The Struggle Never Ends

There is a war going on - a War against Workers - a war fought against workers on every front, in every country, every factory, every depot, dock, and mine. Call it Lean. Call it Modular. Or just old fashion Time Study Taylorism. It all boils down to one thing - control. It’s not about money. They already have all the money. It’s about control, domination, repression; and the measure of our freedom is the strength of our resistance.

Lean Production doesn’t merely affect factory workers on the assembly line. Lean affects all workers, in all work places, all over the world. Lean affects health care workers. UAW Local 12 is a good example. One of the most vocal and articulate groups at the UAW Convention in Las Vegas last June were the health care workers from St Vincents Hospital. What did they have to talk about? Lean Production Standards in Health Care.

Hospitals are understaffed, overworked, and squeezed until the sweat runs dry. The lives of patients are threatened by lean standards of production. Nurses in Petoskey, Mi. are on strike; the longest strike nurses have ever conducted in the United States. Why? Lean. They are bargaining not only for money but “respect and empowerment for nurses to help shape patient care and conditions in the workplace.” They are protesting management’s ruthless and reckless control of health care. Their battle ground like ours is the shop floor.

There is nothing more essentially American than rebellion against the forces that conspire to control us, deny us the freedom to determine the conditions of our labor, and shackle our choices to the corporate agenda. Lean Production is the weapon of choice in the War against Workers, and union members are the troops on the front lines. We have a duty to fight back, for ourselves, for our families, for our friends and fellow workers in all occupations.

Like many other solid unionists I talk back to the boss, and I talk back to the porkchoppers of the UAW, too. I have incurred the wrath of J.T. Battenberg and I have incurred the wrath of Brother Yokich, God rest his soul.

At UAW Conventions, I have had my microphone shut off. I consider it an honor. The UAW was built by troublemakers, not ass kissers. Fellow workers often commend me for speaking up, for saying things they believe but are too cautious to say themselves. These same people tell me they don’t believe in Bush, or the war, but they are reluctant to express their opinions because they fear intimidation.

Intimidation is not an American value. The bully is not an American hero. Repression is not a respected condition in the land of the free and the home of the brave. There is nothing patriotic about silence. I have earned my right to protest. I have been working all of my life. My daddy didn’t send me to Yale. My daddy didn’t buy me an oil well. I belong only to the fraternity and sorority of the working class. I belong to the troops who built this country, who risk their lives in their daily labor and on the battlefields. How dare some elitist corporate crook or appointed International Rep question your or my loyalty to the troops or the union. We are the troops. We are the union.

You want to hear something anti American? “You can not circulate petitions without our permission.” [Officials of Local 12 told rank and file members they could not circulate petitions without permission.] I don’t care how many flags they wave, that’s anti democratic and unpatriotic. In such mouths “support the troops” becomes a tool of suppression not an act of solidarity. Suppression of democratic rights is a corporate agenda, not a union agenda.

Likewise Bush & Co want us in the name of security to sign off on the Bill of Rights. I don’t need a damn anti union Homeland Security Department. Like my friend Billy Robinson said, “I’ve got Homeland Security, it’s called the Right to Bear Arms.” Likewise, I claim my right as an American to speak my mind, to distribute Live Bait & Ammo, and to protest injustice, repression, and deceit in high places. Bush & Co want to criminalize dissent. So be it, then. I’m an outlaw.

I am here to talk about Lean Production, the War against Workers. I bring up the war in Iraq and the so-called Patriot Act because it’s all connected. It’s all about repression of dissent and an unequal distribution of labor, concessions, and sacrifices. Only workers and the children of workers will die in war. The cheerleaders of the non-working class will make no sacrifices, they will take no risks, they will only reap the rewards, the spoils of war, and the profits of Lean Production. Only corporate executives ever benefit from concessions. The demand that we shut up and fall in line behind the flag waving frat boys in the White House is the same as the demand that we give up unionism and the right to determine the conditions of our labor.

The so-called Patriot Act is anti-American, it deprives us of the rights and liberties our forbears fought and died for. Lean Production is anti-union, it deprives us of the rights our forbears fought and died for. When we give up the right to determine the conditions of our labor we become slaves. Silence in the face of injustice is not loyalty, it is not patriotism, it is the slave’s expression of shame.

What patriots love most about America is freedom. Bush and his corporate cohorts want to take it away. The war in Iraq is a smokescreen for the War against Workers. While we were focused on the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in television air, Bush & Co cut 15 billion dollars from the Veterans Benefits Fund. We have a duty to support the troops. We have a duty to watch their backs while they are overseas. Real patriots protest. Real patriots reject the Bush plan to cut taxes for his cronies while simultaneously gutting social programs that benefit the troops.

We should fight to ensure that every troop be welcomed home to a job with a Living Wage and a Union that will defend his and her rights, not for a day, not for a week, not for a month, but forever.

What’s the difference between Lean Production, and cutting funds for social programs, which in effect reduces educators, firefighters, police officers, health care providers, and social workers while giving tax cut bonuses to the rich? The Bush plan for America is lean and mean. There are 4,000 less police officers in NYC than there were two years ago. That’s not Homeland Security, it’s Lean Production Standards applied to social programs that benefit working people.

I have yet to meet a lineworker who believed that Lean Production was intended to empower workers. I have yet to meet an American who truly believes that the war in Iraq was motivated by Bush’s desire for freedom and democracy. The war in Iraq like Lean Production is a corporate hostile takeover. Soldiers, the production workers of war, “risk their lives,” as Vietnam veteran and anti war protester, Dennis Serdel, said, “as part of their job description”. Yet Bush threatened to veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the House and Senate did not eliminate full pension benefits for disabled veterans. The question is not whether we support the troops but whether Bush supports the troops in all ways, at all times, in all places.

Will Bush support the troops when they are back home working on the assembly line? Or will he support the export of more manufacturing jobs to China? 55,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam to stop the spread of Communism. Now Communist China is our most favored trading partner. Is that loyalty to the troops? The communists are building the Buicks that were once built in Flint. Two million manufacturing jobs have been jettisoned from America since Bush was appointed. Will our nation be safer when the exodus of good union jobs is complete?

Will Bush support the troops when they apply for a job in the Department of Homeland Security? Or will that returning veteran find that Bush thinks a union member can’t be trusted to work in the Department of Homeland Security? And that if he or she wants the job, they will have to sacrifice freedom of assembly, association, and speech?

There’s a big difference between supporting the troops and supporting those who profit from the troops. Bush only supports the troops who live off Unearned Income. We know whose side we’re on. We should ask ourselves: Will our children be better off than we are? Will our children be able to find good union jobs? Affordable homes and health care? Or do we feel the American Dream has been betrayed?

The American Dream was not pie in the sky. It was anchored in solid values. You work hard, live honestly and modestly, you save your money, and you will retire with dignity. That is, until the corporate crooks cashed in a trillion dollars worth of stock options just before the bubble burst. That is, until Bush & Co buried our children in a slag heap of debt, looted the Treasury, and sold out the industrial base of our nation. Where will our children find jobs outside the military after the corporate flag wavers have shipped all our jobs overseas? All the money saved by concessionary contracts and Lean Production was invested in foreign countries. That’s how the loyal elites support the troops.

Lean is not simply a method of controlling the shop floor and reorganizing work in order to eliminate jobs, multiply tasks, combine classifications and trades, and render seniority obsolete. Lean is a master plan to destroy working class solidarity and collective action by decimating union shops into smaller and more manageable groups. Piece by piece, bit by bit, work is stripped from the bargaining unit, outsourced and subcontracted to smaller, more manageable, non-union outfits.

Some non-union suppliers are so enamored of the process they are coming to the UAW Cooperation Caucus like johns to a pimp asking to be organized. If a company wants a piece of the action, they agree to be neutral in an organizing drive. In turn the Cooperation Caucus agrees not to interfere in the lean process of restructuring the workforce by disassembling the assembly plant into multiple components and sub-assemblies that can be readily outsourced to suppliers who pay lower wages. Cooperation with Lean Production is in effect a union organized wage cut.

While our jobs are going out the door, while our pensions are looted, while our union leaders capitulate, and social programs including Veterans Benefits are gutted, we must ask ourselves: What does it mean to support the troops?

The corporations are not the troops. The bosses are not the troops. The television generals are not the troops. President Bush is sure as hell not one of the troops. The troops are workers. The bastards in Congress who cut Veterans Benefits in the midst of war do not deserve our support, they deserve to be fragged. What have they ever done for us? What have they ever given us that we didn’t have to fight for? That our brothers and sisters didn’t die for in trenches or on picket lines?

I say, support the troops in all ways, at all times, in all places by resisting the attack on workers called Lean Production. What can we do to stop the attack on workers? What can we do to stop the outsourcing and sub contracting of our jobs? That’s the turf we need to defend.

Warren Davis, elected Director of Region 2, proposed an outsourcing resolution which stipulated that subcontractors be required to meet “the economic conditions, including wages and benefits, provided in contracts between the UAW and the Big Three.” It would have effectively snuffed the motivation to outsource our work to low wage non union suppliers.

His resolution didn’t jibe with the union/management partnership scheme. The decision to dissolve Region 2 and deprive Warren Davis of his position as Director was not an honest effort to protect the integrity of the UAW anymore than the war in Iraq is about freedom and democracy. It’s about control. Davis was breaking ranks and the Cooperation Caucus had to exert control.

As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention I called for a point of order. I objected to the amendment to dissolve Region 2. Amendments are supposed to be submitted at least three weeks prior to the convention. I asserted that the amendment was untimely, improper, and should be rescinded.

The Public Review Board refused to hear Warren Davis’s appeal. They excused themselves by saying it was a political issue. “Nothing in the Ethical Practices Codes prohibits such political maneuvers.” Isn’t that interesting? The PRB has ruled that ethics do not apply to politics in the UAW. The distinguished professors pulled a political maneuver of their own by supporting the Administration’s abuse of power, and abdicating their responsibility. The PRB asserted that Davis needed to appeal directly to the membership but they did not acknowledge evidence that Yokich refused to recognize Davis when he attempted to address the convention.

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The PRB disclosed in case #1441: “When news of Davis’ election reached the other members of the Administration Caucus, they called a meeting at which time a proposal was drafted to amend Article 10, §21, of the Constitution to eliminate Region 2 by merging its constituent local unions into Regions 2-B, 8 and 9. Davis was not present at the meeting of the Caucus.”

Only the Constitution Committee has the authority to originate amendments to the constitution during the convention. [Article 8 Sec 16]. Thus the PRB inadvertently presented documented evidence the amendment did not originate in the Constitution Committee, it originated in the Administration Caucus, and was therefore, untimely, unconstitutional, and violated Robert’s Rules of Order.

When I stood up at the convention and made my point of order -- my protest against the amendment -- I was ridiculed by Yokich, and the lapdogs on the convention floor laughed.

It’s easy to give agreeable speeches and praise the administration. It’s easy to praise power. But when you exercise your freedom of speech by challenging the administration, by circulating a petition, by speaking truth to power, that is the measure of your integrity. A true patriot protests injustice. True patriots don’t turn their backs on the troops and support the Bush plan to gut veteran benefits, and attack social programs that support the troops in the fields, and the troops in the factories, docks, mines, hospitals, and unemployment lines. A true patriot supports the troops that make America work at all times, in all places, in all ways. Not just when it’s easy, and safe.

What can we do to save jobs, good union jobs? What can we do to preserve our right to determine the conditions of our labor?

In an effort to emasculate the union and severe the bonds of solidarity that unite us, the corporations have divided us into separate fiefdoms. Saturn has a separate contract. Nummi has a separate contract. Jeep has a separate contract. Delphi, Visteon, and American Axle were spun off, and separated from the herd. Components and subassemblies have been outsourced in a wholesale effort to divide the union. The UAW Cooperation Caucus has in partnership with the companies colluded to divide and subdivide us into smaller bargaining units that are set up to compete with one another. Every Independent Parts Supplier has a separate contract.

At the Constitutional Convention, when I advocated for a National Pattern Contract for IPS, Yokich cut the mic. Walter Reuther said, “We must take labor out of competition.” But in the UAW Cooperation Caucus, competition is the name of the game. To preserve good union jobs and the dignity of working people, to control the conditions of our labor, we must follow Reuther’s lead and take labor out of the competition by uniting all union members in an all out effort against the War on Workers.

Can you imagine a National Strike by all autoworkers? We would bring the economy to halt. We would bring Wall St. to its knees. Why don’t we have a national strike? Who’s stopping us? Bruce Allen, a Canadian Autoworker, said that union bureaucrats are managements’ second to last line of defense against the workers. The last line of defense is, of course, the police and the National Guard. When Brother Mark Farris, tried to give a speech at the Bargaining Convention advocating a National Strike, UAW Vice President, George Bantom, cut the mic. The Cooperation Caucus doesn’t want us to realize the power of a national strike. Besides, they skim 75% of the interest off our strike fund for living expenses. They are not about to dip into that kitty.

Where is the advantage in negotiating with a multinational corporation separately? What is the advantage of isolation for a Local Union when the corporation utilizes the multifaceted resources of its multinational power? How effective will a strike at Jeep be if Daimler/Chrysler is working full production at all its other assembly plants? Who has the advantage when Locals compete with one another to offer management the leanest Living Agreement? Why does the Cooperation Caucus go along with management’s divide and conquer scheme? Is it partnership, or is it collusion? Why bother going on strike if you support the Bush Administration in its War on Workers?

I’ve heard that Nate Gooden said you will not be part of the Daimler/Chrysler National contract. Why not? Is that for him to decide? Or is it for the members of the UAW to decide? Do you support the troops who are fighting for freedom and democracy in the UAW, or do you support the appointed staff that comprises the Cooperation Caucus? If you are a part of the Daimler/Chrysler, how is it that Nate Gooden can cut you from the herd, isolate you, keep you from being organized with your brothers and sisters? You are separate, but are you equal?

I hear Jeep is the flagship of Daimler/Chrysler right now. They want to hold you up as a shining example. They want to put you in competition with brothers and sisters in other plants. Is that a union value? No, it’s the competitive corporate agenda. It works for the company, not the union, not the real union. They call you the flagship. Today they put you on a pedestal. Beware the pedestal. Tomorrow, they will use the pedestal for target practice. The corporations have no loyalty to the troops.

What happens when Jeep like every other model of car or truck eventually goes out of style? What happens to your pension and benefits then? Will Nate Gooden rally the troops to your cause? How did the Cooperation Caucus support the troops of Local 2036 in Henderson, Ky when Accuride locked them out? Did they rally the troops? No. The Cutthroat Caucus cut their strike benefits and health insurance. The only security is in solidarity with the troops, the union troops, not the union generals. Soldiers, the production workers of war, know what solidarity is. Who do soldiers depend on in the battlefield? Who do they trust to cover their backs? The troop right next to them. (How would you like to share a foxhole with George Bush?) What happens when refurbishing the plant is no longer cost effective? Will you be allowed to transfer to another D/C plant? Maybe, maybe not. GM workers sacrificed all their GM seniority when they transferred to Saturn.

Yet Saturn is a division of GM. Separate but not quite equal. Some Saturn employees were allowed to transfer back to GM when Saturn wanted to downsize, but it was the company’s prerogative, and they did not retain their seniority. They got screwed coming and going. The company and the Cooperation Caucus call it partnership. Union members on the shop floor call it double penetration. And it hurts.

In the next contract we will be offered monetary incentives. Don’t be fooled. It’s not about the money. It’s about control. That’s why they throw money at us. Here’s a signing bonus, here’s profit sharing, have a raise. Don’t worry about the job cuts, it won’t hurt you personally. It will all be done through attrition, an interesting word: Attrition.

Webster defines attrition as: “A rubbing away or wearing down by friction; A gradual lessening in number or strength due to constant stress; Repentance for sin motivated by fear of punishment rather than by love of God; A gradual reduction in membership or personnel as through retirement.” A Lean contract is not about the money. It’s about control. It’s about wearing us down. It’s about a gradual lessening in number and strength due to constant stress and fear of punishment. It’s about breaking the union and selling out the troops.

While we are transfixed with dollar signs and over time, the companies are breaking up the union and decimating solidarity. Breaking us down, piece by piece, bit by bit, job by job. Once those jobs leave the bargaining unit, they are gone forever. The strength of the union as a unified force committed to solidarity is of paramount importance to our security as a working class.

Your pension is only as secure as the membership you leave behind. Do you think Bush & Co will protect your pension? Do you think Bush & Co will send in the National Guard when the corporate crooks are looting our pensions? If the membership is divided and dependent on management to set the agenda and determine the conditions of their labor, we are all at risk. Management tells us they can’t afford the “legacy costs” of pensions because they have more retirees than active employees. Why is that? Attrition. Lean Production.

Our security depends on how we answer the challenge of Lean Production, how well and how strong we rebel against the War on Workers. If Management is allowed to destroy unions and determine the conditions of our labor in factories, schools, hospitals, and other workplaces; if Management is allowed to continuously lower wages, cut benefits, rob pension funds, and force workers to slave harder and faster and longer, while rewarding themselves with bonuses, stock options, tax havens in Bermuda, and gold plated stocking stuffers; our future and the future of our children is at risk.

If you want to support the troops then make the next contract a fight for union jobs and the right to control the conditions of our labor. If you want to support the troops then defend the right to work for a Living Wage and the Right to Organize a union that isn’t in partnership with the company.

Real Homeland Security means Full Employment, a Living Wage, Medicare for All Ages, Prescription Drug Benefits, Dignity in Retirement, the Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively without threats and intimidation, and a public school system that invests more money in our children than the Pentagon squanders supplying ruthless dictators with weapons of mass destruction.

Who will support the troops? Who will defend the rights of workers, the troops overseas and the troops on the assembly lines and hospitals? Who will support our American values: freedom, democracy, and that most authentic of American traditions, rebellion against authority? What does solidarity mean if not resistance against the forces who conspire to control the conditions of our labor?

Do you think Bush, the first appointed president of the United States will defend the rights of workers? Do you think CEOs who have been looting America will defend the rights of workers? Do you think politicians who stabbed the troops in the back will support the rights of workers? Do you believe there is any safety in partnership with the company? If union members don’t stand up, speak out, and rebel against Lean Production, the War on Workers, if we don’t fight the good fight, no one will.

Negotiations are beginning. Do you want to go it alone? Or do you want to be united with your brothers and sisters in the UAW? Generate a discussion of the pros and cons. Isolation or solidarity? Circulate petitions. Write to other locals. Meet with members of other locals. Ask them, if they would like Jeep to be part of the national contract, or part of the competition. Ask them for support in your drive to become part of the national agreement, if that’s what you decide. In any case, raise the level of the debate. Exercise your freedom of speech.

Fight for real Homeland Security. Support the troops by stopping the attack on social programs for working people. Demand that cuts in veterans benefits be restored. Act like a true patriot, rebel. Rebel against the War on Workers. Confront injustice and deceit wherever you see it, from the shop floor to the top floor, rebel.

Rebel against Lean Production.

Rebel against company/union partnership.

The strength of our freedom will be measured by our power to determine the conditions of our labor.

Rebel, because justice isn’t silent and the struggle never ends.

Gregg Shotwell is a member of UAW Local 2151.