Your Local Could Be Next
On a Monday morning in March my boss asked me if I would like to attend a class. He didn't say, and I didn't ask, what it was about. Thinking the class was for that day only, I told him I would attend.
Within the first hour I was ready to walk out, because the instructor, appointed by the UAW International, said, "The UAW and GM have a mutual understanding that quality is a joint issue." He went on to say, "We, the UAW and GM, need to cooperate and work together to insure that we build a quality product, because quality creates customer enthusiasm."
Personally, I don't think quality is the union’s responsibility. Although I do agree that the UAW and GM need to work together to build a quality product, I don't believe they have to create a Joint Quality Network Program in order to achieve quality.
I have a problem with the UAW International and local executive boards appointing everyone involved in the UAW-GM Joint Programs like Quality Network, without any input whatsoever from the membership, because all of the appointees are selected based on nepotism and favoritism, and that fosters resentment among the membership. I also have a problem with GM having veto power over the union’s appointments.
The instructor said the class was for the whole week. I'd do almost anything to get off the line, but I will not sit through a week of brainwashing. I decided to bite my tongue until I knew for sure what the class was about, and if he continued to rant and rave about "UAW-GM Cooperation and Jointness," I'm out of here. I'm glad I kept silent, because he didn't say another word about jointness. I'm not sure, but I think he saw me shaking my head, or maybe it was the fire brewing in my eyes.
The class was a "Problem Solving Workshop." It was about solving quality problems out on the shop floor; like hood and door fit, electrical problems, and metal and paint defects. It taught you how to track the problem to its source and correct it by using observations and people contacts, while at the same time using forms, charts and graphs to monitor your progress.
Like all classes of this nature, it had its boring moments, but it also had interesting and thought-provoking ones. One such moment that motivated me to write this article was about midweek, when the class was divided into four groups. Each group was assigned an assembly plant name and a plant manager. We represented the Flint, Pontiac, Shreveport and Baltimore assembly plants.
Each plant (group) was given a list of 18 football brain teasers to solve. The first one was “$1.00 for Corn.” Substitute Buck for $1.00, Ears for Corn -- Buccaneers. Our designated plant manager appointed a member of the group to visit another plant to find out if they solved a particular brain teaser that our plant was having a problem with.
That's when it dawned on me: GM has been doing this for decades, and for good reason. If, for example, Baltimore is having problems with a particular assembly item, they network with other plants to find out if they had similar problems and if so, how did they correct it? An ingenious solution that saves time, manpower and of course, money.
Then I started thinking, why isn't the UAW using this method to improve working conditions and benefits nationwide? For example, if Flint’s local union negotiated and won better health care coverage or improved working conditions for its members, they should network what they did with other locals so they can improve their benefits or working conditions too.
If the UAW used this method of networking, the membership nationwide would be leaps and bounds ahead of where we are now as far as our benefits and working conditions are concerned. Instead we find ourselves in a downward spiral that has us out-conceding each other for “living agreements” that are subject to change without our input or approval, and little by little we are losing the very benefits and working conditions that the forefathers of the UAW and our locals literally fought for.
BLACKOUT OF ACCURIDE
Why? Because the UAW International Executive Board (IEB) favors information blackout over networking. They don't want one local knowing about the affairs of another, especially if it's not to their benefit. For instance, when they authorized Local 2036 in Kentucky to strike Accuride, a wheel manufacturing company in March of 1998, the IEB should have networked with other locals and told them not to install Accuride's wheels, because they were being made by scabs. If they had networked, the strike would have been settled in weeks.
However, the IEB chose information blackout. They decided not to tell members at the affected locals that they were installing scab wheels, and their decision dragged the strike out for almost four years.
Why did the IEB choose information blackout over networking and kill Local 2036? Because networking means they would have had to slow down or stop production at the assembly plants that handle Accuride's scab wheels, and that would have endangered the harmonious partnership they've developed with the corporations. Besides, the IEB could care less about a measly 450 workers at an Independent Parts Supplier (IPS), because they're about to recruit thousands of municipal workers just a few miles away.
Brothers and sisters, if the IEB doesn't have a problem betraying a small parts plant, you need to ask yourself, is your local next? It may be an IPS today, but what about tomorrow? Allison Transmissions? American Axle? And when their locals are busted, then who? GM, Ford, and DC assembly plants? The traitors don't care, because they've got other plans for our UAW, like recruiting hospital, college and municipal workers.
The corporations have been out to rid themselves of the UAW since the 1930's, when it infiltrated their plants and affected their profit margin and production schedules. Forming a partnership with the IEB in the early 1980's in the name of "jointness" gave them the perfect opportunity to speed up the process.
While the IEB was preoccupied with all their new joint programs and sucking up to Big Three executives on the golf course, and buying radio networks, airlines and resorts, the corporations were busy slashing and burning their way through our locals at the rate of 35,000 members a year for 20 years, without any resistance.
I say again, brothers and sisters of the UAW, we have a problem. Unfortunately the problem-solving class I'm in hasn't covered anything about how to overthrow the traitors that occupy Solidarity House.
The instructor says that on Thursday and Friday we'll be divided into two groups, and with clipboards in hand, we are to go out on the shop floor and try to solve the problem they assign us. Then it hit me like a brick wall: my being selected for this class was a scam by the UAW-GM team to discredit me.
During the next break in the class, I told the instructor my views on jointness. Then I told him, "I refuse to parade around the plant and be a part of the problem I've been complaining about in my newsletters. I'm out of here, now!" They're not going to make a hypocrite out of me.
MY FIRST DEMONSTRATION
I participated in a demonstration at Solidarity House on January 14, 2002 to protest the IEB's decision to cut off Local 2036's strike benefits. It was my first demonstration, but it felt more like a funeral. We were about to lose another local, and there was nothing we could do. It didn't have to end like this. You could feel the anger in the atmosphere, because we know who the perps are, and we know they're going to get away with it.
I believe what goes around comes around, and sooner or later they will get theirs. I will forever remember my first demonstration. It was a sad day.
I was a little disappointed in the number of people who showed up. There were about 200 of us from all over North America, and very little media coverage. Considering that there are about 60,000 UAW-represented auto workers within two hours’ drive of Detroit, 200 is a drop in the bucket.
If we are to shed some serious light on the traitors in Solidarity House and what they are doing to our union, we need national media coverage, and that's going to require thousands and thousands of demonstrators at the gates of Solidarity House, not 200.
Doug Hanscom is a member of UAW Local 239 at Baltimore GM assembly plant.