American Axle strikers from UAW Local 235 in Detroit/Hamtramack. The industrial action is critical in the fight to maintain a living wage amid encroaching globalization. (Photo: Cheryl LaBash).
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Strikers tell American Axle: 'Show us your profits!'
By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Published Mar 5, 2008 10:22 PM
March 4—More than 3,600 UAW workers at four American Axle automotive supplier plants in Michigan and New York entered their second week on strike.
American Axle is attempting to impose a $10 wage cut on its entire active workforce, from $24 an hour to $14. It wants to eliminate future retiree health care and defined benefit pensions for active workers among other outrageous and deadly concessions.
The corporate assault on American Axle workers continues the take backs imposed on autoworkers through the Delphi and Big 3 contracts. However, unlike at Delphi and the Big 3, where the massive wage cuts were primarily aimed at new hires, and current workers either received buyouts or were allowed to continue earning their current wages, at American Axle the 3,600 active workers are actually being threatened with this massive and unprecedented wage cut.
Many of these workers are former GM workers, since much of American Axle was a spinoff from General Motors. But there is no sign that GM will bail out American Axle like it did Delphi. GM is reeling from the losses it has endured, in part from the cost of that bailout.
The outcome of this struggle will have a huge effect on how widespread the $14-an-hour wage will be in the entire auto workforce, as the Big 3 contracts—at least at GM and Chrysler—never specified how many workers actually will be defined as noncore and subject to the 50 percent reduction in wages. This strike has huge implications for the entire working class, as it once again tests the ability of the workers to fight for and maintain decent wages in this era of globalization.
As of now the strike at American Axle has forced the idling of six GM assembly plants in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Ontario, Canada.
The first week of the strike GM stopped production of its GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks at plants in Pontiac and Flint, Mich., and Fort Wayne, Ind.
Starting the first day of the second week of the strike, GM claims plants in Moraine, Ohio—a plant that assembles SUVs, including the Chevrolet Trailblazer and GMC Envoy—will be shut down due to lack of parts. In addition, GM said it expected a Mishawaka, Indiana, plant run by Humvee maker AM General to run out of parts for its Hummer H2.
Other GM facilities with possible shutdowns forthcoming due to their reliance on American Axle parts include plants devoted to high-profit SUV production in Arlington, Texas; Janesville, Wisconsin; and Silao, Mexico.
At this point various auto industry analysts speculate that GM might be using the strike to reduce their inventories due to over-production and the inability of the workers to buy back those products. (Depending on the type of vehicle, the time to replace inventories is on average two months.)
We all face the same enemy
At the company’s world headquarters in Hamtramck, a small city inside of Detroit, members of UAW Local 235, with more than 1,900 members from the production plant, and Local 262, with 300 members from the forge plant, are picketing nine plant gates around the clock.
Despite freezing cold, driving snow and rain during the first week of the strike in Hamtramck, workers—Black, white, Arab, Latin@—and their supporters are still moving strong on the picket lines, hoisting or wearing their “UAW On Strike” placards, staying warm with barrels of blazing firewood and with propane heaters, receiving provisions from other unions and community supporters and keeping their fightback spirit in motion.
Lawerence H. Moore, the Union Label Chairperson and Layout Inspector of UAW Local 898 in Ypsilanti, Michigan, joined the workers in Hamtramck on the picket line in a driving rain March 3. Moore is one of many hundreds of labor and community supporters participating in solidarity work for those on strike. This includes numerous local businesses around the plant who have donated food and other provisions to the locals and many local residents dropping by the picket lines at all hours or honking their vehicle horns in support of the strikers.
“All of the strikers let me know for sure that they’re in it for the long haul or as long as it takes. And they really appreciate the solidarity and the help from other locals. They invited all locals to come down, even if just to say hi or blow your horn as you drive by,” Moore told Workers World at the Local 235 union hall where workers warmed up together and/or received a hot meal or beverage from the kitchen staff.
Added Moore: “All unions need to work together for solidarity. We all face the same struggle. We all face the same enemy that’s trying to destroy union jobs everywhere. Good union jobs are important. If workers in our state and country lose our ability to maintain unions we will fall by the wayside as workers and they’ll take everything from us that we’ve worked so hard and given our blood, sweat and tears to earn.”
The other UAW locals on strike against American Axle are Local 2093 in Three Rivers, Mich., with 800 members, and Local 846 with 600 members at a Tonawanda, N.Y., forging plant and a Cheektowaga, N.Y., machining plant. Local 424 represents workers in Buffalo, N.Y., at a plant that was shutdown before the strike. All five plants are governed by a UAW master agreement with American Axle.
Open the books!
The workers at American Axle have been on the picket line since 12:01 a.m. Feb. 26 after the UAW International called an unfair labor practice strike over what the union says is the company’s refusal to disclose financial information to the UAW for good faith bargaining for the next master agreement.
“American Axle has not provided us with the proper information we need to bargain a fair and adequate contract for our members, which led us up to this point right here. The UAW has filed an unfair labor practice against the company,” Adrian R. King, president of Local 235 in Hamtramck told Workers World the evening of March 3.
Added King, who is African-American: “They don’t want to show us the books; they don’t want to show us the profits. They don’t want to show us how they’re allocated, which again takes us back to this ULP strike. And we’re going to see it all the way through. If we let them get away with this it’s open season.”
American Axle is lying when it says it needs to stay “competitive” with other GM suppliers such as Delphi and Dana Corp. “American Axle can afford to treat workers fairly. The company earned $37 million in profits last year on sales of $3.25 billion. American Axle has cut its U.S. workforce in half since 2004, but continues to expand overseas with facilities in 12 countries.” (http://blog.aflcio.org)
Richard Dauch, president of American Axle, is floating on a golden parachute. His total 2007 compensation is $9,118,649, which includes a $1.34 million salary, a $3.9 million bonus, $2.56 million in stock awards, $1.2 million in an incentive/retirement plan, and $1 million in “other” compensation. Dauch is president of the National Association of Manufacturers.
American Axle smells blood after the UAW International’s concessions, particularly the two-tier wage structure first implemented with supplier Delphi, then Dana Corp. and then continuing this trend amid more concessions with the Big 3 in fall 2007. The ideology undergirding these concessions is that labor is responsible for the bosses’ mismanagement and the capitalist economic crisis workers are now facing must be crushed. These crises aren’t our doing, and it isn’t our responsibility to bail them out over and over.
What’s the real ‘savings’?
“Our labor restructuring thesis for American Axle was not dependent on Big 3 contract breakthroughs, but the historic union concessions increase our confidence in the potential cost savings,” wrote Lehman Brothers to Reuters News Oct. 29, 2007.
If the restructuring process of the auto industry continues it will drive down the standard of living for the entire working class—exactly what the bosses are after. And in Detroit, where the metro area is already in an economic depression as well as having the highest foreclosure rate in the country, and suffering the effects of over $13 billion in taxpayer money going to the Iraq war, these cuts would be beyond disastrous for tens of thousands of workers, their loved ones and the communities where they live.
Although the corporate media have been writing that the American Axle workers are making between $60-79 an hour, with wages and benefits combined, the actual figures are much lower, according to the strikers. The average wage for a production worker in Hamtramck is $24 and a skilled trades worker makes $27 an hour. Therefore, these workers are, on average, making only about $50-55 thousand a year for a 40-hour week before taxes—not much, as inflation and cost of living expenses steadily increase. Thus if American Axle had their way the workers at the company now would plummet into poverty within days.
American Axle was created in 1994 when GM spun off five U.S. plants making axles and drive line components, employing approximately 6,500 UAW members. Today there are 3,600 members in four plants. Eighty percent of the company’s products are sold to GM.
Since 1994 the company’s expansion to 29 plants internationally, including recently moving machines to a nonunion plant in Oxford, Mich., has been possible due to the slashing of jobs through buyouts, speedups, attrition and a plant closing in Buffalo.
With its move to Oxford, American Axle has brazenly made it clear that its only allegiance is to profit and it will use any weapon in its arsenal, including one of its most potent—attempting to pit workers in the U.S. against workers in other countries. The only allegiance American Axle and other capitalist corporations have is to profit on the backs of workers, whether those workers are in Detroit, Mexico, Indiana, China or India. Thus workers’ organizations, in particular unions such as the UAW, must have an internationalist program active on the ground that combats chauvinism in all its forms and works tirelessly to unite workers of all nations.
They would foster protectionism to have us think it is workers in other countries who are “stealing our jobs,” when the only true threat to our jobs is the capitalist drive to maximize profits. The exploiting class that circles the globe scours the planet for the cheapest source of labor and materials. The only thing that ever stops them is the might of workers and their allies united to fight back.
A job is a right!
During the Flint sit-down strike of 1937 the workers asserted that their jobs were theirs; in essence that a job is a right! The right to a job is a human right. Our communities have a community property right to these jobs and the tax revenues on which they depend.
As the strike continues at American Axle these thoughts are also on the minds of many workers there.
Local 235 president Bill Alford Jr. remarked: “Our people aren’t going to tolerate substandard wages or any type of benefit cuts. You can’t sell that to the membership. People are used to a certain way of life and then all of a sudden you’re going to uproot them and take their money, take their benefits? The UAW membership isn’t going to stand for that type of reduction in their standard of living.”
The outcome of this strike rests on the mobilization and organization of the rank and file and their supporters. The Gettelfinger UAW leadership’s acceptance of wage cuts to “preserve” auto jobs has led the workers into an unending series of take backs and concessions. The American Axle strike presents an opportunity for the membership to draw the line and assert that every worker has the right to a job at a living wage. This struggle can set the tone for the battles to come to reverse the bosses’ offensive and reignite the militant class struggle perspective needed to fight back in the current epoch.
Send donations/provisions and union/community support resolutions to: UAW Local 235, 2140 Holbrook Ave., Hamtramck, MI 48212, (313) 871-1190; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
UAW Local 262, 8490 Saint Aubin St. Hamtramck, MI 48212, (313) 874-5770
UAW LOCAL 2093, 15802 Hoffman Three Rivers, MI 49093, (269) 279-5201
Tonawanda (forge) and Cheektowaga (machining) plant (same local with about 500 plus members total for both plants)
UAW Local 846 811 Tonawanda St. Buffalo, NY 14207, (716) 876-1016
The writer’s grandfather and great uncle participated as rank-and-file members in the 1954-1962 UAW Kohler strike in Kohler, Wis.
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