World Politics

UAW-Ford workers in US tell the boss “No!”

Published on Friday, 06 November 2009 01:18
Written by Radical Socialist

Potential springboard to international industrial workers’ solidarity

Ron Lare

The United Auto Workers (UAW) in the US has resoundingly voted down this year’s second set of proposed modifications to their union contract at Ford.

This is the first time that a national UAW auto contract has been rejected. The national No vote was clear from early in the voting, ending in a 70% No vote among production workers and 75% No among skilled trades, for an overall 72% No vote. (UAW Solidarity House has not released the overall vote count, something that took an internal union appeal to extract in the 2005 vote.)

In the process, the national union leadership lost political control of the most important Ford plant in the US if not the world, the Dearborn Truck Plant at UAW Local 600 (Ford Rouge and other plants). That plant makes the F-150 pickup truck. Members there voted No by 93%. In Local 600 Ford plants as a whole the vote was No 3087, Yes 823.

This fault line in the Ford Empire should be an inspiration to workers everywhere.

The auto industry has long been a symbol of imperial industrial power and not without reason. In the US, autos and trucks consume rivers of basic manufactured materials from steel and other metals to glass to synthetic rubber. They move most people and goods over a sprawling highway system (US capital’s choice over more economical and environmentally sound mass transportation). Consumption of trucks and autos drives the expansion and contraction of the US economy, second only to housing. The vehicles have long been an emblem and lever of US competitive might abroad. Globalism and neoliberalism put some of these factors in question, but are embraced by US auto companies aiming to maintain imperial-industrial power on the backs of workers everywhere including in the US. Ford has traditionally been number two in size and prospects between General Motors and Chrysler. This lineup has been shuffled lately. In 2007 Ford was considered in the biggest trouble and was the only one of the three that the union did not strike. Just two years later, after bankruptcy and partial government takeover of GM and Chrysler, Ford looks strongest. Yet unlike the others it was not washed of its huge debt recently incurred. Profits announced the day after the contract voting further raised Ford’s competitive profile. Lust for true dominance fed demands for more worker concessions. Ford workers have now said “No,” shocking the entire ruling class. But the latest Reuters reports indicate more concessions talks with Ford are proceeding, despite the UAW president’s statement that the union will wait until the 2011 contract for more negotiations.

The Ford concessions just voted down included severe limitations on the right to strike, a six year freeze on new-hire pay that had already been cut in half, and the elimination of more skilled trades. At half pay, auto workers will not be able to buy the cars they build.

The proposed concessions to Ford in the US and in Canada have provoked a new layer of militant rank and file activism, including notably women on the shop floor who are in touch across borders.

A leaflet signed by 18 opponents of the concessions at UAW Local 600 UAW included:

“ The strike threat defends our money, benefits, rights--and UAW political clout…Power in Washington starts with our power right here (for true national health insurance, converting closed plants to greener jobs and alternative transportation for auto and other workers, and defending the gains of civil rights movements, etc.).

International solidarity:  CAW-Ford members like Lindsay Hinshelwood at Oakville assembly also organize against concessions. We need an independent Council of union reps and workers across borders, not Ford lobbying the International Metalworkers Federation Ford Network. Ford wants to lead the race to the bottom internationally. “

The national contract rejection sprang from factors ranging from a sense that Ford had come back for concessions a time too many, to rebellion by lower-level union officers in touch with the rank and file, to a socialist presence in some key union locals.

It remains to be seen whether unity against company attacks and rejection of timid union leadership can be converted into a sustained rank and file organization for action including strikes, union democracy, and international solidarity. This could feed social movement unionism to unite the working class and reverse the decades-long decline of the union movement in the US.

Some sobering notes should be struck. The vote was somewhat dependent on officers who have supported all the concessions up to this point. Some of these reached the conclusion that they could not be re-elected if they supported the latest concessions at a company returning to profitability. Such contradictions will be prominent until union officers have to take a more consistent side in national and international movements.

There is more coverage of this struggle at www.labornotes.org

Despite efforts at international solidarity against union concessions to Ford—see for example the petition below—the Canadian version of these concessions has been adopted by vote of the Canadian Auto Workers union. Today international union solidarity is required for any comprehensive fight for jobs, pay, and working conditions. In that spirit we would like to be in contact with Ford employees in India.

 

Stop international concessions!

 

We are active and retired Ford workers. We oppose any union concessions or give-backs to Ford.  We urge our fellow union members, including our union representatives, in all unions, across all borders, to speak, write and vote against concessions.

 

 

Name and union position if any

Union

Country

e-mail address

Gary Walkowicz,

Dearborn Truck Bargaining Committee

UAW Local 600

US

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Lindsay Hinshelwood

 

CAW Local 707, Oakville

 

Canada

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Judy Wraight, former Tool & Die Exec. Board

 

UAW Local 600

US

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ron Lare, former Guide

 

UAW Local 600

US

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Steve Dreyer

CAW Local 1520,

St. Thomas Assembly Plant

Canada

 

Larry Wells, former Sgt. at Arms

 

CAW Local 707, Oakville

Canada

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Eric Truss

 

UAW Local 600,

DDMP

US

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Doug Kowalske, former Alt. Cmte,   former Alt. Health & Safety,  Parts Unit

 

UAW Local 600, Parts

US

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Labor donated, October 2009