Here you will find access to an assortment of online materials about the following subjects:
American Axle Strike Resources
CAW-Ford Deal Info
COTTW Inaugural Documents
Soldiers of Solidarity: UAW-Delphi 2007 Contract Info
Soldiers of Solidarity: UAW-GM 2007 Contract Info
Soldiers of Solidarity: UAW-Ford 2007 Contract Info
Soldiers of Solidarity: UAW-Chrysler 2007 Contract Info
Campaign to Oppose Two-Tier Wages -> American Axle Strike Resources
Mon, 23 Jun 2008 4:03 pm
Dianne Feeley and I were down in court today with Ada Walker and the UAW lawyer. We did not get a dismissal so a court date will be given. It will be extremely important for as many people as possible to appear in court for her trial. When we get the date, we will let you know.
Ada was attempting to cross Holbrook, which was blocked off by the police, at the AAM headquarters during the strike rally of 2000 on April 18th. A policeman known for his belligerent behavior during the strike locked her in a choke hold around the neck which was well documented on the internet. Please come show your support. It will be especially important that all witnesses appear.Thank you!
American Axle Workers Group Forum - NOW BACK ON LINE
Striking AAM Worker Videos
AAM Strikers Videos
AAM Worker Rally Videos
Worldwide Support for AAM Strikers Info
GM Workers Blog - International
UAW AAM Negotiation Document
After the UAW strike against American Axle and Manufacturing (AAM) began on February 26, 2008, a three page document was released. This document apparently presented the differences between the bargaining positions of the UAW and AAM teams. Most rank and file AAM workers were shocked as to the size, and extent of these disclosed concessions. Since then, many AAM strikers have dug in and refuse to consider any givebacks at all, picketing under the banner - Guaranteed Jobs Without Concessions!!! Click on each of the thumbnail images to view the enlarged version of the document page.
American Axle Strike Diaries at Daily Kos
American Axle Forum at Factory Rat
2008 UAW Strike of AAM Videos
More Striking AAM Worker Videos
AAM Strikers News Archive
Labor Upfront Special Edition
American Axle Posts at Joe's Union Review
Campaign to Oppose Two-Tier Wages -> CAW-Ford Deal Info
Click here for Tiffany Ten Eyck's article published on Labor Notes
In late April the Canadian Auto Workers reached a surprise agreement with Ford, almost five months before contract expiration and before workers even knew that talks were under way.
Union officials declared victory against the two-tier wages found in last fall’s Big Three auto contracts in the United States. But while the deal avoids the deeper wage concessions for new hires enacted in the U.S., it is a setback in the Canadian context.
New hires, who formerly started at 15 percent below the base wage and reached parity in two years, will now start at 30 percent less than full-time pay and take three years to catch up. In addition, new hires will no longer receive cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) until the end of the agreement, or supplemental unemployment benefits when laid off.
Further concessions for existing Ford CAW members include a wage freeze, no COLA through 2009, a loss of 40 hours’ vacation, and weakening of health care benefits. In exchange, workers get a one-time bonus of $3,500.
‘NO’ VOTES HIGHER
The CAW has long stood against givebacks, making this year’s closed-door, early negotiations and concessionary contract all the more shocking for some members. The initial announcement of a 78 percent “yes” vote was met with skepticism.
“We knew that there was no way it was that high,” said Euan Gibb, an assembly worker with CAW Local 707 in Oakville, Ontario. “[The union] took the approval rate of the parts facilities that voted almost 100 percent in favor and averaged that rate with that of both the production vote and the skilled trades vote.”
The parts units represent the smallest number of workers, which unfairly weighted their votes.
Within 24 hours union officials backtracked, saying that the contract was voted up by 67 percent — the narrowest approval in CAW history. The union then reached similar agreements with General Motors (ratified by 84 percent) and Chrysler (87 percent).
The Ford assembly plant in Oakville broke new ground by becoming the first CAW auto plant to vote down a union-sanctioned contract. Workers there rejected the agreement by 56 percent.
“We didn’t know they had been meeting,” said Gibb, who added that after years of overtime and hot sales for the factory’s vehicles, it didn’t seem like concessions were appropriate.
For several years Oakville workers have been pumping out popular crossover vehicles like the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, working mandatory overtime to meet production goals. The plant secured rights to produce the better-selling vehicles during a mid-contract negotiation with the company in 2003, when workers agreed to concessions in exchange for the new product.
“The idea for pattern bargaining is to stand strong where you’re strongest,” Gibb said. “Oakville should be going forward, or at the very least, not go backwards.”
Gibb and others produced a leaflet encouraging a “no” vote if workers were not given a week to decide. At the ratification meeting, several members asked bargainers to go back to the table in the months left before the current contract expired.
HOLDING THE LINE?
In the wake of the disastrous Big Three settlements last year in the United States, both U.S. and Canadian auto workers hoped that the CAW would keep its promise and hold the line against two tier in Canada.
In pre-ratification talks, CAW officials cited the price of oil, the U.S. auto concessions, the rise of the Canadian dollar, and other economic woes as reasons for members to make givebacks.
But Sam Gindin, a former top CAW staffer and current contract opponent, contrasted that fearful chorus with the principles that first launched the union in the 1980s as an anti-concessions breakaway from the United Auto Workers. “Renaming the losses made in exchange as ‘cost savings,’ ‘offsets,’ or describing them as a ‘creative and nimble’ response, hardly negates the fact that the concessions in this collective agreement are as large as or larger than those the American UAW made in 1982,” wrote Gindin in the Bullet, an online newsletter.
“One of the factors that led to the CAW split was the UAW’s acceptance of the lump-sum payment while we said, ‘no, let’s stick with keeping our cost of living increasing with inflation,’” said Gibb. “That’s changed. From now through 2009 when we see food, oil, and everything getting more expensive, our wage will be frozen.”
The union’s rhetoric, he said, doesn’t match up with this contract’s reality.
“We can say on principle that we’re against two tier, but there’s no protection against two tier in this contract,” Gibb said. “It’s a temporary two tier.”
Click here for 'Euan Gibb's response to Buzz Hargrove' in pdf format
May 8, 2008
Re: Oakville Rejection a First in CAW History
As one of the co-authors of the leaflet that my National President, Buzz Hargrove claims was filled with 'mistruths and distortions', I feel compelled to respond.
Rather than misleading our co-workers with leaflets we were in fact expressing widely shared, collective and legitimate frustrations. This issue is really about presenting a different perspective from our national leadership and the corporate community.
It's a question of our strategy as a union. Specifically, it doesn't make any sense to us that we should be freezing wages, suspending an increasingly important cost-of-living allowance (oil and food prices anyone?), increasing drug co-pays, and giving up much-needed time off work in order to 'help' or protect a struggling auto industry.
We don't get to decide where cars are produced or for that matter, what kind of cars are produced. These are the most crucial questions and we don't have a say. Many of us wish we did have some control over these choices in our industry (recyclable green cars anyone?)
Retirees in our industry have fought for as long as we've been making cars in North America to establish decent wages and benefits. When confronted with the question of whether giving things up would help protect our jobs, we came up with a clear NO which was reflected in the historic ratification vote on Sunday. There are no real advances for our brothers and sisters in Windsor or St. Thomas in this deal.
Local 707 president Gary Beck's claim that the workers in our plant didn't understand the industry's overall problems are downright insulting. Not only do many of us spend a majority of our waking hours studying and discussing conditions in our industry but we all sat through an hour-long presentation from CAW economist Jim Stanford last Sunday. Jim could not have been clearer about the ‘storm clouds' converging above the auto industry and the broader economy. We get it. What we clearly don't agree with the National Union's strategic response. To eliminate our differences by claiming they are 'mistruths and distortions' is patronizing. We had a three hour meeting last Sunday where any “mistruths and distortions” could have been challenged and corrected. None of them were.
Euan Gibb euan[at]union.org.za
CAW, Local 707
Click here for 'Lindsay Hinshelwood's response to Gary Beck' in pdf format
May 7, 2008
Op-ed from 707 sister
The workers at the Ford plant in Oakville made history at this recent ratification vote because they are tired of being lied to by Buzz Hargrove and Gary Beck, the local's president, as well as by the company. It came as a shock to workers a tentative agreement had been reached when the recently elected bargaining committee was not scheduled to meet until June to negotiate a new contract by the deadline of September 16 and were therefore not included in this bargaining.
When the workers learned of the concessions they were expected to make and the jobs that would be lost they were angry, and even more angry that they were being forced to ratify a bad contract five months early. They were also being deprived of a strike mandate vote and therefore were stripped of their right to strike.
The general membership sent a clear message to their elected representatives for their leadership to reject this offer and send them back to the bargaining table, this message was made loud and clear before Sunday's ratification vote. The leadership of Local 707 did not listen to its members. Therefore on the day of ratification the membership arrived at the meeting angry and with a rejection vote for this offer. No one spoke positively because the offer is an obvious bad deal. And Gary Beck's comment that leaflets with mistruths and distortions is an outrageous lie and one he tried to put over at the meeting with no success. Leaflets were distributed by highly educated members with valid points that the membership were already contemplating. They were distributed by people standing up for the rights of the membership and people who are a threat to Gary Beck. Not one elected representative made an effort to provide any information to the workers.
The CAW failed in Oakville because the workers know a bad deal when they are offered one. And they are very aware of issues in the industry. It should have failed everywhere else but fear got the better of the other plants. This deal is extremely bad for St. Thomas who approved the offer by 97%. Their plant will close and their issues should have been retraining, re-education and reintegration into the workforce and preferential hiring in Oakville. The Master Bargaining Committee of the CAW failed to answer any valid questioned that was asked of them, but did give it their best effort to sell the membership its snake oil.
The members of the 707 in Oakville, like all autoworkers, are tired of being threatened and bullied by the company that their jobs will go south if they don't comply. They work in harsh adversarial conditions and had earned their wages and benefits. They've made concessions in the two previous agreements and should not have been emotionally manipulated in this contract. They made the right decision to reject the contract. Concessions are never solutions.
The membership asked this bargaining committee whether or not it even had a legal right to force this ratification vote, and whether it had a legal right to deprive the workers of their right to strike. This question was not answered so the legality of this contract is still in question.
What is very clear, is that Local 707 was prepared to go on strike to settle its issues and they now have 3 and 1/2 years to save up for their own personal strike funds.
The Ford/CAW membership has just set the precedent for wage slavery in Ontario. Let's hope GM and Chrysler do not follow suit.
Lindsay Hinshelwood, BA
Member, CAW Local 707
NOTE: This letter was written by a sister at local 707. It was submitted to the Star in response to Van Alphen's article where our local pres. was quoted as saying that Oakville workers don't understand the industry's problems.
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 105
May 6, 2008
Early Opening at the Big Three
Click here for 'The CAW and Panic Bargaining: Early Opening at the Big Three' in html format
Click here for 'The CAW and Panic Bargaining: Early Opening at the Big Three' in pdf format
In the face of a deteriorating economic climate and concerns about the ‘investment competitiveness’ of Canadian plants, the CAW leadership made a startling move this spring. It had an air of panic about it: the leadership quietly asked the Big Three – GM, Ford and Chrysler – to open their collective agreements early, offering a new ‘pragmatic’ settlement. Ford ‘bit’ and bargaining was over before anyone, including the Ford workers, had a whiff that anything was going on. The tentative agreement was announced to the press on April 28 – almost five months before the agreement was to expire, three months before bargaining was set to open and, most notably, two months before the CAW Collective Bargaining Conference, where elected delegates gather to discuss and debate the unions’ bargaining priorities. That summer conference, set for every third year, addresses the union as a whole, but is generally dominated by the fall’s auto negotiations.
On May 4th Ford workers ratified the proposed agreement that is set to run to September 2011. The union initially announced that 78% of workers voted for the agreement, only to correct this later to a much lower 67% being in favour. At the critical Oakville plant, the agreement was rejected by almost 60% of the production workers. In the history of the Canadian autoworkers, there has never before been such a low overall acceptance vote, nor a rejection of a settlement in a major plant after the leadership recommended a tentative agreement.
The CAW literature claims that it has remained true to its convention-established policy of ‘no-concessions’ in bargaining. The union has insisted that there was really no choice and that comparison with the early 1980s – the high point of CAW resistance and leadership within the North American (and international) labour movement – is not valid. If new investment is to be attracted, the union argues, it can simply not ignore the rise of the Canadian dollar, the turmoil in the industry and the concessions made by the UAW. And had the CAW waited until the normal September deadline, the union asserted, things would have been much worse.
The critical concessions in last year’s UAW agreement were twofold: the dramatic agreement to shift the risks of future health care costs from the companies to the union, and the acceptance of a permanent two-tier structure with new hires being paid half the wages and less than half the benefits of current workers. The former is of secondary importance in Canada because of our socialized health care system (though it does reduce one of the cost advantages of Canadian operations). The permanent two-tier system, however, has been resolutely opposed by CAW President Buzz Hargrove, and its rejection has been made central to bargaining.
The rejection of the permanent two-tier structure is indeed of crucial importance. But renaming the losses made in exchange as ‘cost savings’, ‘offsets’, or describing them as a ‘creative and nimble’ response, hardly negates the fact that the concessions in this collective agreement are as large or larger than those the American UAW made in 1982. Those concessions lead to harsh criticism from the Canadian wing of the union and, shortly after, to breaking away from its American parent.
As many CAW members know from experience and the union’s educational programs, concessions don’t guarantee jobs. Jobs depend on so much else beyond the control of workers – from the economy, trade policy, exchange rates and the chaos in financial markets, to the age of plants, technologies used, and especially the models placed in the showrooms. Currently, jobs also depend on the extent to which the new vehicles are sensitive to the implications of escalating oil prices and environmental concerns. At the end of the 1970s, when the concessions period began to unfold, UAW Big Three membership totalled some 760,000 in the USA. In spite of the concessions, the UAW repeatedly accepted over the following years, that membership is now down to about 165,000 – almost 80% of the jobs gone.
What concessions do guarantee is more of the same: why would any company that found this golden egg, not keep coming back for more? They also tend to confirm the belief that workers are the problem: if workers are making concessions to save jobs, aren’t they essentially admitting that the gains they won earlier were the problem? So, aren’t more concessions, rather than other policies, the answer? Most dangerously, concessions leave workers cynical about the worth of their union: why get active if unions aren’t in fact fighting back? This concern with the potential cynicism of a new generation of workers was one of the reasons that Hargrove rightly opposed the UAW permanent two-tier system with its discrimination against young workers coming into the factories.
What then are we to make of this agreement? Is it the best that could have been done in the context of the UAW settlement and a looming recession? Does it bring a victory against the two-tier system or, like the American UAW’s agreements of 1982, signal the decline of the CAW’s earlier prominence as the leading union in Canada? Most important, is this just about the CAW or does it highlight a larger crisis within Canadian trade unionism and the left – a left which was always dependent on, as well as crucial to, the dynamism of the working class?
It’s useful to start with a look back to the early 1980s, the defining period in the formation of the CAW. In 1982 the overall unemployment rates in the U.S. (9.7%) and Canada (11%) were significantly higher than today (5.1% in the U.S. and 6% in Canada). The auto companies faced as great or greater financial pressure than today, with Chrysler in fact being in the bankruptcy courts. The competitive threat from the Japanese was intense, as it is now, though then it was via imports while today their operations are inside North America (placing unionization of the Japanese plants on the agenda as part of any effective union response).
In the early 80s, in the context of massive layoffs – 150,000 at GM alone (double the total GM union members today) – the UAW gave in to company pressures for early bargaining. The agreements were seen as concessionary not because of any cut in wages – wages were in fact frozen – but because the traditional increase of 3% for annual productivity gains was given up and cost of living allowances were postponed. In subsequent agreements, lump sum bonuses replaced the full return of the annual increases. As well, the union gave up its recently won 9 paid personal holidays. (The Canadian region of the UAW was able to maintain the principle of regular increases in base rates but also surrendered those paid days off.) Those scheduled days off had reflected a first step in the UAW’s earlier ambitions of moving towards a four-day week at full pay, and had contributed to inspiring the subsequent drive by the German Metalworkers for shorter work-time. Analysts estimated the U.S. concessions in 1982 as worth about 10% of labour costs as compared to the traditional UAW template. (Along the way, the UAW leadership cancelled the union’s scheduled collective bargaining conference allegedly because of preoccupation with bargaining, but this had as much to do with preventing the kind of exchanges amongst workers that might scuttle the emerging deal.)
Like the 1982 agreement in the U.S., the present tentative Canadian agreement occurs in the context of deep insecurities, and it too provides a lump sum payment (now dubbed a ‘productivity and quality bonus’) in lieu of wage increases. As well as freezing the base rate, it gives up the next five cost-of-living allowances (COLA), estimated at $.60/hr by the union (but which may be higher as increased food and oil prices work their way through the Canadian economy). The agreement includes no base pension increases for existing retirees, and the first of retirees’ three annual cost-of-living allowances is cancelled.
The agreement also gives up 40 hours of paid vacation. Here, too, there is a lump sum that covers lost vacation pay during the life of the agreement. But the loss in paid time off will be very difficult to recover in the future and with it, the job openings created by the need for replacements. At Ford, where a culture of all workers taking their vacation was collectively enforced in order to create more job openings, workers will now be ‘permitted’ to work through vacations. The CAW drug plan, with its limited cost to the worker ($.35), will move to a co-pay of 10% up to a maximum of $250 per family rising to $290 over the life of the agreement. And, surprisingly, given the Canadian public health care system, the union didn’t completely reject the UAW move to accepting responsibility for health care costs, but left a crack open with a commitment to ‘explore Canadian opportunities to establish a pre-funded, off-balance-sheet Retiree Health Benefit Fund.’
In what some may see as a ‘mini’ two-tier system, new hires – who formerly started at 15% below the base wage and moved to the full rate over two years while getting full cost-of-living allowances – will start at 30% below the base wage and move to the full rate over three years, with the cost-of-living postponed until the end of the agreement. New hires will also receive less paid vacation than under the current agreement and will receive lower benefits, most notably their exclusion until the end of their third year from the top-up of UI when they are laid off (and they will be of course be the first to be laid off). But because these new workers will move to approximate equality by agreement’s end, it meets Hargrove’s commitment against a permanent two-tier system.
Along with other concessions, such as caps on long-term health care, and even with some positive improvements in benefits, the agreement will save – again like the 1982 UAW agreement – the companies about 10% relative to past agreements.
The basic economics of this package, based on data presented by CAW economist Jim Stanford to the bargaining committee, are as follows. The starting point for the leadership was, apparently, to negotiate the kind of agreement that will, through its control over labour costs, attract investment from the Big Three. The relevant comparisons are the hourly labour costs apart from ‘legacy costs.’ (Legacy costs refer to future commitments made to retirees; these must be paid wherever the investment occurs, so they do not affect any particular investment decision.) On this basis, and with the Canadian dollar at parity, Canadian costs are $67/hr for all wages and benefits while U.S. costs are $60. This differential of 10% is itself not of great concern because it is more or less offset by the higher productivity and quality in Canada as shown in independent industry reports. So, current competitiveness is roughly at par with the UAW. The concern, based on this logic, is not so much the present, as in keeping the gap from growing in the future.
Another way of thinking about this is to consider the impact of the UAW two-tier system on costs. At Ford, it is currently capped so it can ‘only’ affect a maximum of 20% of the workforce. Once implemented, this will reduce future U.S. costs by approximately $6/hr (roughly 10%) spread across the workforce. In order to reach an early agreement without the U.S. two-tier, the Canadian negotiators looked to find ‘savings’ of an equivalent amount.
The value of the Canadian dollar has been very much at the centre of concerns with Canadian costs, and this does matter. According to the CAW analysis, if the Canadian dollar were to fall to $.90 U.S., this would more than make up for all the concessions the union is now making. Such a fall in the Canadian dollar is a distinct possibility in the near future, when the fall in the American dollar bottoms out. Why then accept a permanent sacrifice in wages, benefits and work time – as well as a transformation in the orientation of the union and its bargaining structures – based on a possibly temporary value of our dollar?
The problems with this agreement go beyond the economics, but let’s consider the economic arguments even on their own terms of Canadian labour costs harming Big Three investment in Canada. According to the Big Three financial statements, direct labour costs at the Big Three are some 8-12% of their overall costs; the former is for assembly while the latter includes in-house major components. Even a 10% differential amounts to less than 1% of the price of a car and is not in itself decisive. (The mark-up the car dealerships get is generally more per vehicle than the Big Three workers get in wages and benefits.) Moreover, as noted above, the union’s analysis shows that Canadian labour costs per unit are, at the Big Three, roughly in line with U.S. costs. The CAW further acknowledges that the Canadian share of North American production has been doing remarkably well – our share of Canada-U.S. assembly has not only been maintained, but even increased since the early 1990s – and points to generally higher auto profits in Canada. Why then the panic to open the agreements early and make concessions?
It’s true that things may get worse in the fall. But this was always the case, yet the CAW consistently rejected the early-opening option. In part, that was simply about letting the democratic process unfold: providing the members with an analysis and arguments that are distinct from the companies, letting the committees form their demands, and allowing for the pre-bargaining discussions and debates at the bargaining conference. But it was also due to the fact that speculating about what might happen in the economy can backfire. For example, the Canadian dollar may be lower in September, to the advantage of Canadian operations. As well, if bargaining looked tougher for the union later on, wouldn’t the corporations be expected to exact more in exchange for the early opening? But the main reason for waiting until the agreement expires has been to avoid the message – to the companies and to its members – of a union desperate for any deal.
This is not to deny that there would be risks in September, including the possibility of a strike. But such risks can ultimately not be avoided if workers want to defend their rights and conditions, and standing up to the company in this way allows workers to affirm their independence, participate in influencing events, and test what is possible – the only way to know if you could have done better. (Waiting until normal bargaining begins does, of course, still leave the union with tactical options: it can strike only key facilities and leave the rest operating or it can choose to delay a strike for a given period.)
The greatest danger with looking to win through deals at the top rather than fighting back and building the base is that workers can end up with the worst of both worlds: concessions AND job loss, concessions AND two-tiers. Suppose the Big Three use their foot in the door in the U.S. to extend the UAW two-tier system to far more members in 2011 (or before). GM is already expecting 1/3 of its workforce to be under the two-tier system by the end of the agreement; Toyota, no longer worried that its preference for two-tiers might lead to unionization, has announced that all new hires will get 50% of the wage rate. This would, once again, place great pressures on Canadian workers to make parallel concessions in Canada.
But suppose, in contrast, that the CAW mobilized its members for a fight in September against the two-tier system and that this sparked or reinforced resistance to two-tiers in the USA. The possibility of such a rebellion in the U.S. – against their union leadership as much as against the companies – is not as far-fetched as it may appear. Many UAW members opposed the two-tier system (it was voted against in all of Chrysler’s large plants) and, it’s becoming harder to find workers who admit to supporting it. With Toyota following the UAW down this path, it’s clear that the two-tier concessions have not even affected relative wages, so even in competitive terms, there is no justification for two-tiers. Most important, as new workers come into the factories, they could – rather than being grateful for a Big Three job – challenge, with the support of their co-workers, their second-class status. In this context, a high-profile struggle against the two-tier system in Canada could have an impact in the U.S., defeating the two-tier system on both sides of the border (‘no more tears‘ as one Flint worker put it) and undermining the case for Canadian concessions. The point is not to engage in crystal-ball gazing, but to note that Canadian workers are not just observers of something occurring on another planet. What workers do in Canada can potentially affect what happens in the U.S. and therefore also expand their options.
The issue is not whether, given the constraints it imposed on itself, the CAW bargained ‘well’ or not. The CAW bargainers, from Buzz Hargrove down, have excellent bargaining skills. Once the alternatives are defined in terms of finding a way to reject the permanent two-tier system but pay for it in ways less damaging to union solidarity, a credible case might be made that the CAW bargainers did as well as was possible. The issue is why the union framed its options so narrowly and put itself into this box.
When Buzz Hargrove militantly declared his opposition to the two-tier system, there was clearly never any intention to actively mobilize the membership against it. Unlike past campaigns, there were no community meetings of stewards, no presentation of the economic arguments that made a fightback possible, no widespread distribution of pamphlets, no use of the union’s structures to arm secondary leadership so they could go home and organize, no building toward the Collective Bargaining Conference to develop workers’ understanding and confidence in why they must and can resist two-tiers, and therefore only a mixed message to the companies about how far the union would go to resist two-tiers. In that context, the determination to get a deal and get it now, shifted the CAW watchwords of ‘fighting back makes a difference’ to ‘fighting back is impossible’, leaving the union leadership and technicians to bargain within the straightjacket of parameters set by the company.
In the absence of any kind of campaign, and with the members all too aware of the union’s recent trajectory, the commitment to reject the two-tier system was widely viewed as being about how much would be given up to keep it out of Canada. That many workers may now be relieved – it could have been worse – doesn’t speak to the larger question of how the union got to this point of a leadership with no intent to fight and a membership passively waiting to see how bad things might get.
The problem, it seems, is that once the union accepts the argument that competitiveness is a goal workers must conform to – rather than as a constraint that must be stretched through broader policies and challenges to corporate power – the union ends up with no agenda independent of the corporations. Mobilizing the workers to fight the corporations is then largely irrelevant (in fact, it might even be seen as a potential problem). What is achievable comes to be viewed in terms of personal relationships to corporate and government officials, and other things follow. For example, when the union’s main strategy in responding to job loss is argue for corporate subsidies, it is essentially arguing to make the corporations stronger, rather than challenging, through building wider coalitions and alternatives, the corporate freedom to undermine our freedom and to disrupt the lives of workers and their communities. The unintended message is that workers must, one way or the other buy their jobs. Subsidies paid for by the worker as taxpayer and concessions paid by specific groups of workers are ultimately not alternatives, but part of the same logic; once you buy into one as the only alternative, you’re vulnerable to buying into the other.
That same reorientation from taking on power, to accommodating to it, was reflected in the union moving from strategic voting – once voiced as a criticism of the NDP’s lack of resistance to corporate pressures – to supporting the business-backed Liberal Party. It was also dramatically reflected in the Magna deal, where the union unconvincingly tried to argue that you can build union strength as you give up the right to strike forever and accept an in-plant structure without a shop steward system and an ‘employee advocate’ appointed through a convoluted selection process to pose as a plant chair.
In this light, when the union repeatedly opened up Big Three local agreements to accept concessions – sometimes forcing workers to vote again if they didn’t get it ‘right’ the first time – what we were seeing with these ‘shelf agreements’ was a precursor to the present opening of the Big Three agreements. In some cases, these shelf agreements even introduced its own version of the two-tier system: work such as internal janitorial services or external part components would be outsourced and paid very much lower rates and those laid off as part of this process would be ‘invited’ to apply for the ‘new’ jobs. In the recent Oakville agreement, local concessions included such an outsourcing of janitors/cleaners.
The union now faces a new dilemma. The GM workers have insisted that they are not ready to accept any more concessions without a guaranteed product; the open and vague promises of concessions are not enough. The CAW leadership, in light of not wanting to see a repeat of the Oakville rejection, must back up this demand. Yet, if GM has no such offer in mind, and no agreement is reached, where does that leave pattern bargaining? What will the Oakville workers think, having rejected the agreement but now living with it? What will St. Thomas workers think, since they voted for the concessions but got no guarantee in exchange?
There is something profoundly wrong with what passes for normalcy in our society. The President of General Motors, partly in reward for his role in preaching restraint and destabilizing workers’ lives and communities, gets a 40% salary increase to $14 million annually (and may declare that the Canadian concessions were not enough). His counterpart at Ford, hired from outside the industry to cut even further, is paid $21 million, meaning he makes more in a little over a day than Ford’s full-wage production workers make in a year of exhausting work. On Wall Street, the top 50 hedge fund managers together earned some $29 billion (yes ‘billion’) on the way to contributing to the current chaos in financial markets; according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the pay of those 50 individuals equals the total compensation of some 390,000 U.S. motor vehicle workers – over half the industry’s total hourly workforce.
Meanwhile, as the U.S. dollar falls and the average compensation (wages and benefits) of U.S. autoworkers moves below that of Europe and virtually reaches the level of Japan – that is, as U.S. compensation becomes more competitive than it has ever been – the UAW negotiates the deepest concessions in its Big Three history. And this all happens without a day’s lost production. The UAW’s justification is competition from the non-union Japanese plants in the U.S., even though it is perfectly clear that the latter will match any concessions the UAW makes, and also that the main problem is competitive vehicle models, not labour costs. [According to Business Week, Toyota insiders are now expressing concerns that as its workforce in the U.S. has aged, the Georgetown plant is expected, by 2009 to ‘have the highest labor costs of any factory in the US’ (April 28, 2008).]
In Canada, the union situation may seem much better, but comparisons to the weakest labour movement in the developed world are hardly comforting. The fact is that Canadian unions increasingly seem as disoriented as their American counterparts and Canadian unionism generally seems no less frozen in the headlights of neoliberalism. There are of course sporadic and impressive struggles – and the Oakville vote is in this regard impressive. But these occasional bursts of militancy do not add up to a reversal of direction.
This does not mean that unions can no longer be looked to in defending the working class, but it does mean that it can’t be taken for granted. Activists and members need to start having discussions about where their unions are going, why the base so often has such little effective input, how to forge links with others asking the same questions across workplaces and unions, what building a rank-and-file capacity and ‘changing’ their unions actually means, and how to engage in resistance now. The socialist left, today largely marginal to working class life, once played a prominent role in creating spaces for such discussions and providing relevant analysis and resources. Unless that creative link between labour activists and socialists can be revived, the union movement will only stagger on from smaller defeats to larger ones.
Sam Gindin teaches political economy at York University, Toronto.
Click here for news article 'Oakville workers reject deal' in pdf format
Employees at Ford’s assembly plant in Oakville have become the first union local to reject a tentative contract at the Big Three in the history of the Canadian Auto Workers.
The union confirmed yesterday that CAW Local 707 voted 1,108 to 863 or 56 per cent against a three-year deal at Ford Motor Co. of Canada after a raucous ratification meeting on Sunday.
Workers at other plants, in Windsor, St. Thomas and Brampton, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the contract, which contains a wage freeze, a temporary suspension of a cost of living allowance and loss of a week of vacation pay every year.
The rejection in Oakville pulled down overall support to 67 per cent.
CAW president Buzz Hargrove said no one spoke positively at the meeting of Oakville workers after earlier distribution of leaflets at the plant that were filled with “mistruths and distortions.”
Local 707 president Gary Beck said workers at the busy plant, which will move to three shifts later this year, didn’t understand the industry’s overall problems.
Click here for news article 'Oakville rejection a first in CAW history' in pdf format
Employees at Ford's assembly plant in Oakville have become the first union local to reject a tentative contract at the Big Three in the history of the Canadian Auto Workers.
The union confirmed yesterday that CAW Local 707 voted 1,108 to 863, or 56 per cent, against a three-year deal at Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. after a raucous ratification meeting on Sunday.
Workers at other plants, in Windsor, St. Thomas and Brampton, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the contract, which contains a wage freeze, a temporary suspension of a cost of living allowance and loss of a week of vacation pay every year.
The rejection in Oakville pulled down overall support to 67 per cent, which also marked the lowest percentage in favour of a Ford, General Motors or Chrysler deal in the union's 23-year history.
Workers have traditionally ratified Big Three contracts by heavy margins after getting unanimous recommendations for acceptance from bargaining committees.
The union initially did not break out results for each location but finally released them yesterday, in line with past practice.
CAW president Buzz Hargrove said the result will not have any impact on contract negotiations and voting at GM or Chrysler later.
Hargrove said no one spoke positively at the meeting of Oakville workers after earlier distribution of leaflets at the plant that were filled with "mistruths and distortions."
"It was just one of those situations where a handful of people got control of the mikes early and shifted the mood," he said.
"It was a mood we couldn't turn around in a three-hour meeting. The results from Windsor, St. Thomas and Bramalea (Brampton) were more reflective of where the membership of our union is today," he maintained.
Local 707 president Gary Beck said workers at the busy plant, which will move to three shifts later this year, didn't understand the industry's overall problems.
"They didn't see outside of what's going on at our plant," he said noting Ford operations in St. Thomas and Windsor are struggling.
Click Here for the MAY 1, 2008 Leaflet Handed out at Ford Oakville Today, in pdf format
What’s the Rush?
We’ve never seen a tentative agreement proposal like this before. Why has it come so early? Even if economic conditions are worse in the fall, reducing vacations, freezing COLA & increasing co-pays for drugs does nothing to solve high oil prices, a high dollar or unfair trade.
What’s included in this tentative agreement?
What’s included in this tentative agreement?
We haven’t seen the entire agreement and local issues are wrapping up today (Thursday) but we do know some details. Here’s what we know from the national office of the CAW:
We’ve been through a few years of rough times in Oakville & Ford but things are turning around. Why are we going backwards now?
This deal seems fundamentally unfair. We’ve gone through years of hearing ‘now’s not the time.’ We’ve been working mandatory OT or three shifts for two years. We’re hiring for a third shift and the launch of a new vehicle. The Edge / MKX is selling and we need to get the Flex onto the dealership lots. It really seems like now is the time - not the time for giving up much needed holidays and freezing wages.
The new CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally made $28 million for his first four months work with the Ford Motor Co. This means that on any single day he made more money before lunch time than we do in wages and benefits in a whole year.
Who was involved in negotiating this deal?
It’s not clear. However, we know that our elected bargaining representatives were not involved until the end of this process. Most of them found out about this on Monday. The collective bargaining conference has not even happened yet. This meeting historically happened before bargaining so that our elected representatives could debate and prioritize issues before meeting with the company. This conference was scheduled for June.
Why would we give up 40 hours vacation?
First, we need time off the line. Second, 40 hours a year vacation is time that the line is running. That means our jobs need covered when we’re off. Whether the loss of 40 hours vacation is a SPA week, earned holiday hours or the third week of shut-down is not important. Giving up 40 hours/year is giving up 70 jobs. Saving jobs is important.
Why would we accept a new-hire rate of $22/h for three years?
When you are training or sitting across the picnic table from a new-hire do you want to tell them: ‘Sorry, we had no choice to lower your wages to $22/h’ or do you want to tell them that you did your best to keep their wages & benefits equal with yours?
‘This is not as bad as the deal in the US’ is no defence of this agreement.
Conditions are clearly different. In fact, the cuts in this agreement are equal or slightly worse than the 1982 cuts that the Canadian section of our union refused to accept, leading to our separation and the creation of the CAW a few years later.
We need some answers:
If you share these questions, you need to come to the ratification meeting on Sunday and send a message to our leadership that we need more time to consider this tentative agreement. Remember, our current agreement doesn’t expire until September 2008. Clearly we have some time. We want a week to analyze this tentative agreement then ask more questions. What possible reason could there be to rush this deal through?
If we don’t get a week to analyze this agreement we should VOTE NO
Our agreement expires midnight September 16, 2008. A NO vote means that our leadership goes back into negotiations with the company. A NO vote is not a vote to strike.
For further info or copies of this leaflet come see:
Euan Gibb - Trim Door Line, B-Shift euan[at]union.org.za
Larry Wells - Utility Driver, A-Shift
May 3, 2008: CAW - Ford 2008 Bargaining Documents
NOTE:On many systems, right click on the image, choose the 'Save Target As ...' option (or 'Save Link As' option) from the pop-up menu, and save the pdf file to local storage. Next choose the 'Open' option to view the pdf file with Acrobat Reader running as a standalone application.
Campaign to Oppose Two-Tier Wages -> COTTW Inaugural Documents
The transnational Campaign Against Wage Discrimination was launched on Tuesday, February 26, 2008.
Here are links to the inaugural documents which explain the campaign against two tier wages.