Detroit–More than 100 UAW workers from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana picketed the UAW headquarters here Oct. 16 to protest a two-tier wage agreement made secretly by UAW leaders with General Motors (GM). It would permit GM to pay 40% of the workers about $14 an hour, half the regular $28 an hour. Workers feared this would set a precedent for future concessions.
The plant in Orion Township, 30 miles north of Detroit, is to produce a subcompact car. GM claims that subcompact cars cannot be profitably produced if workers receive $28 an hour. There are 1,100 workers involved, and both retirements and transfers are involved.
GM executives stated that they aim to have all Orion plant workers making $14 an hour by offering sweetened incentives for Orion workers to retire, and by offering transfers for other tier-one workers to a Lordstown, Ohio, GM plant. GM will not allow any new Orion workers to receive the regular rate.
UAW President Bob King said the two-tier agreement at Orion only applied to subcompact production workers. But he added that other plants would get the same agreement if they introduced subcompact cars.
RANK AND FILE’S FEARS CONFIRMED
This confirms the fears of rank-and-file workers about the expansion of secret two-tier wage agreements. They know of the recent UAW effort at an Indianapolis plant to implement a two-tier plan that the workers had voted down.
At the Orion plant the workers did not have a vote. The UAW bureaucracy learned from the Indianapolis experience, so the UAW leaders and GM simply imposed the secret agreement.
There are many troubling indications from King about his attitude to contract negotiations next year between the UAW and the auto companies. Rank-and-file autoworkers have long known that their so-called leaders are working hand-in-hand with the auto companies, reflected in the repeated leadership expressions of the need for cooperation with management and that “we’re all in the same boat.”
The workers know better. Their working circumstances will certainly shorten their lives. In the past older workers could move to less demanding jobs. Now they work under unbearable conditions to force them to retire so the companies can hire new workers at the lower second-tier wage negotiated over workers’ opposition.
KING’S TRANSFORMATION INTO OPPOSITE
King has also indicated that pattern bargaining, where the same national contract would apply to all autoworkers and companies, is a thing of the past. Moreover, the UAW is now part owner of GM and Chrysler. Both companies are involved in payments to the UAW trust fund to finance autoworkers’ healthcare, which is certain to influence all future negotiations.
King revealed in a recent newspaper interview how much he has moved into management’s corner: “Overall, we are not going to put one company to the disadvantage over the other companies…Job security, getting investment in our facilities, pushing forward on the newest technology–all of those things are important…We are constantly working together to improve quality and productivity to make sure that they stay competitive. So that is how we will be doing the 2011 negotiations.”
The transformation into opposite is complete. King, who started out as a militant rank-and-file fighter at Ford Motor Company, is now the articulate mouthpiece whose task is to convince the workers that the longtime goals of management for greater productivity–which means more layoffs, more speed-up, more robotic production, and obedience to management’s demands for more profitability–are now his and must be goals of the workers too. This sets up inevitable confrontations between King and the autoworkers.