Auto Workers Stand Up to Attacks
Interview with Rank-and-File Leader Gregg Shotwell
Fight Back! interviewed Gregg Shotwell, a key leader of the rank-and-file movement that is growing inside the United Auto Workers. A worker at the Delphi auto parts plant in Cooperstown, Michigan, Shotwell helped organize the mass meetings of autoworkers that took place over the past two months. These meetings led to the formation of the rank-and-file organization, Soldiers of Solidarity.
Delphi workers make auto parts for General Motors and for all practical purposes the two companies are the same. Delphi has filed for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy courts are used by many corporations – for example those of the airline industry – as a vehicle to escape union contracts, slash health benefits and gut pensions.
This rank-and-file upsurge in auto has put the heat on UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. On Dec. 30 the Wall Street Journal noted, “Growing resistance from auto workers is putting pressure on the head of the industry’s most powerful union and threatening the tenuous ties he has forged with Detroit's Big Three.”
As Fight Back! goes to press, negotiations concerning Delphi workers are continuing between the UAW and GM.
Fight Back! : General Motors and Delphi are pushing for huge concessions. What do they want from Delphi workers?
Gregg Shotwell: Cheap labor. Delphi wants to dump their obligations to retirees – pensions and health insurance – onto the taxpayers. Delphi also wants to cut our wages in half, reduce benefits, close plants and lay off workers. But it’s not just about the money. Delphi wants to break the union by imposing a contract that would make our day-to-day life in the factory miserable. Delphi does not want to honor seniority rights or human rights. For example, no excuses would be accepted for absence from work and discipline would not be grievable.
Fight Back! : Rank-and-file meetings of auto workers have drawn large numbers and the organization Soldiers of Solidarity has emerged from these mass meetings. Why such an enthusiastic response? What are the goals of Soldiers of Solidarity?
Shotwell: The enthusiasm is a direct result of two things: One, the severity of the threat and two, the lack of a strong response from the leadership of the UAW to the threat.
In the meetings we turn control over to the members. People who never had a voice before are given an opportunity to speak their minds to an attentive audience of peers. Participation is direct and energetic. It makes for an exciting atmosphere.
Our goals are simply to resist concessions and to exert rank-and-file power by involving all the members in an organized effort to assert our dignity. We are not helpless victims. We control production. We can make or break profits. We have power.
Fight Back!: A call has been made to ‘Work to Rule.’ Practically speaking what has this meant?
Shotwell: Work to Rule is a method of challenging management control by insisting that all rules – safety, production and quality standards – be observed to the letter of the law.
When we Work to Rule we stop giving the boss that extra effort that makes the difference between profit and loss. We withhold our knowledge because the bosses do not show us respect. We used to give a baker’s dozen for the price of twelve. But with Work to Rule the boss gets just what he deserves.
It’s simple. The machine stops. The boss says, “What’s wrong?” I say, “I don’t know.” He asks the job setter who replies, “I don’t know.” He asks another coworker who replies, “I don’t know.” Then we all look at the boss and he starts sweating because he really doesn’t know.
Bosses like to boss. So do them all a favor and give them lots of bossing to do. The boss will like you for it and everyone will be happy keeping labor costs down by outsourcing all decisions to the boss.
Work to Rule is safe and legal because we insist on following every rule and code in the book. We observe the high quality standards that the bosses demand. We observe all the safety procedures that the laws demand. The result is a slowdown in production but by the bosses orders, not ours. We just do what we are told, no more, no less.
Fight Back! : Do you think it will be necessary to strike against Delphi and/or GM? Why or why not?
Shotwell: The president of the UAW has stated that it appears we are on “a collision course” with Delphi. GM and Delphi are one and the same. We have to impact both companies to reach a fair agreement. I believe a strike is inevitable because GM-Delphi is determined to impose drastic wage and benefit reductions and to severely weaken our union.
If we do not fight back and resist this anti-worker agenda, I believe that all workers, not just auto workers, will suffer.
Full employment is a workable reality. A living wage is simple justice. Security in our old age is a fair reward for a life of labor. A national insurance plan that covers everyone is the only reasonable solution to the medical crisis in America. Health care is a human right.
A nation’s prosperity depends on a system of just rewards, not the degradation of the working class.