Aug 3, 2015
Ford Motor Company says that it must “catch up” with GM and Chrysler in the new contract about to be negotiated and voted on. Ford has higher labor costs than the other two because its contract with the UAW limits the number of second-tier, that is lower-paid, workers it can hire. As a result, Ford has been forced to give 800 second-tier workers a raise up to first-tier pay.
The Wall Street Journal and the rest of the business press explain that GM and Chrysler were given a special deal in 2009 because of their bankruptcies.
Not true – or in any case, it’s not the whole truth. And the part they left out is the most important. GM and Chrysler, supported by the top UAW leadership and by the U.S. government, scared their workers into voting for more concessions in 2009, right in the middle of the 2007 contract.
Then the companies, the union leadership and government officials tried to push through the same concessions at Ford, threatening to close plants.
It didn’t work. Ford workers didn’t give in to this blackmail. They voted against additional concessions, the first time that a national UAW contract was voted down, and stayed voted down. It was also one of the few times in decades that workers at any large national company refused demands for more concessions.
In order to do it, Ford workers had to face down the top UAW leadership, national and local, who were busy pushing the deal, repeating threats about plant closings. And they had to wade through lies and false advice given by the big media.
With 40 plants spread all over the country, from Buffalo to Kansas City, from Detroit to Louisville, workers had to find ways to communicate with each other. Leaflets began to appear at Ford’s Dearborn plant. They were sent to workers in other plants, who used them to mobilize opposition in their plants. 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. When the voting started, they had to keep track of their own vote totals, so the vote couldn’t so easily be stolen. Ironically, they posted the results on an online discussion forum set up by Ford.
The 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 a few other reps and by dozens of rank-and-file militants. Expressing the sentiment that had been building in the auto plants for a long time, they opened the floodgates to that very big NO!
The turning point came when International UAW Vice President Bob King was booed off the stage that Ford Motor Company had set up for him inside the Dearborn Truck Plant. Workers shouted, “NO! NO! NO!” sending him right back where he came from. The same thing happened at Ford’s Kansas City plant a few days later. And UAW President Ron Gettelfinger fared not much better at his own local in Kentucky.
Overall, the vote was almost three to one against: 22,952 NO to only 7,816 Yes, according to the workers’ own tally. The spread was too big for “creative counting” to steal.
One vote obviously did not reverse the situation of the working class. And in the next contract, two years later, UAW leaders managed to scare Ford workers with dire threats that they would force workers out on strike.
In fact, unless workers are prepared to fight for what they need and should have, they have no way to enforce what they want.
But the fact is, this NO vote happened and that’s why 800 two-tier workers at Ford today are making first tier wages.
Yet, today, no one in the media, or the union, or the company talk about it. Isn’t it obvious why they try to keep it quiet?
Whatever the bosses and their flunkeys pretend, the workers can have the upper hand. But they have to be ready to use it. This is true in every workplace, every industry, all through this country, throughout the world. When workers do figure out how to fight – and the first thing to do about that is to decide to do it – they also can figure out how to impose what they need.
Saying NO is just the first step. But it’s a necessary step.