the boss who’s boss,” said SOS.

GM/Delphi put pressure on Shotwell. He was visited by the law – U.S. marshals and even the FBI – hinting that he was threatening bodily harm to the CEOs he ridiculed. Shotwell wrote it up. He told the world he had no more deadly weapon than a high-caliber ballpoint pen. He exposed GM’s goon-squad tactics, and he didn’t quit.

The Michigan newspapers and TV commentators attacked Shotwell, claiming he was single-handedly scaring employers, and therefore jobs, out of Michigan.

His co-workers defended him. The day that the Grand Rapids TV attacked Shotwell, he went in to work his night shift and found that his machine was down. “Go sit down,” said the repairman. “You’re not going to work tonight.” Since Gregg ran the final assembly Bodine, the whole line shut down. Delphi lost tens of thousands of dollars in lost production – plus had to pay everyone in the department to sit and wait all night. Workers defended their own.

Gregg Shotwell’s book shows well how he devoted himself to the workers’ cause. He did his utmost to strengthen the auto workers’ understanding of their situation, and to build up workers’ sense of solidarity and militancy. He understood that in the end, the welfare of one depends on the welfare of all. Unlike others, he has not faded or wavered from that principle.

The working class needs more militants like Gregg Shotwell.