FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Lesson of the Chrysler Rebels

by CHRIS KUTALIK

Negotiations between the Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers (UAW) were anything but predictable this year. Nationwide strikes at both General Motors and Chrysler, union givebacks on an unprecedented scale, and the stirrings of a strong “vote no on the contract” opposition inside the union have shredded the old auto pattern-agreement playbook.

For decades, “the pattern” meant for autoworkers a stable, almost ritualistic set of negotiations for the auto industry. The union would pick one of the Big Three as its strike target, company and union negotiators would retreat behind closed doors to hammer out terms, and then a tentative agreement would be quickly floated to sidelined members and local officers for a resounding vote up.

Concessions, local competitive operating agreements, contract re-openings, and other setbacks chipped away at the pattern’s strength — and auto workers’ wages, benefits and working conditions — year after year following the opening concessionary wave at Chrysler in 1979. But the basics of the script seemed to stay true with each round.

That is, until this year.

UAW international officials and staff no doubt expected that the four-year contract signed with GM in mid-October would seamlessly become the template for UAW agreements at Chrysler and Ford as per the usual pattern. But they hit tougher resistance than expected on their first try at GM and a virtual rank-and-file rebellion on the second at Chrysler.

Pattern gets broken

Though nearly identical to the GM agreement in its concessions, the Chrysler agreement lacked many of the GM’s vague “gentleman’s agreement” job security protections.

According to Bill Parker, president of UAW Local 1700 and the chair of the Chrysler bargaining committee, this omission is particularly painful for Chrysler workers, who had taken concessions negotiated at the local level in return for promises of future vehicle production.

Parker galvanized opposition when he refused to rubber stamp approval of the deal Oct. 10. Unlike the UAW’s GM and Ford departments, Chrysler members have a freer hand in electing their national bargaining committee. Parker was voted in to be a tougher voice at the negotiating table.

But Parker would have remained a lone voice if it weren’t for a host of angry active and retired Chrysler workers who lobbied their co-workers at nearly every plant gate. Hastily written, photocopied fliers were handed out by the hundreds. With headlines like “Solidarity — No Exceptions,” they slammed the agreement’s two-tier wage provisions. Another asked, “If we sell out our children, who will buy cars? Who will defend pensions?”

If UAW leaders really wanted a contract that would have been agreeable to the union’s ranks, they could have thrown out the old playbook and called from the new one being written on the shop floor by its own members.

They could have modeled actual democracy by opening up negotiations and allowing members to make their choices directly. They could have prepared members with a long contract campaign and mobilization similar to that of the Teamsters during the UPS strike of 1997.

And they could have looked beyond the bargaining table for answers to the Big Three’s crisis.
Try new playbook

Instead of agreeing to a union-run retiree health care trust, they could have used the political window opened this year to become the motor of a movement for national health care that would solve the costs borne by the struggling auto manufacturers.

Instead of rallying against tougher fuel-efficiency standards, they could have been pushing the companies to end their unpopular over-reliance on SUV and truck sales.

A playbook like that, while risky, could have provided the only way out for an ailing union that seems to have forgotten its past legacy of taking big risks, like the 1937 Flint sit-down strikes that paved the way for bigger gains for working people as a whole in this country.

Without that member-driven leadership conscious of the world around it, the closed-door UAW-Chrysler agreement looks headed for the dust bin. And a growing number of UAW members and supporters are saying, good riddance.

CHRIS KUTALIK is an editor of Labor Notes in Detroit. He can be reached at: chris@labornotes.org

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 30, 2017
Clancy Sigal
Even Grammar Bleeds
May 29, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure
Vijay Prashad
The Afghan Toll
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post’s Renewed Attack on Whistlblowers
Robert Fisk
We Must Look to the Past, Not ISIS, for the True Nature of Islam
Dean Baker
A Tax on Wall Street Trading is the Best Solution to Income Inequality
Lawrence Davidson
Reality and Its Enemies
Harry Hobbs
Australia’s Time to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Sovereignty
Ray McGovern
Will Europe Finally Rethink NATO’s Costs?
Cesar Chelala
Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul
Andrew Stewart
Xi, Trump and Geopolitics
Binoy Kampmark
The Merry Life of Dragnet Surveillance
Stephen Martin
The Silent Apartheid: Militarizing Architecture & Infrastructure
Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail