Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, outside the plant gate at American Axle on March 16, 2008. (Photo: Alan Pollock).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Published Mar 22, 2008 8:48 AM
Now in the fourth week of the workers’ strike against American Axle, full bargaining teams for the United Auto Workers and American Axle haven’t met for a week as of March 17. The UAW sent its local union bargainers back to their factories on March 10, and only the international negotiators have been talking since then.
About 3,600 workers at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York went on strike Feb. 26 against the company’s intentions to cut half their pay, replace their pensions with a 401-k, increase health care benefit costs, and demand other outrageous concessions which are an affront to the dignity and respect of workers everywhere.
The UAW has filed an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board 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.
Due to the greed of American Axle and its Wall Street allies, GM has temporarily closed all or part of 30 plants in the U.S., affecting more than 37,000 workers and causing thousands more layoffs at other auto parts companies.
In addition, GM has shut down a truck plant in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, and has laid off 500 people at an engine factory in St. Catharines, Ontario. Layoffs are also taking place at several Canadian plants, the most recent on March 17 at a St. Thomas, Ontario, plant where 1,200 workers were furloughed. The Canadian Auto Workers union has been told a car factory in Oshawa could see cutbacks later this month if the strike continues.
Workers, not the bosses, arrested
On March 14 three strikers were handcuffed and cited for disorderly conduct at an American Axle plant in Detroit. The arrests were filmed by the corporate Channel 4 news and broadcast on the evening news with the message that the strikers were “violent.”
Along with the strikers being arrested, a phalanx of cops and their vehicles were shown menacing the picket lines. There was no coverage of the violence of American Axle bosses and allies in attempting to starve the workers and their loved ones into submission.
According to the cops and the company, the striking workers were throwing items at a truck. But sisters and brothers on the picket line said they were moving peaceably at a gate which has been held since the strike began when a truck from the plant attempted to drive through the moving picket line.
The strikers, of course, responded angrily to almost being run down by the truck, and the driver taunted and threatened them. At this point the cops moved in and arrested the three strikers.
That same day, the Detroit News reported on a company claim that the Detroit plant was using management in production, inventory and shipping, and that parts were being shipped out only for non-GM customers.
Afterwards, a UAW regional office in Detroit issued a call for UAW workers at other plants to join American Axle workers on the picket lines.
“We expect this to be a long and drawn out strike,” read an e-mail message from UAW Region 1A in Taylor, Mich. “Everyone must fight to protect these good-paying union jobs and our brothers and sisters.”
But there’s been no word on whether the UAW has demanded all charges be dropped against the three arrested strikers. And, according to various sources, the international has told the locals to allow any trucks leaving the struck plants to go through.
Many striking workers and their allies are beginning to seriously discuss if there has to be a “long and drawn out strike” and what kind of fight is actually needed—considering this strike is within the critical supplier sector of the auto industry and is taking place within an overall domestic economic recession, compounded with the U.S. war on Iraq.
Anger—and a fight back mood—are rising in the rank and file at American Axle and elsewhere against the concessionary and labor-management partnership ideology of UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and his leadership team, which has resulted in nothing but horrendous setbacks for UAW workers at suppliers Delphi and Dana Corp., and at GM, Chrysler and Ford.
Concessionary contracts at these corporations in the recent period have generally set a pattern for the bosses to attack all workers, as the UAW historically has been a trendsetter.
Some questions and observations now being discussed on the picket lines include:
With 37,000—and growing—fellow UAW sisters and brothers now idle because of the strike, isn’t there an urgent need to mobilize these workers throughout the U.S. and Canada for plant defense at all five American Axle plants, but in particular the largest plant in Detroit with 1,900 workers? It’d be difficult for the state to physically move thousands of workers, if the union decided to enact a “nothing moves” (products or machines) rule, from a gate or an entire plant.
With support now growing for the strikers, wouldn’t it be possible for all five locals—led by the rank-and-file strikers—to build labor-community solidarity committees that could build momentum and support for the striking workers and engage in plant defense?
Could these committees mobilize the striking workers and the communities they live in around the slogan “A Job is A Right”? Could a one-day, labor-community, national or regional mobilization at a plant or plants be organized to win this strike?
How about a massive UAW organizing drive to organize the entire auto industry with a focus on nonunion American Axle plants, where the machines are being moved? How about an internationalist approach, working in partnership with unions in other countries where American Axle has plants?
The outcome of this strike will have historic implications either way for the UAW and all workers internationally—union and nonunion, and specifically workers of color, immigrants and women. If American Axle is able to succeed in its goals, other bosses will quickly move in on the entire working class in an effort to make even more profits off the backs of workers—with our standard of living plummeting to a worse state than it already is.
Thus, nothing short of an all-out, classwide mobilization to win the strike at American Axle is called for. The bosses only stop their pursuit of profit anywhere around the globe when the workers draw the line and in one united voice say, “Enough!”
‘Golpear a uno es golpear a todos’ (If you beat one of us, you beat us all)
Numerous labor and community organizations continue to support the picket lines of all five locals on strike. Support resolutions, donations and provisions are received daily at the local’s union halls.
In Hamtramck, Mich., where Local 235 is based, organizations such as the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, Michigan Welfare Rights and Latinos Unidos have formally chosen times for picket line duty and give other support as well.
Nationally and internationally support is also growing. Other UAW members and locals as well as other unions throughout the Midwest and beyond have engaged in strike support.
Sandra Dinelle, a member of the Canadian Auto Workers Local 222, wrote to Workers World in response to this paper’s previous coverage of the strike: “All I want to say is that we support you too. Great work guys. ... The pigs have had their nose in the feeding trough too long!! Be fair to the workers!! In solidarity, your Canadian Brother.”
One of the most poignant messages of support to date was sent to Local 235 by the Student/Farmworker Alliance. The SFA works in alliance with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization of mostly Latin@, Haitian, and Mayan Indian low-wage, superexploited immigrant workers based in Southwest Florida.
“We know that we must all stand together and fight against the corporate attack on our lives, our jobs, and our communities,” reads the statement.
“We hope that this message provides a small boost to your efforts and your resolve, and we want you to know that we are with you, in spirit, on the picket line. If there is any other way we can support your struggle, please let us know.”
Send donations/provisions and union/community support resolutions to:
UAW Local 235, 2140 Holbrook Ave., Hamtramck, MI 48212; 313-871-1190; firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
The writer’s grandfather and great uncle participated as rank-and-file members in the 1954 to 1962 UAW Kohler strike in Kohler, Wis.
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