America since the financial crash of 2008. But side by side
with the amassing of previously unthinkable private fortunes,
the infrastructure of America is crumbling, education, health
care and other social services are starved of funding, and the
living standards of the vast majority of the population, the
working people who produce the wealth, are declining."
Lessons of the autoworkers’ battle
"Far from giving workers a democratic voice to assert their interests, the “negotiations” between the so-called unions and the corporations are nothing but a conspiracy to suppress the aspirations of the working class."
Lessons of the autoworkers’ battle
23 November 2015The claim by the United Auto Workers that it eked out a 51 percent “yes” vote at Ford is the capstone to a contract process that has exposed the limitless skullduggery of this corporate-labor syndicate.
The auto bosses prevailed in forcing through pro-corporate deals at the Big Three not because workers lacked determination or resilience. On the contrary, throughout the month-long battle—which included the first defeat of a national contract backed by the UAW in 32 years (Fiat Chrysler), a split vote (General Motors) and a dubious 51 percent ratification (Ford)—autoworkers have demonstrated their tenacity to struggle and their incredible ingenuity.
The ability of the companies to overcome the widespread opposition of the 140,000 autoworkers was due to the deliberate sabotage of the UAW, which from day one waged a relentless war not against Ford, GM and FCA, but against the workers the UAW falsely claims to represent.
On the eve of the Ford Rouge vote, the UAW held a hastily-called press conference at the Dearborn local union, where a UAW Vice President James Settles told the pro-corporate media that “things looked dark” but that they “might look brighter in the morning.” He denounced young workers in particular for making wage demands that would put Ford at a “competitive disadvantage.” A rejection of the pact would lead Ford to close plants or would force the UAW to call a strike, which Settles warned would result in financial ruin for workers or their replacement by scabs.
Fearing any opposition to its conspiracy with the auto companies, the UAW barred WSWS Autoworker Newsletter reporters from the press conference and forcibly removed them. The thuggish behavior was then meted out to Ford Rouge workers the next day. Workers reported that they were forced to walk through a gauntlet of local UAW officials to vote at the union hall, while UAW committeemen took to the shop floor with ballots in hand to pressure recalcitrant workers to vote “yes.”
Late on Friday, the UAW announced that it had miraculously achieved a 74 percent approval by Ford Rouge workers giving it the necessary 51 percent nationally to ratify the deal. Workers replied in angry disbelief, charging the UAW with vote rigging and demanding a recount, a demand that has been ignored by the UAW and the media. The UAW was “lawless and back stabbing,” “a bunch of scabs,” and no better than the “Mafia,” workers exclaimed.
The same day, the UAW ran roughshod over its own constitutional bylaws and ratified the GM deal, even though 60 percent of skilled workers rejected it two weeks ago.
With consummate cynicism, UAW Ford Vice President Settles declared Friday night, “There is no higher authority than the membership. Through a fair and democratic process UAW-Ford members have delivered job security and strong economic gains for their families and communities.”
In fact, the whole experience has shown that the UAW is completely unaccountable to workers and impervious to their needs. It resorted to extreme measures because it was impossible to attain a majority for deals that workers clearly understood would only deliver “strong economic gains” to the corporations and their UAW henchmen.
UAW-backed concessions over the last decade have reduced the per-vehicle costs to a minuscule 7 percent, allowing the auto companies to amass tens of billions in profits and to squander billions on executive bonuses and stock buybacks and dividend payments to their richest Wall Street investors.
The new deals will lead to an almost negligent increase in hourly labor costs over the next four years. By eliminating all caps on second-tier workers (now dubbed “in progression”), they pave the way for the establishment of a permanently lower wage and benefit scale after older, higher-paid workers are driven out of the industry. The UAW will also be further integrated into the structure of corporate management under a “living agreement,” which can be modified at any time to slash the jobs, wages and benefits of workers.
The corporate executives and the UAW are celebrating… for now. Gushing over the conclusion of the vote, the Detroit Free Press wrote, “With the new contracts in place, GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles can look forward to four years of labor peace and prosperity as the industry heads to record US sales and healthy profits margins.”
Having barely survived a rebellion, a UAW Local 600 bureaucrat at Ford Rouge told campaigners from the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter on Saturday, “You might as well go home. The vote is over and we won.” The “we,” of course, refers to the UAW and the company, not the workers.
A Pyrrhic victory! Such boasts and celebrations of “labor peace” are wishful thinking at best. Many more struggles will follow—of autoworkers as the terms of the agreement are implemented, and of other sections of the working class as the ruling class targets them. As for the UAW, its resort to gangster-like methods has only further discredited this deeply hated organization, while teaching large numbers of workers that the only way they will be able to defend their interests is by casting off the dead weight of this reactionary, pro-company organization.
To carry forward the struggle, however, it is necessary to work through the broader significance of the experience through which autoworkers have passed.
The auto contract struggle has demonstrated once again that the trade unions function as vital props of the corporate and political establishment in suppressing the class struggle and imposing the dictates of the financial aristocracy. Just as every other institution of bourgeois democracy has been hollowed out under the weight of class tensions and unprecedented levels of social inequality, so has the institution of “collective bargaining.” Far from giving workers a democratic voice to assert their interests, the “negotiations” between the so-called unions and the corporations are nothing but a conspiracy to suppress the aspirations of the working class.
The decades-long degeneration of the UAW and the other unions in the US—a phenomena that is repeated in other countries throughout the world—has it roots in the pro-capitalist and nationalist programs of the trade unions and their political subordination of the working class to the big business parties. Even at the height of the influence of the trade unions in the post-war period, they worked to shackle the working class to the capitalist system and the Democratic Party.
The globalization of production and the historic crisis of American capitalism pulled the rug from underneath the national reformist program of the trade unions. By the 1980s and 1990s, the unions had abandoned any resistance to the demands of the corporations, while the upper-middle class bureaucrats that ran them secured their interests by joining corporate boards and receiving billions in cash transfers to do the bidding of big business.
The experience of the last few months has also exposed those who promote the myth that that the UAW can be pressured, through “no” votes on their own, to take up a fight against the auto companies on behalf of workers. The UAW is not a workers’ organization susceptible to pressure from below, but a labor-corporate syndicate with business interests that are entirely hostile to workers.
As early as 1993, the Workers League, predecessor of the Socialist Equality Party, wrote that it “rejects entirely the idea that the AFL-CIO, as the organizational expression of the interests of the labor bureaucracy, can be ‘captured’ and turned into an instrument of revolutionary struggle.” The aim of our work, we explained, was not the “reform” of the UAW and AFL-CIO but “the destruction of its political influence and organizational control over the captive members.”
The WSWS Autoworker Newsletter has been guided by this perspective and the struggle for an alternative program: the fight for the international unity of the working class, its political independence from the big business parties and the socialist transformation of society, including placing the global auto industry and the banks under the collective and democratic ownership of the working class.
The months-long battle of the autoworkers foreshadows the reemergence of mass class conflict in the United States and internationally. New forms of genuinely democratic and self-representative organizations of the working class, including the factory committees fought for by the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter, will emerge as means for the working class to defend its interests.
The corruption of every institution of capitalist society and their imperviousness to the interests of the vast majority of the population only means that the fight to defend the most elemental needs of the working class will thrust them into a revolutionary struggle directed at the entire economic order.
The workers will never forget what happened here”
Dearborn Assembly workers allege fraud in UAW-Ford contract vote
Autoworkers reacted with disbelief, anger and profound skepticism
over the weekend to the United Auto Workers’ announcement Friday that
its agreement with Ford had been ratified with 51 percent support.
23 November 2015
Going into the final days of voting, the contract appeared headed for defeat, with major plants voting early in the week by a 2-1 margin against. In order to pass the contract, the UAW had to secure an overwhelming majority of the vote at the last remaining plants in the Rouge Dearborn Assembly complex. This is what they claimed to have accomplished on Friday, resulting in a ‘yes’ vote by a razor-thin margin.
“Most of the people I talked to voted ‘no.’ It had to have been rigged,” a worker with more than 20 years seniority told the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter at the Truck Assembly Plant in the Rouge complex.
Of the contract, he said, “I would have been happy with just a few of the things we gave up over the last 10 years, but we got nothing.”
“Of all the years to strike Ford, this was the one,” his coworker said. “They made billions. The plant was retooled for the new truck. This was the time.”
“The vote was fixed. We all think it was fixed,” added another assembler with high seniority.
Speaking about the video of UAW thugs ejecting WSWS reporters from the press conference at Local 600 last Wednesday, he said, “Why should Jimmy Settles be throwing anybody out of a union hall? What right does he have? He is supposed to talk to the media and answer questions.
“I voted ‘no,’ and most people I talked to did, too. Are they saying that 6,000 people in the plant are all a bunch of liars? They all said they voted ‘no.’ I don’t believe them.”
His revulsion at the strongarm tactics of the UAW was similar to that of many workers who spoke to the WSWS. “When I went in to vote, the committeemen were all standing around the door saying, ‘Vote “yes.” It’s a good contract.’ I asked them, ‘Good for who? Good for you. Because there is nothing in it for me.’
“They want to push us out the door and get a rookie to do the job. Then they want to pay them $18 an hour. They get no retirement. The co-pays [for medical coverage] are out the roof. They get no representation in the plant. They are going to say, ‘The hell with the UAW.’
“Right now I have four medical bills that are not covered by insurance. I am going to be slammed with bills. I am leery of everything the UAW does. If they get involved with our medical, who knows what will happen?
“We all know the strike fund is a slush fund for the UAW. They say they would only give us $200 a week if we went on strike. [The strike fund] has $600 million. They could pay us all $1,000 per week. Where is all our strike fund money going? They put it in their general fund to pay themselves.
“The workers will never forget what happened here. There will be no UAW. We need somebody that is independent of the UAW and independent of Ford Motor Company.”
The UAW thuggery at Local 600 has backfired and only contributed to the growing respect for the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter. “You guys are brave,” an older worker commented on Saturday. “I’ll give you that.”
He added, “I don’t know if they rigged the vote, but it certainly seems like it because there is so much stuff for their side and not ours.
“The world is just getting so ugly. They are cutting the main workers. The UAW used to be over a million workers and now it’s down to 200,000. That is a big cut.”
“It was totally rigged,” said another worker with 15 years seniority. “My buddy said to me as we were leaving work on Thursday night, ‘You watch. It’s going to pass by 51 percent to 49 percent.”
Jimmy Settles, the UAW vice president who came from Local 600 and was in charge of the team of bureaucrats who negotiated the Ford deal, was the target of particular anger. “That is why they held this plant until last. They know that it was totally corrupt. Nobody believes them.”
Another worker passing by said, “They took away the ballot box and came back with a stuffed one. Nobody saw them count the votes. It was absolutely rigged.
He added, “A signing bonus of $8,500 taxed at 42 percent. That is nothing. We haven’t had any raise in 10 years. They lied to us. They said that when the company made money, we would get everything back. The executives got everything, but we got nothing.”
Another worker said, “I heard it passed by 51 percent. I think it was going to pass no matter what. They were going to make it pass. They think we are stupid.”
On Friday, before the outcome of the vote was reported, a tier-two worker at Dearborn Truck told the WSWS, “The contract is unfair. I voted it down. It’s unfair for everyone, for the second tiers, the legacy workers, the retirees. There is no guarantee for anyone. The UAW works for the
company, they have screwed us.”
She said that UAW officials were walking the production line asking everyone if they voted and how they voted, or how they were going to vote. “They tried to scare some of the employees by claiming if they voted ‘no,’ they would lose their job. They walked the line, they were at the doors. ‘Hey, did you vote? Well vote yes, for your future.’”
“What a debacle! Everything they did regarding this vote is wrong! We heard they attacked your reporter at the press conference. As I said, this is a debacle!
“The union had two buckets set up for the ballots. You voted in the hallway, folded the ballot and dropped it in the bucket. It was not very private. In my opinion, if the contract passes here, it is because the union manipulated the count.”