FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Delphi Incident

by DAVID MACARAY

Salaried, white-collar, non-union employees of Delphi (the former General Motors-owned auto parts conglomerate), in Warren, Ohio, were recently treated to a bitterly cruel lesson in the benefits of belonging to a labor union.

As part of GM’s government-supervised bankruptcy, Delphi’s salaried workers were stunned to learn that a union contract trumped all that touchy-feely “team building” gibberish they’d been fed over the years.  It was revealed that, while Delphi’s union members would be receiving their full pensions, a significant percentage of Delphi’s white-collar employees would be receiving only partial ones.

Although the PBGC (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation), by law, insures company pension plans, PBCG payouts are tricky; they’re arranged in such a manner that maximum “caps,” based on complicated formulas that take into account an employee’s age and level of benefits, come into play.  Under the PBGC, older workers do far better than younger ones.  And in regard to the Delphi deal, those employees caught in the middle—in their fifties, with many years of service, but too “young” to retire—were hit the hardest.

No one on labor’s side is gloating or rejoicing.  Not only did the unions who represent the workers—United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers, International Union of Electrical Workers—not want to see Delphi’s salaried employees get shafted, the union’s legal team has offered to help recover what’s coming to them.   Which is ironic, given how unlikely it would have been for this salaried, white-collar “tribe” to have reacted similarly had the shoe been on the other foot.

Not to sound cynical, but people need to be reminded of the stark fact that “muscle,” more than any other factor, is what gets things done—even meritorious things.  Lots of stuff is capable of rousing people’s interest, but it takes muscle (or the perception of it) to close deals.  Politicians, soldiers, entertainment agents and labor union reps know this better than most.

The notion that important things get done simply because they’re the “right thing to do,” is a bit naïve.  Take the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, for instance.  While getting that legislation passed was unquestionably the “right” thing to do, it wasn’t passed on the basis of its intrinsic merits; rather, it was passed as the result of deal-making, arm-twisting, lavish promises, trade-offs, and serious threats from people with muscle.

More recently, the same dynamic was seen in the success of the so-called “surge” in Iraq.  The reason the surge worked wasn’t because America sent in more soldiers or different soldiers or better soldiers, or because we finally convinced recalcitrant Iraqis to jump on the Democracy bandwagon; rather, it worked because the U.S. offered to pay approximately 750,000 Sunni insurgents not to fight.  It worked because these hold-out Sunnis had sufficient muscle to insist that they get paid….or else.

And the “or else” was simply too gruesome for the military command to contemplate.  So the American taxpayer put these Sunni insurgents on the payroll.  And that’s how the surge succeeded.  Mind you, there’s no shame in using money to get a dirty job done.  There’s no shame in paying your way to success—paying your way to peace, paying your way to prosperity—so long as you don’t pretend that you succeeded by other, more noble means.

Which brings us to organized labor, which isn’t complicated.  Unions were formed by working people who shared a common goal; they coalesced by attracting people with similar needs and skills, people facing similar obstacles, and they flourished only when they reached a critical mass.  Simple as that.

A thousand random janitors will forever be at the mercy of a pitiless market, with the low bidder always getting hired, and wages being driven inexorably downward.  But a thousand janitors who are organized, who belong to a collective, who refuse to work for less than a decent minimum wage?  That’s another story.

The reason labor has lost so much of its influence over the last thirty years isn’t because America shifted ideological gears, or because working people suddenly decided to go it alone—decided to avoid workers’ collectives, to turn away from the most desirable, safe and well-paid jobs in the community and go with the crappy ones instead.

Rather, labor lost its influence because (1) the country abandoned its core manufacturing sectors, (2) the Republican party, led by Ronald Reagan, launched a furious attack on unions at a time when, arguably, they were most vulnerable, and (3) deregulation of trucking made it feasible for businesses to move to anti-union, right-to-work states.  All of this—coupled with the dread Rise of the Outside Contractor—resulted in labor’s membership rolls plummeting.  There were other causes, but these were the critical ones.

And with that staggering drop in membership, labor unions lost the patronage of everyone who mattered:  the politicians, the academic wonks and the media outlets who regularly courted them.  When you have the whiskers to get 200,000 workers in a major industry to walk off the job, people tend to listen to you.  Conversely, when you have nothing to back up your threats except empty saber rattling and some old press clippings, people tend to brush you off.

Thus, the Delphi incident is both a cautionary tale underscoring the importance of muscle, and an exercise in nostalgia, harking back to a time when labor unions guaranteed working people a place at the table.  And even though the “right thing to do” was to give those salaried Delphi employees the pensions they deserved, it didn’t happen.  It didn’t happen because they weren’t union members.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Tony Christini
Death by Texes (A Satire of Trump and Clinton)
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail