Autoworkers Under the Gun

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

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!
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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

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Yoke of Teamwork: Voting and Profit Sharing

The UAW is like a crotchety old grandfather too pickled to die and hell bent on blowing the family farm on video slots and lap dances.

Rank and file members know what I mean, but for the sake of academics, let me explain.

A rabid scheme to outsmart the video slots is tantamount to the UAW's investment in capitalism, and lap dances is all the UAW will ever get from it's love affair with the Democrats.

Rank and file autoworkers will have to decide whether the UAW can be reformed, or if it would be wiser to euthanize the comatose bureaucracy and organize a new union.

There's a lot of money on the table, about a billion dollars in the strike fund alone.

It's tough to walk away from a legacy of dues earned the hard way. On the other hand, chasing a losing game is a gambler's curse. The stakes are high and the need for a new direction in the labor movement is urgent. More urgent than sacred blood or ideology. We need soldiers of solidarity not philosophy.

Some union activists are convinced that unions can be reformed through elections and that the right slate of candidates can revitalize the labor movement. But without a militant rank and file, new leaders soon find themselves leading an empty charge.

The notion that we can vote our way to victory is lazy and wishful as thinking trout will jump in the frying pan. Remote control is for changing channels, not power structures.

Struggle, not hope, is the real lever of change. The best way to organize the rank and file is with a strike not an election. (Reviving the Strike, by Joe Burns)

Voting for representation is an expression of powerlessness. If a reform slate wins a local union election, less than one percent of the membership is involved. If the rank and file strike, one hundred percent have a stake in victory.

The company doesn't fear a bargaining committee. Neither does the UAW International bureaucracy. They both fear a rank and file that recognizes power is control of production and the only way to prevent scabs from crossing a picket line in the United States is by occupying the target, that is, by striking on the inside.

Now that General Motors is gaining market share and grinding out record profits in North America will that mean more investment in the US? As in new plants? Or will it simply mean more low paying jobs, more temporary assignments, more mandatory overtime, more precarious employment, and more risky retirement?

GM sold more vehicles in China (2,547,171) in 2011 than in the US (2,503,820) But most of GM's profits were generated in North America where operating income leaped from $5.7 billion in 2010 to $7.2 billion in 2011.

So where do the profits come from? More efficiency?

The company and the union have agreed to shorter break times, more flexible schedules, and weak-kneed work rules. But the numbers tell another tale.

In 2007 General Motors sold 3.87 million vehicles in the US and employed 73,000 UAW members which equals fifty-three cars per person.

In 2011 General Motors sold 2.5 million vehicles in the US and employed 48,500 UAW members which equals fifty-one and a half cars per person. Productivity dropped, but profits skyrocketed. What the hell? GM sold fewer vehicles and made more money.

GM's profits in the US weren't the result of manufacturing efficiency, marketing expertise, consumer confidence, innovative design, or managerial excellence. GM profits were hand picked from the wallets of workers. UAW members gave up cost of living adjustments—the single most important economic safeguard in a union contract—and fortified the two-tier wage system by forfeiting raises for legacy members while promising entry level workers an upgraded seat in "the Jim Crow section of this merry-go-round"

The bosses, the so called job creators, didn't improve the product or the process, they whipped the horses and skimmed the cream.

New hires will get raises over the course of the 2011 UAW contracts with the Detroit Three, but after four years they will pull up ten bucks short of the benchmark set by legacy workers and a full life time short of retirement since they don't have a pension or health care in retirement. A robot couldn't work the assembly line until it was sixty-five. Excuse me, with social security age creep that's sixty-seven and climbing.

In 2007 the official UAW web site under the title "The Union Advantage" claimed that nonunion workers in goods producing industries earned $19.62 per hour. That's about what second tier workers at GM will earn in 2015. We aren't sliding backwards, we're getting mugged and buggered by bandits in two hundred dollar ties and Italian loafers that cost more than a set of truck tires.

Legacy workers will face another stiff arm to the chin when they retire. Pensions for hourly workers were frozen at the level negotiated in 2007. My income as a retiree may be fixed, but their's is broken. An autoworker today can't afford to retire.

GM reported that it froze salary pension plans. What they didn't admit is that hourly pension benefits were also frozen. Though hourly workers may continue to accumulate seniority, and thereby pension credits, retirement security is eroding faster than farms in the Dust Bowl.

Salary workers will be compensated with increased bonuses and an extra week vacation as well as a company matching 401-k account. All that hourly workers can expect is a diminishing return on compensation they earned over a lifetime on the assembly line. Their fixed income life style won't begin when they retire, it kicked into reverse gear in September 2011.

New hires are not vested in the defined benefit pension. Instead, they are eligible for a defined contribution 401-k. The rub is, they can't afford to save enough to compensate for the disadvantage. So what do new hires expect when they round the corner toward the golden years?

Retirement benefits in the UAW for both new hires and legacy workers plummet in direct proportion to inflation. Given the accelerating price of gas—on which every retail swipe in this mother truckin' nation depends—retirees stare aghast as their standard of living slides down the drainage ditch that runs parallel to the highway of record corporate profits.

What the hell should UAW members do? Wait for union elections so they can elect new pork choppers? Petition the rigged—one party state—Constitutional Convention? Vote for Democrats, that corporate machine with union labels and Bank of America lapels? Demand economic justice from co-conspirators working with their feet up at Solidarity House, the UAW headquarters for noncombatants? 

Organizing toward reform of the UAW through a Constitutional Convention controlled by the one party state is a prescription for demoralization, apathy, and more head-down-back-bent drudgery. Instead we should raise the demands and expectations of the rank and file for a strike in 2015. But why wait? Start now.

Strikes are illegal in the middle of a contract. But the only strike that is illegal is the one you lose. I'm not talking about losing.

I'm talking about kicking ass and winning things that workers value in their everyday work lives. Things like longer break times and more days off. Things like firing a boss who thinks workers aren't human. Things like slower line speeds and lower production quotas. Things like protecting fellow workers from job cuts, firings, and harassment. These are the battles that strengthen solidarity, prepare workers for a strike, and soften the target by reducing inventories on the car lot and teaching workers to work to rule both inside the company and inside the union.

The trouble with strikes today is that the Concession Cons don't play to win. They plan instead to soften the membership and compromise with management. We don't have to eat that shit.

2015 is too far away. If we want to win, we need to start fighting now. The first thing we need to do is slow down and demand more help and more jobs. The more workers we win jobs for, the more soldiers we have in our army.

The notion that all profits depend on workers breaking their backs so that executives can bring home tax deferred booty by the bucketful is bullshit. The only way we can win equal pay for equal work, a restoration of COLA, annual improvement factors, and a pension for all UAW members is by striking at the heart of vampire capitalism with a stake as sharp as a strike.

The apologists for investors who pay the lowest tax rate of any group in the US and who produce exactly nothing of value say we shouldn't hurt the company. The Detroit Three closed dozens of factories in the last thirty years and we should be concerned about how they feel about us? GM favors Chinese gangster capitalists over crooks in the US and they expect us to act like patriots? Vying for favors is a chump's game.

I'm an alcoholic and a drug addict. Note, I didn't modify the nouns with the adjective "recovering." Alcohol and drugs are my enemy.  I don't pretend that calling myself a "team member" or an "associate" will make the disease less predatory or the enemy less dangerous. The poet George Oppen once said, "The purpose of poetry is clarity." I'm not much of a poet but at least I'm not a bullshitter.

I don't pretend that cooperating with the enemy will make the exploitation of labor easier to swallow. I don't believe that pretending I am someone I am not will strengthen my resolve to resist the temptation of immediate gratification like signing bonuses or profit sharing. I don't pretend that a disease that kills 90 percent of the people it attacks will magically alter its ruthless predatory character if I crawl on its back. A ride across the turbulence of addiction will not be safer if I call the perpetrator a partner.

I'm not a recovering addict anymore than I am a company team member or an associate. I'm a union member and my recovery depends on my commitment to the fellowship of others who are working to defeat a mortal enemy. I am not a company associate, I am a soldier of solidarity anywhere, any time, any place anyone who works for a living confronts the enemy.

Addicts who pretend they can control the disease die from the disease. Addicts who form a partnership with the disease profit from the exploitation of others and leave a legacy as shameful as a two-tier union that collects dues from temp workers. 

It's not for me to decide whether the union can be reformed or not. But it is my responsibility as a writer to call a spade a spade, a traitor a traitor, and a system that depends on the exploitation of labor an enemy of working people rather than a safe sex partner.

Whether one chooses to reform the union or form a new union as did the CIO in the nineteen-thirties, one must first organize. I contend that organizing in the workplace means winning conflicts with management and that if you work in a union shop, organizing for victory includes winning elective office and/or working on committees. Why? Because I am logical and tactical not ideological. I believe in fighting to win not making concessions to fight another day in the dismal future.

Winning elective office or working on a committee may be construed as reform. If it does achieve some measure of reform, so be it. But the purpose of holding elective office or working on union committees is leverage and access to inside knowledge.

The UAW under the direction of Bob King cannot organize because the Concession Caucus gave up everything that unorganized workers want out of a union. If you think the purpose of a union is outsourcing, subcontracting, two tier wages, collecting dues from temp workers, and stabbing retirees in the back, join the Bob King UAW.

If you think the business of a union is organizing workers, then look around at your fellow workers, including the unorganized, and ask what they need. Then fight for it. Fight like you know damn well that compromise kills 90 percent of its victims, that cooperation like denial is, in fact, a symptom of the disease.

The Concession Caucus cons argue that if we don't collaborate with management, the companies will go elsewhere. The facts are indisputable. Since the UAW began its partnership with the company we have lost more than two-thirds of our members. The Concession Cons believe the union's business is selling cars "made in America." The facts are indisputable. GM sells more cars in China than in the US and GM plans to build more cars in China than in the US.

The union's purpose is organizing. We can't organize workers by cooperating with management anymore than we can win a war by collaborating with the enemy or defeat addiction by switching poisons.

I know where my true fellowship is. I don't doubt my purpose because I don't count my blessings in profit sharing or my dues in dollars. Either we all win or we all fail. That's the old religion. If it sounds like socialism or back in the day unionism that's because it works for a living.

Watch each others' backs, or prepare to live side by side on your knees as the bosses apply the yoke of teamwork: voting and profit sharing. 

sos, Gregg Shotwell

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Never Trust the Deal"

GM wouldn't buy pencils from a blind man without a contract, but salaried workers never needed a contract with the company because they were family.

Now GM is offering the old and infirm members of the family a deal. Not a gratuity or a bonus after a record breaking year of profit, but a cash-in-your-chips kiss-off for a Cracker Jack-size buyout prize. Those who don't take the deal will get an annuity from Prudential, the company where GM decided to spin-off the pensions for die-hards.

Get this, while the amount offered may vary according to age and health among other factors, GM expects to save $26 billion on "the deal."

In which column will accountants inject this hypodermic savings? And where will the boost come from, if not from retirees who bought the deal?

Will the savings on salary pensions mean hourly workers will get a bigger profit sharing check next year? Guess again. Then ask yourself, who was it who first said, "Never trust the deal."

All we know for sure is that if it was a good deal for retirees, GM CEO Dan Akerson would have tucked it [$3.5 billion] up his golden parachute and ducked out. 

GM claims it will add $3.5 billion to the currently underfunded pension plan to help buyout retirees under new laws that permit them to offer "an equivalent economic value to the stream of monthly pensions they replace" rather than a "higher premium value" per the old law.

Is this new law a change we can believe in? Perhaps. If you'd rather make your last lap around the casino than the chemo lab.

But if the choice is cash in hand or an underfunded annuity sold to Prudential, which according to Wikipedia manipulated "the payout of life insurance benefits due to the families of American soldiers in order to gain extra profits," you might take your chances that GM overestimated your life expectancy by accident.

Prudential, the company originally named, "The Widows and Orphans Friendly Society," made a pirate's fortune at the turn of the 20th century by charging industrial workers in poor urban areas double the rates others paid and learned its lesson well. The SEC investigated Prudential at the end of the 20th century and discovered that the company defrauded 400,000 individual investors on "deals" in the nineteen-eighties.

GM CFO Ammann claims "the deal" will help him sleep better so he can concentrate on something he knows absolutely nothing about: "building cars and trucks." But what the hell is he talking about? GM outsourced all their pension and benefit programs to Fidelity years ago. Has Ammann been asleep at the wheel?

UAW retirees are next in line for "the deal." Bob King as usual wasn't available for comment but the UAW-GM contract ratified in 2011 states in part:  “The parties further discussed the possibility of amending the Plan to provide additional options for certain current retirees that would help GM manage its pension risk and benefit such retirees that voluntarily agree to participate. To this end, the parties agreed that the National Parties may mutually agree during the term of this Agreement to amend the Plan to add retirement options for some or all existing retirees that help GM reduce the volatility and risk related to the Plan and benefit existing retirees by providing an additional voluntary option.”

What troubles me, a GM retiree, is that the “parties” have given themselves legal cover “to amend the Plan” during “the term of this Agreement.”

Perhaps, dear reader, you are comforted by the word “voluntary.” It connotes a certain safety for those who don’t wish to walk the plank. In my experience parties that seek volunteers are inclined to influence choice with persuasive tactics that resemble a sword in the back. But the point is: since UAW members ratified this contract, the “parties” have legal justification to amend the pension plan and they have already "agreed" to "mutually agree" all over the place like untrained puppies at a pee on retirees party.

The UAW Concession Cons already agreed to help GM "de-risk" the pension. De-risk is a code word for shift the risk to retirees. GM expects to de-risk $26 billion on "the deal." With every whirl of the video slot The House wins even when they pay out. Don't take my word for it, just look at the size of the The House compared to your over-mortgaged shack.

I have a button from 1979, the year I was hired at GM, that says, "UAW Members Want Cost of Living on Pensions." You know what we got instead? The "Christmas bonus" that the UAW agreed to give up in 2011 along with the Social Security Age Creep Patch which, since I turn 62 this year, cost me over $18,000. Guess I won't be buying one of those new GM cars that Ammann will be focusing so hard on now that he doesn't have to tinker with other people's pensions.

GM is betting that W.C. Fields' old saw, "A sucker is born every minute," will outlive the older maxim, "Never trust the deal."

You may be laughing at my humor, but I don't think it's funny.

sos, Gregg Shotwell

Social Security Age Creep and UAW-GM-Ford-Chrysler Contracts

Whenever a contract is front-loaded, beware the busy little backhoe with the smiley face. It’s not loading a dump truck destined for any worker’s bank account.

Most UAW members understand that profit sharing promises and signing bonuses are warning signs not down payments. Whatever the company gives upfront will be taken off the back end—tenfold.

But future retirees should also beware of Social Security Age Creep, a phrase which insinuates either the loathsome gait of osteoporosis, or the sneaky trait of those who would defraud senior citizens.

UAW-GM-Ford-Chrysler agreements require retirees to begin collecting social security at age 62, if they retire early. Since the age of full social security benefits is creeping up from 65 to 67—and perhaps even higher if the frauds in Congress get their way—the amount that UAW-GM retirees may lose accrues accordingly.

Here’s how it works. If you begin collecting benefits before you reach full retirement age, Social Security will reduce your payments. For example, if your full retirement age is 66 and you start drawing benefits at age 62, your monthly benefit will be about 25% less than if you waited until age 66.

The percentage creeps up as your full retirement age creeps up. It used to be that at age 62 one would get 80%. But since the age of full social security has crept up, the percentage an individual collects has crept down from 80% to 79% to 78% and so on depending on your age.

Past UAW-GM-Ford-Chrysler contracts included a “social security age creep patch” which helped make up the difference. But the patch was only negotiated for those who became eligible to collect social security (turn 62) within that four year contract. Since the Social Security Age Creep Patch was contractual rather than part of our actual pension, the UAW was able to negotiate it away in return for helping the company.

Here’s how the age creep patch worked. When a UAW-GM-Ford-Chrysler retiree begins collecting social security, the supplement to his or her pension ends. But the patch allowed the retiree to collect both social security and the supplement for one more year. It helped offset the loss caused by social security age creep, that is, the advance of full retirement age from 65 to 67 and the subsequent reduction in social security payments for those who begin collecting at age 62.

In summary: Social Security Age Creep Patch permitted retirees to collect both the supplement and social security payments for an additional year.

sos, Gregg Shotwell

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reviews for Autoworkers Under the Gun





(5) Gregg Shotwell had a front row rank-and-file seat to the last thirty years of change in labor/management relations and shopfloor change in the US auto industry. With his leadership in the dissident UAW Soldiers of Solidarity movement and his widely read and respected "Live Bait and Ammo" (LB&A) columns/commentaries, Shotwell gave keen intellectual talent, a razor wit, and a strong and steady voice to the service of those who thirsted for an alternative to what he has stated was a lap dog union in a hostile, manipulative and anti-worker industry.

Haymarket Books recently released Autoworkers Under the Gun (2011), a well-crafted chronological compilation of Shotwell's LB&A newsletters stretching from March, 1999 to September, 2009 finished off with an epilogue from January of 2011. This is a fascinating collection. Shotwell's genius is evident in his crystal ball gazing of a future which came to pass in his industry and in his unwavering aversion to the corruption inherent to power and capital. His prose cuts like a knife as is evident in this passage about the current state of the economy and politics:

Is it maximum profit or minimum conscience that drives our nation to compete for the lowest standard of living? Even children are sideswiped in the race to the bottom line. Schools are turned into sweatshops. Hospitals are managed like maquiladoras. Homelessness is mental health therapy. Prison is substance abuse treatment. Every program or agency whose purpose is to serve the public interest is underfunded, abused, and degraded. Our families suffer under the yoke of being double wage earners without disposable income or time to spend with their children. Meanwhile, Congress debates whether a minimum wage which snorkels the poverty line will ruffle the feathers and furs on Wall Street.
The madness of the method isn’t just about money. The vultures already have all the money. They have plans for all the money you and I will ever make in our lifetime. They have plans for our pensions, our 401(k)s, the money that falls through the doughnut they call prescription drug coverage for senior citizens. They have plans to profit off the deaths of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan, It’s not just about the money. It’s about control. (p. 148, originally published in the November, 2006 “Live Bait and Ammo”). 

This is a valuable and important contribution to our collective understanding of labor, politics and the economy and to the literature of the working class and of the auto industry. It is full of incisive analysis, righteous indignation and anger, wicked humor and a bed rock of genuine concern for workers and the nation. If you desire a solid reading experience which will expand your perspective and understanding and challenge your thinking, this book is not to be missed.

John Beck, Assoc. Director of Labor Education Program, MSU





Saturday, March 24, 2012

Occupy Your Workplaces

            Soldiers of Solidarity

            We the People are at war.
            We need to develop soldiers, not career opportunists.
            It will take time and patience.
            There will be set backs and victories.
            Given time and effort,
            the law of multiplication will prevail.
            If one goes out and trains two soldiers,
            and they go out and do the same,
            and this continues, we will have our army.
            We the People are the Union.

                                                                — Miguel X. Chavarria

The Occupy Movement has a genuine desire to connect to the Labor Movement. The trouble is, the Labor Movement is lying on a gurney in an alley waiting for Democrats to wheel it into ER.

The Occupy Movement can't afford to wait for moribund union officials to wake up, or Democrats to come to the rescue and apologize for NAFTA; apologize for deserting Single Payer Health Care; apologize for abandoning the Employee Free Choice Act; apologize for the absence of trade laws that protect jobs rather than the slobs who live off unearned income; apologize for the deliberate avoidance of an anti-striker replacement law and the long overdue repeal of Taft-Hartley.

Likewise, the Occupy Movement can't wait for Obama to order the National Guard to protect citizens exercising their Constitutional rights of assembly and free speech.

The counsel of a lesser evil is to vote for despair. We need activists, not lobbyists. We need soldiers of solidarity, not celebrity liberals and union officials.

Unions have shown support for the Occupy Movement, but unions are not anti-capitalist. They don't want to change the system so much as modify it. The dearth of social movement unionism today is largely the result of narrow interest bargaining: what's in it for my little corner of the labor market, rather than the movement.

Unions spend more time and money campaigning for Democrats than organizing workers. It's no surprise that union bureaucrats are on a mission to hitch the Occupy Movement to the Democrat's wagon and Obama's re-election.

I believe the goal of the Occupy Movement is to empower rank and file citizens rather than one of the plutocratic parties. I believe there are no short term solutions. I believe when workers take power into their own hands, we have the possibility of a solution that works for everyone rather than the One Percent who live off unearned income.

Workers' rights are defined and enforced by struggle. We can't vote our way to power, and if the Occupy Movement isn't committed to the redistribution of power, we may as well fold up the tents (of verbal protest) and go live beneath the overpass (of plutocratic government). 

If we want to win like sitdowners won in the thirties, we will have to occupy the seat of Capital's power, which isn't Wall Street, but rather the workplace.

Wall Street is the bleachers. Wall Street is a front for bookies. The real game is on the gridiron of work where wealth is created. The real players aren't brokers, politicians, and bankers. The real players are workers. When workers stop, the game is over.

Workers' power is the strike, not the vote. A strike leverages workers' power because it curtails profit and profit is all the One Percent care about.

I believe Occupy is right to recognize the power of labor. A General Strike is not only what's needed, it is something many workers believe in. But it is not going to happen. It is not going to happen because it would require the cooperation of union officials, and union officials, ideologically bankrupt and strategically bereft, are busy collaborating with the bossing class.

Union bureaucrats don't want to change the system, they want to plea bargain. We have documented evidence, called union contracts, which prove that union officials are willing to cut wages and benefits and eliminate pensions. What they object to is laws that limit their power to make concessions for workers on behalf of their business partners.

The partnership between business and union officials has led to the social decadence of two tier wages, whereby new hires are paid as much as 50 percent less, and then told to save for their own damn retirement.

Why would a young Occupier want to join the UAW? A new hire at General Motors today makes less than I make in retirement and doesn't have a pension to look forward to. The union management partnership is an LLC, a Limited Liability Collaboration. We can't trust it.

Union officials do not have an alternative to capitalism and corporate dominance. They suffer from a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. They identify with their captors. They want to be partners in the business of exploiting workers for profit.

Union officials were eager to redirect the Wisconsin Uprising away from direct action and core to core class conflict and toward electoral procedures because they were frightened by workers growing consciousness of their own power.

Union officials are reluctant to support even a one day symbolic General Strike, not because they fear legal repercussions, but because they fear what would happen if workers sensed their authentic power and the sleeping giant awakened.

The Occupy Movement does not need to rely on bureaucrats or celebrity liberals to thrive and grow. Occupy is a rank and file movement, and its leaders are the genuine citizens united against the One Percent who control the economy, the government, the unions, the television, the consumer culture, and both plutocratic parties.        

I believe the Occupy Movement should appeal directly to workers in the trenches rather than union officials safely ensconced in offices with their six figure salaries, their Hummer style health plans, their guaranteed pensions, and their addictions to corporate subservience.

If we want to appeal to union and non-union workers, we must first recognize their needs. Workers are not idealists. They may have ideals, they may pursue ideals, but the job is a means to an end: bills.

Workers are, for good reasons, practical strategists. When workers take risks, their families are in jeopardy. That's why US corporations prefer health insurance controlled by employers. It gives them excessive power especially in the event of a strike. That's why soldiers of solidarity, like the Wobblies of old, say, "Strike on the inside."

Work to Rule, or what Elizabeth Gurley Flynn called Sabotage, may be a viable option for the Occupy Movement to engage and advocate. In 1916 Flynn wrote, "Sabotage is not physical violence; sabotage is an internal industrial process."

One hundred years ago in the IWW newspaper, Solidarity, Frank Bohn wrote, "Sabotage means strike and stay in the shop. Striking workers thus are enabled to draw pay and keep out scabs while fighting capitalists."

The bossing class has perverted the traditional meaning of sabotage into malicious destruction of property. They must have looked into their own souls for the new definition.

When Ford designs vehicles that roll over or blow up on impact, it’s sabotage. When GM sells out, shuts down, spins off, and thereby guts the city of Flint, it’s sabotage. When Delphi builds all its new plants outside the US while closing American factories, it’s sabotage. When CEOs lay off thousands of workers and reward themselves with multi million dollar perks, it’s sabotage. When the President of the United States commits soldiers to war under false pretenses, bankrupts the treasury with lavish rewards to his cronies, and encourages a trade policy that exports American jobs, it’s not patriotism, it’s sabotage.

Workers are not saboteurs. Labor creates wealth, bosses exploit it. Labor builds community. Bosses prey upon it.
(Excerpts from Autoworkers Under the Gun)

Work to Rule or Strike on the Inside is viable for three reasons:

1: Because profit is all the bosses care about. Until you shut off the profit faucet, the bossing class won't listen. They'll throw job applications to McDonalds at you.

2: Because production of goods and services is the true source of workers' power.

3: Because Work to Rule puts power in the hands of rank and file workers rather than bureaucrats.

The prevalence of lockouts, scabs, and outsourcing coupled with the scantiness of legal protection makes strikes a high risk occupation.  Work to Rule is a lower risk because it stifles efficiency and cuts profit by following the boss's orders.

How can following the boss's orders obstruct work? When the boss make all the decisions, the result is more lethal than sabotage.

In strict adherence to Murphy's Law the boss is the dullest blade in the tool box promoted to the highest level of his or her incompetence. The higher you go up the ladder, the less anyone knows about how goods and services are actually produced and delivered.

So, the stated objective of Work to Rule is to kick every decision up to the highest level of incompetence.

The unstated objective is to sabotage the production of goods and the delivery of services by withholding workers' knowledge and skill from the boss.

Here's a simple and common example of industrial sabotage. The machine stops. The boss says, "What's wrong?" I shrug and say, "I don't know." He asks the job setter, who shrugs, "I don't know." He asks an electrician, who shrugs, "I don't know." Then we all look at the boss, and he starts sweating because he knows that we know that he is the only one who really doesn't know.

Now who's boss?

When the production or delivery of goods and services drops, cost punches profit out. Which explains why Work to Rule can be an effective way to leverage rank and file power while protecting workers from retaliation.

If you follow the bosses' orders, you can't be disciplined. If you strike on the inside, you can't be replaced by scabs. If you don't give your knowledge to the boss for free, then he or she will have to make all the decisions, and we all know where that leads.

Ayn Rand had it all wrong. When the boss shrugs, no one gives a shit. When workers shrug, production stops and profit grinds to a halt.

Transit workers in New York City could shrug their shoulders and shut down the city for an afternoon. If trucks at west coast ports stalled, drivers could shrug and clog the docks till the sun went down. Teamsters like longshore workers don't have to cross picket lines. If Occupy throws up a picket, Teamsters or longshore workers can just shrug. A single supplier can shut down multiple factories. If production workers and trades shrug together, output would tumble like dominoes.

Work to Rule at isolated work sites will not shut down Wall Street, but if Strike on the Inside goes viral, the impact could be more effective than an officially sanctioned strike.

More effective because courts couldn't impose injunctions; because union officials couldn't aid and abet their business partners by calling it off prematurely; because Work to Rule is more than an internal industrial process, it's an invocation for workers to govern collectively.

The Association of Flight Attendants used a strategy they coined CHAOS: Create Havoc Around Our System. CHAOS maximized the impact of the job action while minimizing the risk to workers. Surprise strikes and random actions rendered the airline unmanageable. 

The UAW used to employ a tactic called Rolling Strikes. One plant would go on strike for a day and then go back to work. Then another plant would go on strike for a day and then call it off. Then another plant would disrupt production. As soon as one plant went back to work another plant would shut down. The corporation became ungovernable and eventually willing to negotiate.

If CHAOS, goes viral, it could impede production and the delivery of services on a large scale in much the same fashion as Rolling Strikes. And it could protect workers from retaliation because it's a guerrilla tactic. And the liberals in the union or the government couldn't rein it in because CHAOS is a dog without a leash.

Protests can express objection, but “There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious . . . you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop . . . And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”  (Mario Savio)

Yes, it will take time and patience, but appealing directly to rank and file workers is a short cut compared to working with union bureaucrats who are determined to detour the energy and enthusiasm of Occupy into the drainage ditch of the Democratic Party where all good movements go to die.

Work to Rule relies on the wit and wisdom of workers. Asking workers to use their own creativity to fight the bossing class, and to determine their own level of involvement and risk, shows respect for workers' personal lives, respect for workers' intelligence, respect for the power inherent in the working class.
            There are no short term solutions.

            "It will take time and patience.
            There will be set backs and victories.
            Given time and effort,
            the law of multiplication will prevail.
            If one goes out and trains two soldiers,
            and they go out and do the same,
            and this continues, we will have our army.
            We the People are the Union."

            Occupy your workplaces. Occupy your hospitals.
            Occupy your unions, your agencies, your schools.

            We the People are the solution.

sos, Gregg Shotwell

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Labor has a Legitimate Lien on Capital

When Steve Miller, the vulture capitalist who drove Delphi into the ditch of America’s dreams, declared, “Bankruptcy is a growth industry,” he was smiling, but he wasn’t joking. 

Bankruptcy in the US isn’t a sign of economic distress or mismanagement, it’s a business plan: calculated, cunning, and void of redeeming social value. American Airlines is the latest in a long line of financial obscenities that make vulture capitalists salivate. 

If we had a president we could believe in, he would not only call out the National Guard to protect the Constitutional rights of citizens at Occupy protests, he would defend the vested benefits earned by workers with the full moral and institutional authority of his office. It won't happen.

We must cease and desist from unrealistic expectations and mount our own counteroffensive. US courts routinely aid and abet the extortion of workers and the plunder of pension plans. Capitalism isn’t above the law in the United States, it is the law. Peace and solidarity activists are hounded, harassed, and arrested but the forcible transfer of wealth from the working class to the investing class is protected concerted activity. 

American Airlines’ debt doesn’t outweigh it’s cash and assets. In fact, American Airlines is financing its own bankruptcy. That’s not distress, it’s brass knuckle union busting. The business press makes no bones about American Airlines' plan to profit off the broken backs of labor contracts. In fact, they crow about it.  

American Airlines ordered 460 new planes from Boeing and Airbus less than five months ago at a cost of $38 billion. Those contracts will be honored even as American Airlines plans to dump pensions underfunded by about $10 billion for approximately 130,000 workers and retirees. 

American Airlines doesn’t pretend to offer a business plan that promises better management. The only benefits American Airlines purports to extract from bankruptcy are pension evasion, and concessions from unions facing a court ordered firing squad.

The crib notes for this business plan read: bankruptcy = profit. The longhand reveals the moral compunction of a crocodile. 

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp [PBGC] estimates that a default at American Airlines could be the largest in US history. The PBGC itself is teetering on the edge of insolvency. In 2004 a report by the Center on Federal Financial Institutions said the PBGC "is insolvent on the basis of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and would be shut down if it were a private insurer." 

That was before the PBGC absorbed $6.2 billion in pension obligations from Delphi.

US bankruptcy courts protect the assets of US corporations invested outside the United States from creditors. You can bet your mother's paycheck American Airlines' parent company, AMR Corp., has cash and assets stashed in ports all over the world. 

Labor has a legitimate lien on Capital. A pension isn’t an entitlement, an investment, or a gamble, it’s earned with hard steadfast work.  

A company that cancels its pension obligations should not be permitted to profit from the trade off. The trend toward bankruptcy as a growth industry in the United States is a clear indication that we aren’t in a recession. We are experiencing a restructuring at the expense of everyone who works for a living.

We won’t win this struggle in court. The operable word for rank and file workers isn’t competition, concession, or compromise. The operable word is "Occupy."

Bankruptcy at American Airlines shouldn’t be allowed to fly.

sos, Gregg Shotwell

Deconstructing the UAW  (Live Bait & Ammo #167 )

It would take a sleuth with a corkscrew brain to lathe his way through the twisted scheme 
that leads to a broken union, aka, the UAW. There’s fingerprints, traces of blood, a smoking gun, and hundreds of witnesses, but alas, no arrests. 

As usual, the UAW spokesperson takes the Fifth, “No comment,” and the company in charge—peering over the wreckage—just shrugs like Ayn Rand’s Atlas before he makes another killing. 

At UAW headquarters, it’s business as usual: officers dine on pork chops while new members apply for food stamps.
Like Jack Webb always said, “Just the facts, Ma'am.” 

Who, what, when, where, why, and how in the hell did the victim get blamed for his own wound?

Every bloodhound begins where the odor is strongest (Ford) and then follows the trail.

When Ford spun off its parts division, Visteon, in 1999 the company promised workers 
they would be Ford employees for life. Their pension, benefits, wages, and other amenities 
would remain the same as non spun off  workers. New hires? That’s another story. 
New hires would take one blow to the kidney, another below the belt, and work 
right along side the Blue Oval elite like nothing ever happened between bells.
What the hell, the palookas had jobs, didn’t they? 
They should be happy as slaves in a bygone Dixie.

Before long, one union, the UAW, had two separate but unequal contracts 
covering workers who did the same work at the same pace at the same aforementioned place—Visteon—under a new alias: Automotive Components Holdings [ACH]. 

The ACHtung regime came with new imperatives and new labels. 
Blue Coats were traditional Ford employees. Orange Coats were new hires. 
The difference wasn’t merely color and wages, it was treatment. 
Blue Coats have a national contract. 
Orange Coats have never seen the contract that governs every working day of their lives.
Blue Coats have rights and privileges. 
Orange Coats are subject to the whim and whip of the boss. 

The bosses were having a heyday but the thrashing had just begun. 
ACH was formed in 2005 when the bankruptcy of Visteon threatened the supply of 
critical parts to Ford. ACH is owned and managed by Ford and represented by the UAW. 
The mission of the holding company is to prepare the plants for sale or closure 
while ensuring that Ford gets all the parts it needs at discount prices. 

One may wonder, did this strategy really have the union’s support?

“Yes. The UAW's support helped Ford reach an agreement with Visteon that paved 
the way for ACH's formation, and that support has continued. 
The new owners will work directly with the UAW on local agreements and pay structures for new hires.”

As the auto market nose dived from 2005 to 2010 staff thrashing intensified. 
Some Blue Coats were given the option to transfer to ACH plants “temporarily.” 
Trouble is, when the hostile environment of a two tier plant became too hot, 
these “light” Blue Coats found they couldn’t transfer back to their home plant 
until there were openings. Of course, openings at their home plant were filled by new hires 
at second tier wages with the support of the UAW. 

When these same Blue Coats dug in for the long haul at ACH and 
decided to run for elective office, they were told they couldn’t because they were temps. 
Hence the Light Blue Coat label which shaded their rights and privileges with a miscreant tint.

As the thrashing machination cycled through the parts plants Ford announced 
the closure of the Twin Cities Assembly plant which built the popular Ranger pickup. 
Consequently, Ford, with the support of the UAW, pressured Blue Coats to transfer or retire, 
then staffed the plant with temporary workers at discount wages and bennies. 
Then Ford decided to keep the plant open a little longer and hired newbies at wages below the temp standard. On top of that, Ford, with the blessing of the UAW, rehired retired skilled trades workers through a separate contractor and thereby retained experienced trades at discount prices. 

Four years later the plant is still humming. Ford continues to announce the closing at regular intervals but at these rates temps, second tier new hires, and de-unionized trades are padding 
Mulally’s parachute with gold leaf and silver linings. Who knows? The Twin Cities plant 
may get another reprieve, a new transient product for the time being and some day, baby, who knows, maybe, we’ll all be permanently temporary.

Meanwhile, back in Flat Rock, Michigan the Mazda-Ford dalliance, Auto Alliance International [AAI], with the support of the UAW had already achieved most of the outsourcing of non core jobs. Nevertheless, in June 2011 Mazda announced that they were going to end production at AAI where Ford also builds the Mustang. Thus, Ford would be forced to reconsider 
whether they would keep the plant open without their foreign paramour. 
Then Mazda informed employees that they were committed to providing a new product for AAI 
but—surprise, surprise—accomodations would be necessary. Of course, 
this latest round of concession thrashing on behalf of Ford-Mazda comes 
with the support of the UAW and the crack of a whipsaw.

Any Columbo wannabe worth his per diem would have to inquire which UAW leader 
aided and abetted Ford’s dismemberment of the union at these sundry 
yet eerily similar scenes of iniquity and debasement. Just the facts.

The one and only Bob King was head of the UAW-Ford Department and Independent Parts Suppliers [IPS] during the most degenerate union negotiations since . . . 
Hell, I can’t think of a traitor who doesn’t pale in comparison. But now King is president of the UAW and he is eager to demonstrate that the UAW has been a vital partner in the de-structuring of the auto union for the benefit of US corporations. 

If King can wind up current negotiations with the Detroit Three with a third tier wage, defanged trades, and a cash balance pension plan which will set the standard below the transplant competition, he may get a seat on the Board of Directors and a good shot at some insider trading. 

King contends he can organize employers easier than workers because he and his corporate comrades are of the same mind set. Namely, profit is the fundamental value and workers should pay for it by sacrificing annual raises and cost of living adjustments for profit sharing schemes. 

I’m betting King won’t make another appearance at his home local in Dearborn where he was booed out the door. His working class hero cape won’t fly on the shop floor.  And he knows it.
sos, Gregg Shotwell