These are the methods we used to build our Unions and win the gains we have had ever since:

"Several thousand strikers marched to Chevrolet plant No. 9 from Union headquarters. They were led by Roy Reuther and Powers Hapgood. GM informers, as had been expected, had tipped off management about the march on # 9. Armed Flint detectives and company guards had been installed in the plant. The workers inside began yelling "sit-down!" and a forty-minute battle was waged inside the plant. The Women's Emergency Brigade, organized and led by Genora Johnson (now Dollinger), fought heroically on the outside, smashing the windows to permit the tear gas to escape from the plant." (Art Preis: labor’s Giant Step)

Compare the description above to the response of the UAW today:

“…we assure you that we will vigorously use our experience, expertise and resources to do everything we possibly can to protect the interests of UAW-Delphi active workers and retirees throughout this difficult situation………In addition, in anticipation of Delphi’s filing, we retained Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP, a New York law firm that has represented the UAW and other unions in most of the major corporate bankruptcies in recent years..”

In other words, mass action and power of the workers in the 1930’s compared to getting advice from some law firm today. We must go back to the methods that produced results, that won us what we have today.

Some first steps that should be taken immediately are:

* for rank and file shop floor mass meetings at Delphi, GM, Ford and the entire US auto industry.

* Election of shop floor delegates to a conference of all US autoworkers, union and non-union alike

* this conference to develop a strategy for implementing and returning to the methods of the thirties, plant occupations, mass pickets, generalizing the dispute and drawing in all sections of the working class, youth and our communities.

* this conference would reject the Team Concept and the present slavish worship of market forces by the present UAW and AFL-CIO leadership.

* this conference to develop a program that will meet workers’ needs drawing in all sections of the working class and our communities, rather than restricting demands to what is acceptable to the employers and the Democrats. This could include:

* Creation of jobs through a shorter workweek, 30 hours no loss in pay

* For a $15 an hour minimum wage

* free health care and education for all

* for an independent workers’ political party

* This conference to initiate a drive for an international conference of all autoworkers and all auto supply workers internationally. This fight will be won internationally or it will not be won.


In 1998 the average annual compensation for auto industry workers was $65,000. For all US workers that figure was $37,600. We knew this was coming.

Business Week, one of the prominent journals of US capitalism issued the following warning in 1974:

“It will be a hard pill for many Americans to swallow--the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more...Nothing that this nation, or any other nation, has done in modern economic history compares with the selling job that must be done to make people accept this reality.” Business Week 10-12-74.

Coming at the end of the great post war upswing, these comments were meant in earnest. Since they were made, wages and benefits for US workers have continued to decline and in the past period the employers have intensified their offensive. They are now turning up the heat on what is potentially one of the most powerful sections of the US working class with a rich and militant history, the autoworkers and their Union, the UAW.

Delphi, the giant auto parts supplier that spun off from GM in 1999 filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 last week, the largest US manufacturer to do so. The company is not short of money. According to the Wall Street Journal, Delphi has, “plenty of cash to tide it through the two years that it could be in Chapter 11.” What the Bankruptcy law does is allow the company to renege on its pension obligations. This pits older workers and the retired against newer hires and the young. It is a “flashpoint” between the interests of current and retired workers, a taste of the “inter-generational warfare” that is to come says Steve Miller, Delphi CEO who was brought out of retirement to do the job. Delphi’s hourly workers could still keep, their pension plan, says Miller but “only if Unions agree to work for about a third of their old pay and benefits.” This thug wants us to fight it out with our brothers, sisters and comrades.

The bankruptcy law is the organized collaboration of the employers, bankers and the state. It is, as John Gapper of the Financial Times confirms, “..a device for re-asserting management fiat over workers with the backing of bankers.” “These days managers and creditors are often on the same side from the start”, Gapper writes, “ They can get richer by persuading the hourly workers to become poor.” “ Organized labor, meet organized capital”, he announces with great confidence. (FT 10-12-05)

The prime target of this offensive is not Delphi but General Motors. The automaker is presently in talks with the UAW in an effort to reduce health-care costs and shift more of that burden to workers. By some accounts, GM faces further costs of up to $11bn as part of an agreement with former Delphi workers to guarantee their pensions and benefits. Giving workers the choice of lower pensions or lower wages is no choice at all, is divisive, and has the potential to further weaken the UAW and organized labor in general.

The capitalist class has every reason to be confident. They have been convinced without doubt over the last 50 years that the labor leadership will do nothing to de-rail their train. The response of the UAW leadership to the offensive is the same strategy that has failed US workers for the past 50 years; they hired a law firm. For the employers it is clear: Market forces dictate that blue- collar workers are overpaid says CEO Miller. It’s simple economics, class warfare.

It is not just the present rotten trade union bureaucracy that imbues the employers with such confidence. During the nineteen eighties there were a series of strikes and struggles led by genuine rank and file leaders that took on a national character but failed to halt the employers’ offensive. This was not entirely due to the class collaboration of the established trade union bureaucracy but also the failure of the strike leaders to return to the methods of the thirties that changed class relations and built today’s trade union movement. The ILWU contract of a couple of years ago offered an opportunity to turn the labor movement around, an opportunity from a leadership that claims the mantle of Harry Bridges and the 1934 general strike. Yet they too failed to abandon the failed policies of the AFL-CIO leadership for a return to the past.

Coming on the heels of the defeated Southern California grocery strike, the airline bankruptcies and the generalized attack on defined benefit retirement plans the UAW has an alternative to legal aid. The UAW, like today’s labor movement in general was built through militant action, relying on our own strength, challenge anti-labor injunctions and occupying workplaces.

The Delphi maneuver should be met with occupations, mass pickets and the spread of the dispute to the rest of the trade union movement in general. Sit-downs, as occupations were called during the building of the UAW and CIO, were effective in that the employers were more concerned about their fixed property than labor. They were incredibly effective.

Art Preis in Labor's Giant Step writes: "The very non-violence of the sit-downs infuriated the employers and their government agents. It was impossible for police or troops to provoke violence without clearly initiating it themselves. They had to attack and break in to plants where there was obviously no disorder, because strikers were on the inside, strikebreakers on the outside. Thus, only 25 sit-down strikes were broken by police of the more than 1,000 sit-downs reported by the press in 1936-37."

Henry Kraus (The Many and the Few) vividly describes what took place to organize GM.

“The tide of the battle ebbed and flowed outside the plant. After their initial repulse, the police regrouped on the bridge and drove down once again on the plant, firing their gas guns and hurling gas grenades towards the factory and in to the pickets in front of the establishment. The sit downers, many of whom had rushed to the roof of the plant, and the pickets, who had received a supply of “popular ammunition” from the men in the plant during the brief lull in the battle, responded with a water and missile barrage; and as the wind blew the gas back in to their faces the police had to fall back. Hurling cans, frozen snow, milk bottles, door hinges, pieces of pavement, and assorted other weapons of this type, the pickets pressed at the heels of the retreating police.”


More of our rich history from Preis:

"Several thousand strikers marched to Chevrolet plant No. 9 from Union headquarters. They were led by Roy Reuther and Powers Hapgood. GM informers, as had been expected, had tipped off management about the march on # 9. Armed Flint detectives and company guards had been installed in the plant. The workers inside began yelling "sit-down!" and a forty minute battle was waged inside the plant. The Women's Emergency Brigade, organized and led by Genora Johnson (now Dollinger), fought heroically on the outside, smashing the windows to permit the tear gas to escape from the plant."

Johnson already inside plant #4, describes the occupation in the "Searchlight”:

"Plant #4 was huge and sprawling, a most difficult target, but extremely important to us because the corporation was running the plant, even though they had to stockpile motors, in anticipation of favorable court action."

"GM had already recovered from the first shock of being forced to surrender four of their largest body plants to sit-down strikers. They already had the legal machinery in motion that would, within a short time, expel by force if necessary, the strikers from the plants. If that happened, we knew the strike would be broken, and the fight for a union in General Motors would be lost."

"The next few minutes seemed like hours, as I ambled toward the door, my previous confidence was rapidly giving way to fear--fear that we'd lost our one big gamble. My thoughts were moving a mile a minute, and I was rehashing the same plan over and over, but this time, all its weaknesses stood out like red lights." "...then the door burst inward and there was Ed! Great big Ed, his hairy chest bare to his belly, carrying a little American flag and leading the most ferocious band of twenty men I had ever seen. He looked so funny with that tiny flag in comparison with his men, who were armed to the teeth with lead hammers, pipes, and chunks of sheet metal three feet long. I felt like laughing and crying at the same time."

"When I asked where the hell the three hundred men were that he had guaranteed to bring with him, he seemed dumbfounded. I don't think he'd ever looked back from the time he'd dropped his tools, picked up the flag, and started his line plunge to plant 4. It didn't take a master mind to know that trying to strike a roaring plant of more than three thousand men and almost as many machines with just twenty men was almost impossible. We huddled together and made a quick decision to go back to plant 6 for reinforcements, and if that failed to get out of Chevrolet in a hurry. Luckily we encountered little opposition in Ed's plant and in a short time we were back in Plant 4 with hundreds of determined men."

"Although we didn't know it then, a real war was going on in and around plant 9, the decoy. Every city cop and plant police were clubbing the strikers and using tear gas to evacuate the plant. In retaliation the men and women from the hall were smashing windows and yelling encouragement from the outside."

"Back in plant #4, a relatively peaceful operation was proceeding according to plan; a little late, but definitely moving now. Up and down the long aisles we marched, asking, pleading, and finally threatening the men who wouldn't get in line. For the first hour the men in plant #4 were being bullied not only by us but by management as well. Almost as fast as we could turn the machines off, the bosses, following our wake, would turn them on, and threaten the men with being fired. As the lines of marchers grew longer, the plant grew quieter, and finally after two hours every machine was silent."

"The men were standing around in small groups, sullenly eyeing members of supervision. No one knew who belonged to the Union because no one had any visible identification. We had successfully taken the plant, but we knew that our gains had to be immediately consolidated or we'd face counteraction. We had a few men go through the plant and give a general order that all who didn't belong to the Union should go upstairs to the dining room and sign up. While the vast majority were thus taken care of, a few hundred of us were left unhampered to round up the supervisors. It didn't take long to persuade them that leaving the plant under their own power was more dignified than being thrown out. Herding the foremen out of the plant, we sent them on their way with the same advice that most of us had been given year after year during layoffs. "We'll let you know when to come back." "

"The next day, when Judge Gadola issued his injunction setting a deadline for the following day, the strikers held meetings and decided to hold the plants at all costs. The Fisher #1 workers wired Governor Murphy "Unarmed as we are, the introduction of the militia, sheriffs, or police with murderous weapons will mean a blood bath of unarmed workers...We have decided to stay in the plant. We have no illusions about the sacrifices which this decision will entail. We fully expect that if a violent effort is made to oust us, many of us will be killed, and we take this means of making it known to our wives, to our children, to the people of the state of Michigan and the country that if this result follows from an attempt to reject us, you (Governor Murphy) are the one who must be held responsible for our deaths."

"Early the next day, all the roads in to Flint were jammed with cars loaded with Unionists from Detroit, Lansing, Pontiac and Toledo. More than a thousand veterans of the Toledo Auto-Lite and Chevrolet strikes were on hand. Walter Reuther, then head of the Detroit West Side UAW Local, brought in a contingent of 500. Rubber workers from Akron and coal miners from the Pittsburg area joined the forces rallying to back the Flint strikers. No Police were in sight. The workers directed traffic. Barred from Fisher #2 and Chevrolet # 4 by troops with machine guns and 37 millimeter howitzers, the workers from other areas formed a huge cordon round Fisher #1"

This is our great history and history we need to return to if Business Week and Steve Millers goals are to be defeated. Society can easily afford the demands above.

Brothers and Sisters in the auto industry, Brothers and Sisters in the US and international working class. US and international capital are not only in a vicious offensive against working people, they are also in vicious competition with each other. If Delphi can produce parts cheaper in Mexico and it does not do so then some other parts supplier will do so. The result will be that Delphi's shares will go down and it will go bust. Capitalists are in vicious competition with each other to secure lower labor costs and greater profits. We must not participate in what is a race to the bottom for us.

The battle that has to be opened up in Delphi has to recognize this. The conclusions that have to be drawn are that this battle cannot be won with the methods of the trade union leaders or the leaders of the strikes of the 1980's. The present leaders of the AFL-CIO have proved their total loyalty to the capitalist system and the market. They defend the rights of the employers in the last analysis.

We must go back to the methods of the 1930's. From the mass meetings in every plant, fighting action groups must be formed in every department as the basic unit of the fight back. From this, an international fighting organization has to be formed with a base in every plant, an international leadership and a policy that ensures that not a single machine will be allowed to be shifted and not a single part or automobile that was made in one place today will be allowed to be made in another tomorrow.

This is not all. As long as the auto industry, the major industries in general, and the banks are in private hands there will always be this drive for profit and attack on workers living standards. There will always be this attempt to drive one set of workers into competition with another, whether it is older workers against younger or US workers against Mexican workers or Japanese workers.

In this course of the struggle that must now be opened up in Delphi and GM the issue of ownership of the auto and parts industry must be raised. The auto and parts industry internationally must be taken out of private hands and put into collective ownership under workers control and management. The same forces that organize to fight the present owners will be able to manage and run the industry. Not only that, they will not be blinded by profit as the present profit addicted owners are and as a result the auto industry or the issue of how we get from one place to another can be dealt with and considered taking into account convenience but also environment sustainability. Public transportation becomes a public issue not a private one determined on the basis of profit.

An international workers’ fight back and an international workers alternative is the only way we can win.

Where the money is (the tip of the iceberg):

$11 trillion hidden in offshore accounts by wealthy individuals (excluding corporations)
$6bn a month in Iraq and Afghanistan
Exxon $25bn profits 2004
BP $12bn profits in 2004
Ten percent of the population has 70% of the wealth we create

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