Abayomi Azikiwe, Pan-African News Wire editor, surrounded by striking workers and their supporters at the American Axle headquarters in Detroit on April 24, 2008. They have been on strike for nearly two months. (Photo: Alan Pollock).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Published Apr 24, 2008 11:06 PM
Presently 3,600 workers at American Axle & Manufacturing on strike since Feb. 26 continue fighting back against an attempted bosses’ onslaught aimed at all workers internationally, specifically people of color, immigrants and women.
Negotiations are taking place, but slowly. AAM has rejected outright two concessionary proposals from the United Auto Workers International. The rank-and-file are clear: no concessions.
American Axle wants to cut the workers’ pay in half, eliminate pensions and gut benefits—although the company made $37 million in profits last year and CEO Richard Dauch himself was paid $10.2 million. Workers make on average about $45,000 to $50,000 before taxes.
The week of April 13 a high-profit sports utility vehicle plant in Lansing, Mich., was idled when GM workers walked out during negotiations over local contract issues. As of April 22, workers at two other plants in Michigan and one in Kansas are also close to striking over local contract issues.
Rally canceled, rank & file resist
Discussions among the rank and file of the UAW locals now on strike at AAM are becoming more militant, particularly in Detroit. There an April 18 mass support rally for the strikers at AAM, expected to draw thousands from throughout the Midwest, was canceled by the union International less than 48 hours before it was to take place.
Besides the massive mobilization by the rank-and-file and their allies throughout Metro Detroit and beyond for the rally, Local 235 and Local 262 were receiving solidarity statements for the rally from union locals in the U.S. and around the world. These included messages from auto and other workers in Brazil, Canada, China, Australia and India. Some who had been planning to go to the rally instead went to the picket lines in Hamtramck, Mich.
A fax sent to the UAW Region 1 locals on strike from Region 1 Director Joseph Peters on April 16 at 12:56 p.m. declared,
“UAW Rally in support of American Axle strikers has been postponed.”
The body of the fax read: “Please be advised that the rally has been postponed. UAW President Gettlefinger and Vice President Settles believe that it is in the best interest in the negotiations process to delay the rally at this time. While these are extremely difficult negotiations, and the outcome is uncertain, some progress has been made and we are hopeful movement will continue.”
A similar one-paragraph announcement is posted on the UAW International’s Web site.
The rank-and-file’s livid response to this capitulation to AAM continues unabated, augmented when, on April 21, Gettelfinger announced that there really wasn’t any progress after all. This of course left the strikers and their allies asking many questions as to why the rally was really canceled. A massive boost of power from outside the bargaining room was direly neeed and could be the decisive factor in this epic struggle.
The rally cancellation added to the anger of strikers, who had not received any strike bulletins or virtually any other information from the International about the status of negotiations since the beginning of the strike.
Adolphus Heahth, a Black worker from Local 235, began working for GM in 1977 and has been working at American Axle since 1994. Heahth captured the sentiment of the rank-and-file when he said the April 18 rally shouldn’t have been cancelled.
“We need a rally big time to change the way people think,” Heahth told Workers World.
He added: “It’s a class war. We need to be striking nationally. If we go down the tubes here it’s going to be rough nationally. We need to get organized.”
This type of resistance and anger from the rank-and-file forced the leadership to agree to a rally and march for April 24 beginning at 1 p.m. Strikers and their allies marched from Local 235 in Hamtramck to AAM headquarters a few blocks away to protest at the company’s stockholders’ meeting.
Like Heahth, most of the strikers hoped that the march would not have stopped at the AAM headquarters; they insist the rank-and-file should go into the communities to make alliances and build coalitions.
“There are some things we can do,” said Heahth, who is talking with fellow strikers in an effort to build creative fight-back actions to win the strike and broaden the working-class struggle. Some suggestions he had were to rally and march on a designated day every week or every day with strikers and their loved ones at the plants in Hamtramck and to bring in the over 40,000 strikers on layoff or strike at GM and other auto plants and suppliers.
Heahth said labor-community solidarity committees, led and built from the rank-and-file, could be a catalyst for the strikers and the larger community and could be used to put serious pressure not only on AAM but also on those within the UAW intent on selling a concessionary contract to the rank-and-file.
‘When you win, we all win!’
Internationalist solidarity for the strikers keeps rolling.
“Every time the company gains more profits, they insist on taking away our rights. We completely support your struggle at American Axle, and we know that when you win a victory, it will be ours also. We will do everything possible to share the struggle at American Axle with others in Brasil in order to increase solidarity with your struggle,” read the statement from GM workers from a plant in São Jose dos Campos in Brazil, where the company is also trying to slash new workers’ wages by 50 percent.
International Association of Machinists (IAM) members at the five struck AAM plants continue to refuse to cross the picket lines, foregoing pay. They’ve had to wait seven weeks to get unemployment.
A rally in Three Rivers, Mich., on April 17, sponsored by UAW Local 2093, drew hundreds of labor-community-student supporters.
And, as they have since the first day of the strike, donations, provisions and support resolutions continue to pour into the locals.
On April 20 Ed Childs, a chief steward for UNITE HERE Local 26 in Boston, joined the picket lines, visited the Local 235 union hall and met with Bill Alford Jr., Local 235, vice president. Childs was in Detroit as a keynote speaker for a Workers World Party Irish forum and while in town for the weekend spoke at a moratorium coalition meeting and visited the Gaelic League.
“You can’t come to Detroit without being on the American Axle picket line. It’s a tremendous experience just to be near these huge plants and these historic workers who are picketing,” said Childs.
Asked about the rally cancellation, Childs said, “The cancellation was a mistake. You always should be at the table with as much strength as you possibly can and do whatever you can to strengthen your side. It’s the whole class question of negotiations: they negotiate with strength and you negotiate with strength. It doesn’t matter if it’s a union struggle or it’s a national liberation struggle. The Vietnamese showed us that. They came to the table with strength and the U.S. tried to bomb them with strength. The Irish did the same thing. In the history of the union movement it’s always been those who have strength that get the best deals at the table. What does strength mean? Strength means that you get out as widely as possible the strength that you have.”
Childs said his message to labor-community-student organizations after participating on the picket lines was: “Learn from history. Learn from struggles around the world.”
He added: “There was one thing that one of the white workers had an understanding of and that’s that in Detroit with not only the strikes going on, the foreclosures and other economic things hitting the workers, that he was looking for another rebellion to break out in Detroit like it did in the 1960s. And that now he was looking forward to it as an ally in the working class struggle. And that’s analysis that the movement has to take, the leadership has to take and the ranks have to take. It’s not only to look for it but to build it and help support it. That’s what’s going to win this working class struggle.”
Send donations and support resolutions to UAW Local 235, 2140 Holbrook Ave., Hamtramck, MI 48212; 313-871-1190; email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, http://www.uawaam.org
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