After decades of concessionary contracts, rank-and-file United Auto Worker activists have worked tirelessly the last two months resisting attacks on auto parts workers at Delphi Corporation.
Delphi filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 8. With Steve 'The Hatchet' Miller, CEO of Delphi, at the helm, the company blames health care payments for retirees and labor costs as factors contributing to Delphi's financial crisis. Approximately 24,000 General Motors workers were sold out in 1999, when GM spun off parts manufacturing and created Delphi Corporation. Now Delphi is trying to renege on collective bargaining agreements and pensions that they are obligated to pay. The company is asking for enormous benefits concessions and wage reductions — from $27 an hour down to $9 an hour — or it will ask a bankruptcy judge to nullify the contracts with UAW-represented employees.
Since early November, auto workers across the nation have rallied to what some union officials are calling 'rebel' rank and file meetings. The meetings were initially called by Gregg Shotwell, a longtime UAW activist and Delphi worker. The meetings began in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Nov. 6. The Nov. 6 meeting saw hundreds of UAW members from across the auto industry, including General Motors, Ford, Visteon, Chrysler, Caterpillar and John Deere, who came to hear and voice concerns.
Another meeting held Nov. 13, in Kokomo, Indiana saw another good crowd of concerned workers from the local area and across the nation. December meetings were held in Saginaw on Dec. 4 and in Flint on the 11th. During the Saginaw meeting an open motion was made from the floor to adopt a name for this workers' movement. They unanimously approved the name "Soldiers of Solidarity" and decided to create buttons featuring such slogans as S.O.S. and WTR, for 'work to rule.'
The meetings have not only focused on the crisis but on direct shop floor actions such as 'work to rule.' Work to rule emphasizes building communication on the shop floor and building solidarity among workers by strict adherence corporate and safety regulations. Following these rules to the letter has the effect of slowing production.
The meetings also talked about preparing for a strike and working without a contract. Larry Solomon, former President of Local 751 and present Chairman of Solidarity Now and George Cornwell, a UAW Local 974 Grievance Committeeman — both UAW veterans of the mid-1990s labor war with Caterpillar Incorporated — talked about their experiences working without a contract and work to rule.
The crowds at these mass meetings have been diverse, drawing from across the auto industry. The mood of the attendees is that a great battle is coming their way and the consensus is that every concessionary contract sets precedence for the corporations' demanding more concessions. The broad-based support and concern prompted Shotwell to open the December meetings up to all workers, union and non-union, who are concerned for the Delphi situation.
For decades auto workers have enjoyed the fruits of the previous generations' efforts and now there is a call from many at the meetings for a broad social movement uniting all workers and every faction with interests tied to the current corporate warfare against working people. While the labor movement has always emphasized political action, many people voice tremendous distrust for all the politicians within the current two-party system. Feeling betrayed by the Democratic party, many believe that only a united nationwide movement will force political change.
Rank-and-file auto workers plan to picket the Detroit auto show on Jan. 8, the showcase event in the automotive capital. Subsequent meetings are planned for Milwaukee, Jan. 15 and an unconfirmed date for Troy, Michigan in late January.
Fight Back News Service, www.fightbacknews.org