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UAW demands GM employees work past contract expiration

By a WSWS Autoworker Newsletter reporting team
14 September 2019

The United Auto Workers union announced Saturday evening that it will allow the contract for 46,000 General Motors workers to expire at midnight and keep workers on the job, even though GM is pressing ahead with demands to gut health care benefits, close plants and increase the number of poverty-wage temporary and contract workers.

This betrayal by the UAW flies in the face of the 96 percent strike mandate by GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler (FCA) workers. With autoworkers prepared to walk out at midnight Saturday, the UAW is deliberately working to demobilize and disorient them while it works with corporate management to impose another pro-company contract.

The fact that the UAW leadership did not call even a token strike is an indication of how fearful it is that it could quickly lose control of even a limited action and unleash the strength of the working class. The UAW wants to announce a settlement while workers are still in the factories out of concern that once workers walk out, it will not be able to get them back to work.

The union fears that a strike—especially one that forces the company to retreat—will encourage workers’ militancy and undermine its corporatist policy. Along with his henchmen, UAW President Gary Jones, who is facing a looming criminal indictment on corruption charges, believes that the union officials must prove their continued usefulness to the government and the corporations if they are to plea bargain successfully.

This underscores the urgency of autoworkers taking the conduct of the contract struggle out of the hands of the UAW by organizing rank-and-file factory committees and preparing a fight to mobilize all 158,000 GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler workers. The UAW and the corporations must not be allowed once again to defy the will of the workers and push through a contract that will have devastating consequences for autoworkers, their families and future generations of workers.

Workers leaving their shift at Fiat Chrysler’s Sterling Heights Assembly.

On Saturday evening, UAW Vice President Terry Dittes sent a letter to GM local union presidents, shop chairmen, finance and other local officers announcing that the UAW would continue negotiations to reach an agreement by the deadline and that “no decisions or actions will be taken until the IEB [International Executive Board] meets at midnight and the National Council convenes at 10 am on Sunday.”

In comments directed to rank-and-file workers livid over being kept in the dark for weeks about the status of the negotiations, or even what demands the UAW is putting forward, Dittes said that “some progress had been made.” He went on to say, however, that “significant differences between the parties remain on wages, health care benefits, temporary employees, job security and profit sharing.”

The fact is that the UAW and the corporations reached an agreement long ago and the “negotiations” are nothing more than strategy sessions to decide the best way to ram the deal through in the face of mass opposition among the workers. Even if one were to take Dittes’ comments at face value, it means the UAW is forcing workers to remain on the job under conditions where GM has not moved an iota from its demands.

The UAW International Executive Board, which is made up of President Gary Jones, Secretary-Treasurer Ray Curry, vice presidents Terry Dittes (GM), Rory Gamble (Ford) and Cindy Estrada (FCA) and nine regional directors, will meet at midnight tonight. The same body held a contentious meeting yesterday where it demonstrated the union’s contempt for workers by voting to keep Jones in power, even though he has now been implicated in a scheme in which UAW officials embezzled more than $1 million in union money for golf outings, luxury villas, champagne and other luxuries.

On Sunday, the UAW GM Council will hold a private meeting at 10 a.m. at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel, to be followed by a press conference. The body, which is made up of local union officers from GM plants across the country, will decide what action is to be taken. Far removed from the sentiments of workers on the shop floor, the UAW tops hope they can get a sounding on the situation from the local union bureaucrats, while giving them their marching orders to keep the lid on opposition.

The UAW may still feel it has to call a limited strike or some other stunt in order to let off steam and regain some measure of credibility among the workers. Such an action, however, would be designed to have as little impact as possible on the bottom line of the corporations, while creating better conditions to push through a pro-company deal. A three-day walkout at GM and six-hour strike at Chrysler in 2007 were followed by the introduction of the hated two-tier wage system.

Workers are determined to fight GM, which has made $35 billion in profits in just the last three years, while spending more than $10 billion on stock buybacks for its wealthy shareholders since 2015.

The same is true for Ford and Fiat Chrysler workers. On Friday, the UAW extended the contracts with the other automakers in order to divide autoworkers, even as the Big Three companies collaborate to impose further concessions. Union stewards and team leaders spread throughout the plants to tell workers they should not walk out tonight.

A Fiat Chrysler worker at the Sterling Heights Assembly plant told the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter, “A lot has been taken away from us. If we all got up, right now and walked out, the companies would lose millions in the first hour of the strike. The people of the United States should shut the whole country down. We’re ready. Everybody together would be more powerful than the billionaires. Production is connected worldwide, and we work on the same products as workers in Canada and Mexico. That makes it an international struggle.”

“I worked the C Crew [swing shift] at SHAP for the last five years. People are so tired that there a lot of accidents with the C Crew workers trying to get home. You can talk to any doctor and they will tell you how bad that shift is for your health. I overheard top management saying that Chrysler will never give up the C Crew because it is too profitable.”

Like the other global automakers, GM has slashed tens of thousands of white-collar and production jobs at its operations around the world and is in the process of closing five plants in the US and Canada, including the iconic Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant and its only assembly plant in Detroit.

The plant closings, which were announced late last year, are part of the joint strategy of GM and the UAW to use job threats to push through even deeper concessions. In the past, the UAW and the automakers have announced so-called “plant saving” deals that include “competitive wage structures” and other concessions, including manning the factories with mainly lower-paid second-tier workers, along with temporary and contract workers who must pay UAW dues but can be hired and fired at will.

Autoworkers have seen this game plan before and are determined to prevent it from happening again. They know that the entire “bargaining process” is a fraud because those who claim to be negotiating for them have been exposed as bribe-takers working for management.

To defeat this corporate-UAW conspiracy, workers must take the control of the negotiations and the contract fight out of the hands of the UAW by building rank-and-file factory committees. Workers should hold meetings in the factories and on social media to elect these committees, formulate their own demands, and prepare to intervene directly to countermand any decisions by the UAW that adversely affect workers and their families.

What is needed is a real fight to mobilize all 158,000 GM, Ford and FCA workers and far broader sections of the working class. This includes reaching out to GM and other autoworkers in Canada, Mexico, Korea and other countries and forging a joint struggle in defense of jobs and living standards.

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