From the March-April 2016 issue of News & Letters
Detroit—The recent Big Three contracts with the United Auto Workers (UAW) illustrated the huge difference between rank-and-file workers and the bureaucracy. Workers at Fiat-Chrysler rejected the contract the UAW recommended. That rejection resulted in an increase in benefits and other financial rewards over the provisions in the first contract, with the adjustments the bureaucracy and company were forced to make.
The workers approved the revised contract, which became the template for the contracts proposed to the Ford and GM workers. While Ford and GM workers approved the upgraded contract, the margins of approval were very slight. The UAW and auto corporations all held their breath waiting for the results to come in from the voting by GM and Ford workers. While the workers did approve the contract, the slim margins reflected how much difference there was between rank-and-file workers and the UAW bureaucracy.
Topping the concerns of the rank and file were the differences in pay in the two-tier wage system negotiated in the 2007 contract, which paid starting workers $10 less than veteran workers. From the opening of contract negotiations during the leadership conference held ten months ago, the demands of rank-and-file workers were to bridge that wage gap.
Workers demanded increased bonuses and other financial provisions and more information on healthcare benefits. The Big Three met all these demands. The rank and file correctly interpreted its power going into negotiations.
Following contracts with the Big Three, the UAW negotiated with Nexteer Automotive, which had been a part of GM and incorporated in the previous Delphi Corporation before it was transferred several years ago.
The contract with Nexteer that the UAW brought to its members was rejected by 97% of the workers. No one was more surprised than UAW President Dennis Williams. This forced the bureaucracy to go back and renegotiate a contract that narrowed the gap between new hires and veteran workers and improved healthcare benefits, among other demands. While Nexteer workers approved the revised contract, they again displayed the huge difference between the rank and file and the bureaucracy.
Unfortunately, there is little hope among workers for any change in the UAW bureaucracy given its contempt for the rank and file. If anything, the determination of the bureaucracy to force agreements after rejection by the rank and file indicates that the bureaucracy will harden its attitude toward workers.