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

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
November 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Linda Pentz Gunter
A Radioactive Plume That’s Clouded in Secrecy
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Fires This Time
Nick Alexandrov
Birth of a Nation
Vijay Prashad
Puerto Rico: Ruined Infrastructure and a Refugee Crisis
Peter Montague
Men in Power Abusing Women – What a Surprise!
Kristine Mattis
Slaves and Bulldozers, Plutocrats and Widgets
Pete Dolack
Climate Summit’s Solution to Global Warming: More Talking
Mike Whitney
ISIS Last Stand; End Times for the Caliphate
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness, Part Two
James Munson
Does Censoring Undemocratic Voices Make For Better Democracy?
Brian Cloughley
The Influence of Israel on Britain
Jason Hickel
Averting the Apocalypse: Lessons From Costa Rica
Pepe Escobar
How Turkey, Iran, Russia and India are playing the New Silk Roads
Jan Oberg
Why is Google’s Eric Schmidt So Afraid?
Ezra Rosser
Pushing Back Against the Criminalization of Poverty
Kathy Kelly
The Quality of Mercy
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Gerry Brown
Myanmar Conflict: Geopolitical Food Chain
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Robert Redford’s Big Game in Nairobi
Katrina Kozarek
Venezuela’s Communes: a Great Social Achievement
Zoltan Grossman
Olympia Train Blockade Again Hits the Achilles Heel of the Fracking Industry
Binoy Kampmark
History, Law and Ratko Mladić
Tommy Raskin
Why Must We Sanction Russia?
Bob Lord
Trump’s Tax Plan Will Cost a Lot More Than Advertised
Ralph Nader
National Democratic Party – Pole Vaulting Back into Place
Julian Vigo
If Sexual Harassment and Assault Were Treated Like Terrorism
Russell Mokhiber
Still Blowing Smoke for Big Tobacco: John Boehner and College Ethics
Ted Rall
Sexual Harassment and the End of Team Politics
Anna Meyer
Your Tax Dollars are Funding GMO Propaganda
Barbara Nimri Aziz
An Alleged Communist and Prostitute in Nepal’s Grade Ten Schoolbooks!
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Graham Peebles
What Price Humanity? Systemic Injustice, Human Suffering
Kim C. Domenico
To Not Walk Away: the Challenge of Compassion in the Neoliberal World
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Giving Thanks for Our Occupation of America?
Christy Rodgers
The First Thanksgiving
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We Were Eight Years in Power”
November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
Rick Baum
While Public Education is Being Attacked: An American Federation of Teachers Petition Focuses on Maintaining a Minor Tax Break
Paul C. Bermanzohn
The As-If Society
Cole A. Turner
Go Away, Kevin Spacey
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail