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

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It.
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail