PANW Editor, Abayomi Azikiwe, second from right, covers the three-week-old UAW strike against American Axle. WW correspondent Bryan Pfeifer kneeling.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Published Mar 13, 2008 1:21 AM
As of March 11, the workers at American Axle have been on strike for three weeks.
Here in “Motor City,” UAW Local 235 and Local 262 are holding strong at nine plant gates around the clock. The workers are in a determined, fighting mood and are drawing the line against the company’s intentions to cut half their pay, replace their pensions with a 401-k, increase healthcare benefit costs, and demand other outrageous concessions.
About 3,600 workers at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York went on strike Feb. 26 over these issues after the UAW filed an unfair labor practice over the company’s refusal to open its books for bargaining purposes. American Axle is a parts maker spun off by General Motors in 1994.
Workers at the five plants are governed by a master agreement. After not talking for the first nine days of the strike, the UAW International and American Axle sat down at noon on March 6 and have been at the table since with no word on bargaining information from either side.
Because of parts shortages triggered by the strike, General Motors admits to shutting or partly shutting almost 30 of its plants with more than 37,000 workers in the United States and Canada. About 80 percent of American Axle’s products are sold to GM. GM said that as of March 10, 22 of its plants, including facilities in Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York and Indiana, had shut down or shifted to shortened work hours. The company has stopped or slowed work at another eight assembly plants that build its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks as well as sport utility vehicles like the Hummer H2.
Although American Axle made $37 million in profits last year on sales of $3.2 billion, it still wants to squeeze more out of the workers who built the company into what it is. American Axle President Richard Dauch, a former chair of the National Association of Manufacturers, and other company executives are making millions off the backs of the workers.
Wall Street analysts speculate that the company will be able to force significant concessions out of the UAW, similar to the two-tier and buyout concessionary contracts that suppliers Delphi and Dana Corp. and then the Big Three automakers got in the fall of 2007. But this battle is far from over, as the UAW rank and file and their labor and community allies are showing on the picket lines and beyond.
All know that the outcome of the American Axle strike will have profound effects on the working class in the U.S. and beyond, particularly for people of color, immigrants and women workers.
Black, Arab, Latin@, poor white and women workers make up the majority of the work force at Local 235 in Hamtramck, a separate working-class city within the boundaries of Detroit. It is the largest local on strike, with over 1,900 members.
Broadening base of labor/community support
A broadening base of labor and community supporters is building solidarity for the striking workers. Every day UAW members, including retirees not from American Axle, and other union members from throughout the state and beyond, visit the union hall and picket lines, often bringing provisions such as hot beverages, bottled water and firewood, which are then distributed by the union’s Community Support committees.
Members of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO, including its president, Saundra Williams, as well as activists from the Michigan AFL-CIO and Change to Win stop by the picket lines regularly.
Locals 235 and 262 have received support resolutions from UAW Local 2334, from the Union of Part-Time Faculty—AFT at Wayne State University, from the Graduate Employees Union at Michigan State University, and from the National Association of Letter Carriers, Local 214.
A rank-and-file committee of American Axle workers is distributing a newsletter, “Shifting Gears,” on the picket lines and at the union halls. The rank-and-file organizations Future of the Union and Soldiers of Solidarity update their Web sites often to keep UAW members and others informed of the strike and support actions.
Community organizations are also engaged in support work. Two of these, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI), have designated days where their members join in picket line support. The MECAWI Solidarity Team will be on the picket lines Sunday afternoons for as long as the strike lasts. Welfare Rights is on for Tuesday afternoons. And Green Party members are joining the strike support actions.
At all hours of the day local businesses are donating meals and provisions for the strikers at all five plants.
‘Support the American Axle workers!’
Workers World was at the Local 235 union hall and on the picket line in Hamtramck on March 9 to talk to and support the strikers.
Sue Davis from UAW Local 1981, National Writers Union, came to Detroit from New York to be the keynote speaker for an International Women’s Day forum sponsored by Workers World Party on March 8. She stopped by the UAW Local 235 picket line in Hamtramck with a member of the Detroit Action Network for Reproductive Rights.
“I wanted to show solidarity with the strike because I think it’s really important that UAW members are fighting back against horrendous contract terms. American Axle is trying to steal from the workers here in order to enrich the bosses’ profits. This is injustice and it has to be fought. I’m here to show solidarity with the fightback,” said Davis as she walked the picket line.
Abayomi Azikiwe of MECAWI, also at the picket line, said, “I’m here to express my unconditional solidarity with UAW Local 235 and the other locals striking at American Axle. I think it’s a very important action, an industrial action. It’s going to determine whether or not the people in this country will have a living wage or whether they’re going to be forced down into abject poverty. Of course this strike is not set up to benefit just the local members. If there’s victory here, it’s going to represent a major victory for working people throughout the United States.”
Azikiwe added that MECAWI is engaging in strike support because there’s no division between the anti-war movement and labor—organized or unorganized. “It’s a clear connection. Just this last year $700 billion was spent on the military budget in the U.S. At the same time working people are being forced out of their homes. They’re being forced to take drastic cuts in wages and benefits. So, yes, there’s a definite connection between the economic downturn and the ongoing war in Iraq, in Afghanistan and of course the overall military budget in this country.”
Dean Farm, a District Committee representative from Local 699, Region 1B, drove down from Saginaw to join the picket line. Farm is a second generation UAW member who works at parts supplier Delphi.
“Unions are the only way we’re going to have some sort of parity in wages throughout the country. If we didn’t have organized labor, we would probably be into 1950 wages and it’d be a wider disparity between the haves and the have-nots than we already have in the country. Corporate executives and those who have are trying to widen that gap even wider than what it is,” said Farm.
Gabriel Alaciz is one of 12 human relations commissioners for the city of Hamtramck and president of the Eight Mile Wyoming Citizens District Council in Detroit. Alaciz is a lifelong resident of Metro Detroit and has worked on the assembly line at Ford in Dearborn. Said Alaciz, “All my life I’ve been in support of workers. Workers in this country have had to organize and support each other in order to safeguard their families and the workplace.
He sees the company’s intransigence as “a threat to the working man and woman here in Hamtramck and in particular around the state of Michigan. With inflation at the rate that it is and workers being deprived of benefits and decent, fair working salaries, it quite realistically boils down to a threat against the overall community. I’d like the public to come out and support the American Axle workers in their strike.”
Alan Pollock, a non-union machine operator who formerly worked at a union plant, drove up to the picket line with a truckload of firewood for the strikers. Pollock related how, at his formerly unionized plant beginning five years ago, concessionary contracts containing two-tier wages and provisions broke down solidarity and fractured the workforce.
“There’s a war in Iraq and a war in Michigan. I believe the only way to get justice is through a strong force of organized labor with labor working for human needs. I believe the line is drawn in the sand right here, right now. A job is a right and our jobs belong to our communities,” said Pollock.
Labor and community support is also solid at the American Axle plants in Three Rivers, Mich., and at two others in the cities of Tonawanda and Cheektowaga near Buffalo, N.Y. Ellie Dorritie of the International Action Center—Buffalo, reports that members of her organization have distributed union support resolutions and a written appeal for strike support to a local peace and justice coalition as well as other progressive organizations.
Send donations/provisions and union/community support resolutions to:
UAW Local 235, 2140 Holbrook Ave., Hamtramck, MI 48212, (313) 871-1190; e-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer’s grandfather and great uncle participated as rank-and-file members in the 1954 to 1962 UAW Kohler strike in Kohler, Wis.
Many unions are supporting the American Axle strike. The following resolution was passed by UAW Local 2334 in Detroit on March 4.
Whereas American Axle Corporation has demanded wage cuts of almost 50 percent from their workers along with huge medical benefit and pension concessions amounting to outright union busting;
And whereas the demands of the company, if successful, will cause harm to the wages earned by all workers;
And whereas the American Axle workers, UAW, have gone on strike to preserve decent wages, benefits and working conditions for themselves and all other workers;
Therefore be it resolved that UAW Local 2334 goes on record in support of the American Axle workers and contributes $200 to strike support;
And therefore be it resolved that UAW Local 2334 urges all other unions, community and church groups to support the striking American Axle workers in all ways possible.
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