Autoworkers Under the Gun

Autoworkers Under the Gun
Click on the cover to purchase a copy of Autoworkers Under the Gun

Thursday, September 12, 2013


He wanted to be
a working class hero
not the fucking peasant
John Lennon sang about.
He left the university
went straight to the rank and file,
learned to smile with a snarl,
and conceal his knowledge
of Marx & Mao.
He was pragmatic.
He absorbed the grit and grease
cut the dialectical edge
with obscenity.
He was gambling on the glory
of a revolutionary day.
He worked the crowd,
ridiculed bureaucracy,
fought the boss,
and got elected to a union job.
It wasn’t long before
he impressed the International.
They knew they could use
a man like him,
someone who combined
ideal words
with a predator’s instincts.
He joined the gang at
Solidarity House
where the office rats
were afraid
to fight, afraid
to lose, afraid they’d be out
on the street
So they devised
the Modern Operating Agreement
for the rank & file
to abide
as if
it were a passing style.
Then encouraged cooperation,
and trumpeted partnership
as year by year
the membership
was laid off,
sold off,
bought off,
spun off,
while the office rats
at Sold Our Dignity House
played golf
with the boss,
padded their cushions,
and feathered their pensions.
He still thought of himself
as progressive if not
When he drove his Crown Vic
through  pickets
at the gates of
Solidarity Heaven
he donated a buck
to the cause.
But he had the ex
to think of, a second family,
kids in college, the house
on the lake, and his retirement.
He couldn’t forsake
it all for a cause.
Besides, they were just
fucking peasants
as far
as he could see.

Gregg Shotwell

Monday, September 2, 2013

Down in Toyota

(dedicated to unjustly fired volunteer union organizers, Noel Riddell and Manuel Eades)

Good engineering
makes assembly quicker.
Yeah, high tech is good,
but people are cheaper,
down in Toyota,
Toyota town, Kentucky.

They use people up
and dump'em when they’re done.
There's a whole lot more
where them people come from,
down in Toyota,
Toyota town, Kentucky.

They wear'em out so
fast may as well hire temps.
Never be bothered
by no long commitments,
down in Toyota,
Toyota town, Kentucky.

The best process, they
say, is user friendly.
But who thinks future?
Everyone's temporary,
down in Toyota,
Toyota town, Kentucky.

Big money to be
made in the Bluegrass State.
Expectation's low
and a promise is bait,
down in Toyota,
Toyota town, Kentucky.

Don't need no robots
to work the factory floors.
Work ya' till they hurt
ya' then throw ya' outdoors,
down in Toyota,
Toyota town, Kentucky.

A workplace don't need
any democracy.
Too messy, they say, 
and the union's a waste,
down in Toyota,
Toyota town, Kentucky.

Good engineering
makes assembly quicker.
Yeah, high tech is good,
but people are cheaper,
down in Toyota,
Toyota town, Kentucky.

Gregg Shotwell

Tear the Gallows Down


Tear the Gallows Down: Live Bait & Ammo #174

Last September active and retired autoworkers gathered in the basement of an old church in a Detroit neighborhood that defied the three hallmarks of creative capitalism: Destitution, Dereliction, Demolition.
Judy Wraight, a UAW retiree, asked the group, "Is there anyone here who doesn't hurt?"
"Doesn't hurt?" a voice reiterated.
Young and old autoworkers looked around but not a single arm was raised. Pain was our common bond.
It's not difficult to identify the problem. In a capitalist society workers are worth less than widgets. They work us until we're worn out and then they replace us.
In the United States we don't have a jobs program to remedy the dilemma caused by automation, recession, and a catastrophic offshoring policy endorsed by the legislative arms of both political parties. Our government doesn't hire more workers when times are hard, they fire workers.
We have the political will to export jobs and bailout profligate investors, but we don't have the political will to create jobs and retrain workers because in an advanced capitalist society labor is obsolete.
The unemployed are an aberrant statistic ignored like inner city slums; dumped like raw sewage into rivers of oblivious contentment; insinuated into the promise of free enterprise like clear cut forests; swept under the rug of consumer unconsciousness like mountain top removal.
Advanced capitalist societies despise workers. It's not difficult to identify the problem. They don't need us anymore. When humans are replaced with machines workers are relegated to the scrap heap instead of the university. Which brings us back to the subject of pain.
Pain is educational. Pain motivates. Pain demands change. But the solution is difficult to identify because we don't have a solid example of an alternative economic system. Theories don't inspire workers, but urgent need demands that we organize as an antidote to hardship and pain.
The UAW strategy of company union partnership and contract concessions has not only failed to preserve membership and improve workers' lives, it undermines the union's ability to organize. UAW President Bob King's obsession with cooperation and contract concessions has piloted a once great union into a death spiral.
Bob King expresses a desire to organize like a southern belle at a July tea. His aspiration has all the gusto of a coy sigh for good reason: business. The UAW's cozy relationship with bosses and union contracts that mirror nonunion conditions delivers the fated promise of organizing on a gurney labeled Dead On Arrival.
Dawn Azok, a statewide industry reporter for Alabama Media Group wrote: "Key issues among employees supporting the effort [to organize] are the desire for a better pension plan, as well as more say in work-scheduling and ergonomics issues . . . "
In a follow up article about the Mercedes plant Ms. Azok wrote: "What used to be regular raises have turned into lump sum payments that are far less lucrative than the pay bumps, they say, and company policies are implemented inconsistently throughout the plant, resulting in a "buddy-buddy" system that's unfair to the average worker . . . Meanwhile, the plant has increasingly turned to temporary workers."  Sound familiar?   
It should. UAW contracts have eliminated everything these potential union members at Mercedes in Alabama want: from pensions, to raises, to a say in "work-scheduling." UAW office rats endorse the abuse of temps. We also have the "buddy-buddy" system, whereby UAW members are appointed to work side by side with bosses to implement speed-ups while the International UAW is reimbursed for salaries and expenses by the corporations.
Auto workers need a union all right, but not one like the present UAW. Some union reformers advocate that members should submit an amendment at the next UAW Constitutional Convention that would permit direct election of International Executive Board members. That's like asking the executioner for a cigarette. Sure. He'll even give you one of your own brand since he confiscated your pack. Then he'll give you a light off the Zippo you inherited from your father.    
One member, one vote is a common sense idea. I've used it myself as a visual aid of what should be, but the presumption that the UAW administration will allow such an amendment at the next Con Con is gallows humor.
In 1998 when there was still a remnant of the UAW dissident caucus, New Directions, three delegates, Tom Manion, Gene Austin, and Martin Stuetzer, managed to get a referendum vote on the floor of the convention by subterfuge. The administration proposed an amendment to add a Vice President of Organizing to the International Executive Board. Manion, Austin, and Stuetzer utilized debate on the amendment to finagle a vote for direct elections of International Executive officers. It was a noble effort by Manion, Austin, and Stuetzer, but President Yokich set them up for ridicule. Yokich allowed a hand vote which failed so overwhelmingly that he didn't bother to count.  (pages 121-124, 32nd Constitutional Convention Proceedings, 1998)
The amendment for one member one vote is submitted to every UAW Constitutional Convention but it hasn't seen the light of a debate since 1998 because the administration controls the show.
I don't doubt that most UAW members are in favor of direct elections, but the atmosphere at a UAW Convention is too intimidating. UAW members won't achieve direct secret ballot elections for all union officers until there is a significant uprising of the rank and file.    
Furthermore, the integrity of an election for international officers wouldn't pass the sniff test until jointness—the payoff of UAW officers by corporations through the conduit of phony nonprofits—is outlawed. And the "Flower Fund"—an unregulated slush pool to which all international appointees are forced to donate or lose their jobs—is buried beneath the compost pile of King Bob's broken promises to the rank and file.
I don't believe the UAW can be reformed from within any more than I believe a cigarette from the executioner is a sign of respect. The request only confirms the hangman's power over the condemned.
When the transplants get organized, they will be organized from within by workers independent from the UAW and unreliant on the government. Likewise, the UAW will be reformed, or re-formed, by rank and file workers independent from and in opposition to the bureaucracy by direct action not appeals to hierarchy.    
As second tier workers become the dominant demographic in the UAW, the Flower Fund toadies will lose influence. Second tier workers don't wear golden handcuffs. Without pension and health insurance to look forward to in retirement, they're free to start over. The only barricade they need to crash is the pattern of learned helplessness fostered by voting to replace the hangman. When they realize that voting won't change the corrupt system, they will tear the gallows down.

Gregg Shotwell

Wanted: Outspoken UAW Members
Autoworker Caravan Speakout
Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013: 2pm— at St. John the Baptist Church,
2371 Woodstock Dr., Detroit, MI
(Just south of Eight Mile at Woodward)   

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Tall Order from a Tall Union Man

I told myself I was done kicking dead horses, sleeping giants, and inanimate movements. And then Right To Work For Less came to Michigan like a fiery cross staked in front of my house. This isn't someone else's fight in someone else's yard. These are my people. This is my turf.

At the capitol in Lansing, Michigan the day Right To Work For Less was signed into law, thousands of union staffers working on the clock, and local union officers collecting "lost time" wage reimbursements chanted, "Veto! Veto!" As if the governor who invented the Emergency Manager law to overthrow democratically elected city councils and revoke labor contracts would decide that Right to Work For Less wasn't fair. They may as well have waved feathers at birds and blown smoke rings at clouds.

Laid off construction workers in hard hats milled on the capitol lawn like cattle agitated by the smell of blood. They'd already felt the prod of too few jobs and nonunion wages. Retirees like myself flocked from all over the state scared shitless by the realization: we aren't safe, we're next. We know we are only as secure as the members we left behind on the front lines of the class war.

Bob King, the president of the UAW, told Crain's Automotive News that Right To Work For Less was not a threat to the UAW because his members are loyal to the union. The lackeys he appointed are loyal to the King and, yes sir, that's all he hears. The rumble from the shop floor doesn't penetrate his royal ears.

I wonder when King last walked the floor of an auto plant where new hires don't have to wait for Right To Work For Less to (1) cut their wages (2) deprive them of a pension (3) eliminate overtime pay with alternative work schedules that erase weekends and instigate sleep deprivation (4) enforce work rules that double down on repetitive stress (5) set break time shorter than a cop's warning (6) inform workers who demand a grievance, 'You're lucky to have a job.'

When was the last time King Bob had less than ten minutes to eat, drink, and ease the aches before he had to get back to bend-lift-twist-and-crank fifty-seven seconds out of every micro-monitored minute?

There's a whole generation of workers who've already been there (a workplace ruled by tyrants) and done that (gave up on a union that enforces company policy) and they, not the bureaucrats and their academic sidekicks, are the building blocks of the new labor movement. Ready or not, two tier is stalking the house of labor and UAW officers are hovering near the exit signs like shoplifters with shifty eyes, weak alibis, and pockets full of hot merchandise. 

Hell, everything we are supposed to fear from Right To Work For Less has been a UAW program since the International embraced the corporate agenda —competition between workers and cooperation with bosses— thirty years ago.

Bob King told Crain's Automotive News that "90 percent of UAW-represented autoworkers in right-to-work states have chosen to stay in the union."

I'm not a statistician but I do know my autoworkers and I do check my sources.

It's true. At factories in Right To Work For Less states where the majority of UAW members transferred from plants up north with the golden handcuffs of top tier wages and pensions very few workers pull their cards. Even in Shreveport, Louisiana where there was a higher percentage of local workers hired than at most of GM's southern plants most workers stayed with the UAW.

Kevin Grace who retired from the GM Shreveport plant did choose to leave the UAW. Grace left largely for political reasons. He identifies himself as a Libertarian. Grace didn't suffer any repercussions. Federal law requires nonunion members to have the same level of representation as union members. Though many people agreed with Grace and admired his stand, very few according to him chose to withdraw from the UAW. "Most people don't like not belonging to a club," Grace said. "They don't believe in getting something for nothing. So they stay even if they don't agree with the politics."

But at the Freightliner plant in Cleveland, North Carolina where the International UAW supported the company when Freightliner fired the bargaining committee, and subsequent contracts dealt management a handful of aces, it's another story.

Franklin Torrence, a former union officer at Freightliner, told me that membership varies from 65 percent to 75 percent. "The number shifts" Torrence said. "It increases before  contract negotiations and then decreases when members are dissatisfied."

After an election the losing faction pull their cards. If a worker isn't satisfied with the way a grievance is handled, he withdraws from the union and files a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB is more likely to help a nonunion worker who claims discrimination and who isn't obligated to "exhaust internal union remedies."

Sometimes, it's just the money. Prior to a bonus, members who want to save on dues cancel their membership. Second tier workers may begrudge every bite out of a check that won't stretch from payday to payday. Who's to blame for their resentment? The way they see it, the company and the union both are responsible for their second class status.

There's only one way to overcome anti-union laws and belligerent bosses. Everyone knows what it is and the class of people who live off unearned income do everything in their power to decimate it.

Panic pushers insist there is a conspiracy to disarm American citizens. While we oil our rifles and finger our bullets like worry beads, thieves disguised in suits and ties disable our earning power, devalue our homes, destroy our unions, and transfer the accumulated wealth of our labor overseas. Indeed there is a conspiracy, and the warning reverberates like a diddley bow strung between unemployment and debt, illness and bankruptcy, the prison and the mission.  

Americans aren't controlled by automatic weapons and tanks. We are controlled by fear, by clamors of "fiscal cliff" echoing like foghorns in our sleep. We react like dogs barking furiously to defend the patch of dirt we're chained to.

The kettle of vultures that advocate a bunker mentality raze, ridicule, and undermine the only genuine security humans have ever known — community, fellowship, solidarity.

We really have our work cut out for us. It's tempting to express anger against a company dominated union by not paying dues. One might hope withholding dues would make the office rats accountable. Such reasoning overestimates their work ethic and underestimates the lucrative flow of kickbacks legally defined as joint funds. It pays to sleep with the boss. In a capitalist country the matrimony of labor and management is blessed and the dowry is filed as a tax deductible business expense.

Bob King in an editorial titled "The Lesson of Freightliner" declared that "success comes from strong partnerships between labor and management."  If King's message sounds like Right To Work For Less sweet-talk, that's because it comes from the same playbook.

King, the son of a Ford industrial relations director, didn't mention that in 2007 the International UAW aided and abetted Freightliner in securing the termination of local union officers for calling a strike in response to management's declaration that "there would be no contract extension."  As a result the Good Friday holiday was cancelled and workers were required to work for straight time.

Every union person worth the steel in the toes of their boots knows that you don't work without a contract. Hell, even CEOs won't work without a contract. Try telling a supplier that the contract is canceled and see how many parts you get on Monday. Any self respecting bargaining committee would call for a strike.

In arbitration hearings International UAW officers under the leadership of UAW Vice President General Holifield "testified as witnesses for the company."  Now retired International UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and Nate Gooden, an International UAW Vice President now deceased, had made a secret agreement with the corporation prior to local negotiations. Freightliner acted on good faith that the game was rigged. The bet paid off. Five local union officers were terminated. Two survived the lynching.

Franklin Torrence is one of two local union officers who retained their jobs through arbitration. Three of the original Freightliner Five were fired. In light of this betrayal by the International UAW I asked Brother Franklin why he continued to be a member of the UAW and pay dues in a Right To Work For Less state.

"I take the good along with the bad because I believe in the labor movement,"  Torrence said.

If faith is the sword which cleaves the wheat from the chaff, herein lies the hilt and heft which enables a man like Franklin Torrence to keep his eyes on the prize in the midst of treachery, adversity, and injustice. He doesn't believe in the institution and its legions of office rats, he believes in the movement. Or to paraphrase Mark Twain: Loyalty to my fellow workers always. Loyalty to union officers when they deserve it.

What should we do when Right To Work For Less comes to our state or a union president gets in bed with the boss?

First and foremost, we must speak the truth. It doesn't help to pretend the institution of Labor isn't infected with opportunists who claim we can cure the afflictions of capitalism with a heavier dose of capitalism. No matter what King Bob and his ilk say, pitting workers against workers to reduce wages and foster inhuman working conditions is the agenda of the bosses not the labor movement. Competition between workers is a symptom of the disease not the cure.

A union is forged in trust and camaraderie. If a union stands for anything other than fellowship between workers, it's probably a front for a commercial enterprise. Working with someone who collects the benefits of a union contract but doesn't pay dues is like working with a scab. It must leave a bad taste in one's mouth and that poison is the boss's intention.

In the early nineties at the former GM Saturn plant in Tennessee the names of workers who pulled their cards were published in a "Hall of Shame" section of a union newsletter. It should come as no surprise that the company was footing the bill for printing the newsletter and the majority of workers who pulled their cards were angry at the bargaining chairman. The "Hall of Shame" scheme didn't win any hearts and minds but the boss had an ace in the hole. 

After the UAW lost a long bitter strike against Caterpillar, union members, as part of the new contract, had to go back to work with scabs. I asked George Cornwell, a veteran in the struggle against Caterpillar and a Blue Shirt from UAW Local 974, "How does one deal with a scab?"

"You get close to him," George said. "You're at his side all the time. You go to break with him. You go to lunch with him. You become his best friend because as soon as you abandon him the boss will take your place."

That's a tall order from a tall union man but fellowship, not animosity, is what it takes to build a labor movement that can thumb its nose at Right To Work For Less and scour the carpetbaggers from the halls of Solidarity House. 

Gregg Shotwell

Retired UAW member and author of Autoworkers Under the Gun from Haymarket Press

Sunday, October 21, 2012


The Gift of the True Organizer

In 2003 when I was researching work to rule —a process by which workers slow down production, drive up costs, and thereby leverage negotiations— I called Dave Yettaw. Dave, a retired auto worker and former president from Flint UAW Local 599 was an old hand and a trusted advisor. Dave told me that I should call Jerry Tucker which to me was like saying, 'If you want to learn about song writing you should call Bob Dylan.'
Jerry Tucker was the most notorious living organizer of work to rule actions in the United States. The 1991 version of A Troublemakers' Handbook by Dan LaBotz included a chapter which described Tucker's success with work to rule techniques at four different companies. Tucker was using work to rule to negotiate gains for workers at a time when the UAW was rolling backwards faster than a gerbil wheel.

Dave gave me Jerry's number. I got up the nerve to call and Jerry generously gave me a personal tutorial. It was the beginning of a friendship I will always treasure.

In the worst of times Jerry was there for me. I am not alone in this regard. That’s who he was. Jerry never told me what to do, but after talking with him I felt I knew what I had to do next. That’s the gift of a true organizer. It's because of such gifts that organizing will never die.

Jerry Tucker passed away October 19, 2012. When I got the call I expected to hear Jerry's voice. I am not ashamed to say that when his daughter Tracy told me the news I dropped to my knees and cried. I am not used to feeling so vulnerable. Even in death he had another lesson for me. Whatever strength I may possess is dependent on other people.

Jerry's passion for organizing was driven by his love and respect for fellow workers. If he was in it for the money, he would have kept his mouth shut. In 1986 when UAW members —frustrated by concession contracts, union cooperation with management, and lackluster leadership— asked Tucker to run for Regional Director in upcoming union elections, Jerry understood the personal risks.

A challenge to the reigning director could cost him his career in the UAW, lucrative salary and benefits, and a cushy retirement. At the time Tucker was the assistant Regional Director. If he followed protocol, he would inherit the position. Given his talents and experience, it was likely he could expect further advancement in the bureaucratic hierarchy.  Protocol was the safe bet.

Tucker weighed the risk and came down on the side of his principles. It was, he told me, the choice he could live with. Fortunately, his wife Elaine is a woman who could live with a man most mothers of three children would call reckless and foolish. Without Elaine Jerry Tucker wouldn't amount to a footnote and Jerry was the first to admit it.

Tucker won the election after a federal court ordered a rerun based on evidence of the ruling administration's shenanigans. The victory cost him his career in the UAW but not his vocation as an organizer or his reputation. He went on to organize union struggles such as Stalely, a corn processing plant in Decatur, Illinois, where a sugar conglomerate, Tate & Lyle, was determined to break the union. 

Tucker charged the members of the local union at Staley a hundred dollars for each day he spent on location. All expenses were on his own dime. Decatur is 120 miles from Jerry's home in St. Louis. I think it's fair to say it was a labor of love without mitigating the biblical weight of the phrase. He drove that long, hard road for forty months and left behind a struggle that organizers will draw lessons from for decades.

One of the hallmark's of Tucker's leadership in the UAW was the New Directions Movement. He was in his own words one of many cofounders of the New Directions Movement. Of the many he was the most prominent and the one who paid the heaviest price for challenging the UAW hierarchy's backflip into corporate model unionism.

Jerry Tucker was a tower of conviction, a welder's jewel of commitment, and a man whose charisma was grounded in humility. He began with the premise that the rank and file knew the answers, not him.

Like many who knew him I felt that Jerry Tucker was a great man. I didn't feel that I deserved his attention yet he always treated me as if my needs were more important than his time. He conferred his dignity upon me and I left our conversation a better, stronger person. I am not unique. Jerry treated every working person with the same regard. Such is the gift of the true organizer. He uncovered leaders among the followers.

May his wife, Elaine, his daughters, Nicole, Tracy, and Cynthia, and all of us who follow in his footsteps forever remember his most constant invocation, "Carry on! Carry on!"

Saturday, August 4, 2012

 The World is in their Care is available at Partisan Press

This single issue poem is a tribute to workers in times when workers are under attack
more fiercely than at any time in our history.

Cheaper than a greeting card!
Send them to your friends on Labor Day!
Buy one for $3
For bulk order pricing contact Partisan Press at

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Defend the Right to Strike

Bob "No Strike" King, the president of the UAW, is leading the charge for a Constitutional amendment to protect collective bargaining in Michigan. My guess is that King is angling for an appointment from Governor Snyder. A spot on the bench, hell, even the Michigan Supreme Court is not improbable if this Constitutional con job passes muster. After all, King went to law school while he worked as an apprentice at Ford.

If you've ever been an apprentice, you know that King either bullshitted his way through law school or bullshitted his way through apprenticeship. If you're a lawyer, you know he bullshitted both ends against the middle and played the UAW like a devil's fiddle. We know damn well whose souls were sold when the deal went down. There may be a tier in hell for working class traitors like King, but if you're working the line for half pay and no pension, you're already there.

Item three of the so called Job Protection amendment prohibits "strikes by employees of the state and its political subdivisions." In other words, this amendment protects collective bargaining at the expense of workers in the public sector, not only state, but county and municipal as well.

Conservatives will wave their arms and yell, but secretly they pine to lock unions in a pillory of legal restraints where the only movement left for labor is squirm. No strike equals no rights.

We shouldn't be surprised. King is the progeny of Gettelfinger who famously put 73,000 UAW members on the street in a strike against GM in 2007 and then stared straight into the unblinking eye of the TV machine and said, "No one wins in a strike."

The UAW cut its teeth in strikes. King wouldn't have a union to denude if it wasn't for strikes, occupations, and bare knuckled fights. The largest local in the UAW is the state of Michigan workforce. King wants to bargain concessions without the inconvenience of a membership that would rather strike than roll over.

The no strike clause for public sector unions puts all workers on notice: the government is an enforcer not a protector.

In "the land of the free" labor is a commodity, and the terms and conditions of the sale tilt the bargaining table in favor of the employer. If workers can't legally strike, bargaining collectively is moot. All they can do is cop a plea.

The bended knee is not a winning posture. Whether we labor under the burden of right to work laws or the no strike clause, our ability to prosper and pursue happiness is limited to the kindness and generosity of bosses. Screw that shit as they say on the shopfloor.

The power to break the bonds of servitude and assert autonomy is essential to human dignity. If workers are prevented from withholding labor while employers violate contracts or impose wage cuts, then law is merely a tool of power, a whip in the hands of bosses.

A Constitutional amendment that restricts strikes under the guise of defending collective bargaining is a con job. The Protect Our Jobs coalition only seeks to protect the union bureaucracy. Screw that shit. All workers deserve the right to strike.
Defend the right to strike not the right to pay double-jointed lawyers like King to plea bargain collectively and deduct dues for the service.

sos, Gregg Shotwell