Sep 28, 2015
Workers at Fiat Chrysler have been voting in large numbers to reject the newly proposed UAW-FCA tentative agreement. The workers are expressing anger over a contract that is a slap in their face, negotiated by a highly profitable company and a union leadership bent on ensuring that the company gets even more profits at the workers’ expense.
This contract would permanently lower the rate of pay for generations to come. In a few years, no one would be left working at Tier 1 wages and benefits. Those “traditional” workers would all be gone, while the top wages will be what today’s second tier makes, with its top wage now set at $25.35 an hour – and that not until someone puts in seven years.
At the same time, a third tier was quietly snuck in – this one to max out at only $22 an hour for Mopar parts workers, and $20.35 for axle plant workers – to be extended later to other component plants.
In a high-stakes chess game, this contract also moved almost all remaining car production to Mexico, and increased truck production in the U.S., and moved almost all major vehicle production in the U.S. from one location to another. All these moves will be used to speed up production and chew up jobs.
The new contract also includes an open- ended proposal for a new health care cooperative that guarantees reductions in current health care coverage and transfers cost to workers by establishing a new pattern of deductibles and co-pays.
Workers have every reason to reject this contract.
But voting NO is not enough. Workers at Chrysler, Ford and GM will have to deal with the question of leadership in the UAW.
The International Union leadership has often said that the contract they negotiated is the best they could get – and it’s true, it is the best THEY can get.
They are the assistant guardians of the capitalist economy – an economy that has piled up masses of profit, by driving down the workers’ standard of living. They immediately assume, in their own words, that increased health care costs, including a new tax on health care, will be passed on to the workers. Why? Why don’t they assume the opposite – that the workers should make the bosses pay, costing them their profits!
When confronted by tier-two workers about the broken promises of the 2011 “Highlight” language that cheat these workers out of almost $10.00 an hour, the UAW vice-president of the union’s Chrysler division explained it away, saying he “can’t find it anywhere in the 2011 contract.” In other words, just a typing mistake! No, their 2011 “Highlight” promise was nothing but a lie!
When Ford workers seemed poised to reject the 2011 contract, top union officials threatened to “put them out on strike until Christmas” – a top-down led strike – a strike to be used against the workers and not as a weapon against the employers.
If auto workers want something better, if they want an end to tiers, if they want everyone at the same, higher wage level, and no tricks and trade-offs on essential health care benefits, they will have a fight on their hands. And it is apparent that those leaders of the auto workers union at the very top level can’t lead it – and don’t want to.
So who will?
The question at hand today is how to be ready for a fight against the auto companies, and how the workers will organize that fight. Will it take a strike? No doubt the companies won’t yield without a fight. But there is an opportunity to win “restore and more” when workers from all three companies come together.
In the course of organizing that fight, the workers will develop a fighting leadership – one that will address other workers, calling on them to join the fight. And why not? We all have the same problem, watching our standard of living be pushed down, so a few fabulously wealthy people can exploit the whole economy in their favor. What starts in auto could spread throughout the workforce.