Live Bait & Ammo #104: Elections are not the Answer
Re-posted from "Future of the Union" (http://futureoftheunion.com/?p=6706)
In 1970 after a 67 day strike the UAW, under the direction of President
Leonard Woodcock, won full Cost Of Living Adjustment [COLA] and "thirty-and-out"
pension. Woodcock refused to submit the tentative agreement for ratification
until all Local Union contracts were ratified. Eager to get back to production,
GM buckled under the pressure. Local negotiations wrapped up quickly.
In 2007 after a two day strike the UAW, under the direction of President Ron
Gettelfinger, gave up full COLA and abandoned pensions for new hires.
Gettelfinger rushed the ratification and Local Union bargainers were stiff armed.
Under the leadership of Ron Gettelfinger Local Union negotiations were
systematically stymied. In Lordstown the International UAW instructed the Local to
stop negotiations. In Bowling Green management simply refused to negotiate with
the Local Union because they knew the score: Gettelfinger would break Local
Union resistance to Competitive Operating Agreements from the top down. Local
Union bargainers don't rank in the new union order.
Neither VEBA, nor two tier, nor the new attendance policy were ever discussed
at bargaining councils or local union meetings. The solidarity busting "
core/non core" was never heard before. We have a democratic process but an
autocratic product. That's the hallmark of the Concession Caucus.
Gettelfinger will impose the restructuring ordered by his bosses but Local
Union officers will get plastered with spitballs, not him. The shopfloor is
about to become a battleground. Maintenance and custodial jobs will be contracted
out as will numerous skilled trades. All "non core" work from material
handling to sub assembly will be degraded. Senior workers will be pushed and prodded
to retire. Whoever remains will be targeted for replacement.
The Attendance Program will make target practice easy. There are "no excuses"
. When changes were made to the attendance program under previous
administrations, records were cleared. Everyone started clean. Under the Gettelfinger
restructuring, records were not cleared. Everyone starts dirty or gets there
fast. Local Union officials will have no say. They're pawns in the game about to
be swept off the board by an angry rank and file. But elections are not the
The problem with unions is that the representational system has led workers
to believe they can elect someone to take care of their business. Workers lose
power in the transaction. In the Con Caucus grievance procedure the first
thing that happens is that the business gets taken out of the grievant's hands and
transferred upstairs, out back, or off site. "Just keep doing your job. I'll
get back to you."
The representational system binds the hands of the rank and file with red
tape and rigamarole. If we want to protect ourselves on the shopfloor and reverse
the destructive trend of the Con Caucus, "We will," as Larry Christiansen
said, "Have to organize the ground out from under them."
There are some honest and well intentioned union reps. I've worked with some.
But a Local Union official can't accomplish anything without the active
support of members. We can't get our rate done early everyday and play cards under
the boss's nose, and then complain that the rep isn't worth a **** when
management raises the rate. If management increases the line speed and we deliver
the extra quota of vehicles in record time, we can't blame the rep for not
defending us against speed up. We have to defend ourselves. A union rep without
members who are willing to fight back is worth less than a rifle without
The following are personal examples of shopfloor tactics that won
(1) - Management informed us at the last minute that third shift would
have to work the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Anyone who didn't come in would
lose two days holiday pay. The committeeman, Jon Quellos, said we didn't have
time for a 'get-back-to-you-later' grievance. On his (you didn't hear it from
me) advice we all charged into the shift manager's office and demanded he
cancel the overtime. We couldn't all fit into the office but we made our demand
heard by raising our voices amd pounding the walls. The boss decided it would be
better if we didn't work Saturday. No 'get-back-to-you' about it.
(2) - A coworker was fired unjustly. Production in the department slowed
to a crawl. The union rep said that the boss "told me to tell you to get back
to work." He looked worried which we took as a good sign. Production ratcheted
down another notch. Since the company had an open door policy, I requested
that we be allowed to meet with the personnel director. I was told that only two
workers out of the affected department would be allowed to meet with
management. We all went to the meeting. There were about twenty of us crowded into the
room. We blocked the exit. We did all the talking and we were talking down.
Our coworker was reinstated and the offending supervisor was forced to go to
(3) - On one occasion I was suspended for disobeying a direct order.
Management wanted to eliminate a lugger and I refused to help. The previous week
I was given direct orders to do lugger work twice in one day. I complied, and
requested call outs (Smile & File). The union rep informed me that a grievance
would not be filed because I was not disciplined. When the grievance
procedure failed to confront the crisis I was left with a choice: stand on principle
or act like a scab.
In my book obeying an order to help management eliminate a union job is
no different than crossing a picket line. I was walked out for balance of the
shift and seven days. While I was out I continued to write flyers about the
job fight and the flyers were distributed widely in the plant. Coworkers made a
little donation box labeled "$ for $hot". The next day the box was replaced
with one twice its size. The next day it was three times larger. Management
got the message I was on vacation. "Don't Roll Over" flyers were plastered all
over the plant. I was back to work in three days. We saved the lugger job.
The union rep did a good job once we got the fire going.
(4) - I observed a coworker in dispute with a foreman. Naturally I sidled
over to act as witness. Things got heated and the worker refused a direct
order to move to a different job. As soon as the foreman left to call out the
union and prepare to walk him out, I told my friend to quickly go to the job he
had just refused. I called the union rep on a private cell phone. I explained
that I'd documented the conversation. The union rep, Dennis Krontz, used the
script to prepare the accused.
At the disciplinary interview the foreman made his charges. After the
accused described his scripted version of events, the union rep called me in as
witness. I corroborated my friend's story, word for word, with three pages of
neatly printed dialogue which culminated with the worker asking for a union
call out and an end to the discussion before he was given a direct order. The
foreman may have liked to dispute our version but he didn't have a witness or
written documentation to back him up. For the knock out punch, the union rep
asked the supervisor where the disobedient worker was when he ordered him to come
to the disciplinary interview. The foreman looked like he'd just stepped in a
"You mean to tell me," Dennis said, "That you took him off the job you
ordered him to do, so you could accuse him of disobeying a direct order?
Looks like harassment and discrimination to me."
(5) - Management moved a coworker, (Dennis Krontz. prior to union
position) off his job preference as punishment for distributing an article accusing
management of impeding production. The union didn't do anything. Management
gave me two disciplinary interviews for distributing literature as well. The
union didn't respond. In my interview I reminded the foreman that federal law
protects a union member's right to distribute union related literature. He said, "
We are going to challenge that law." We went straight to the NLRB and filed
charges. Six union members signed statements asserting that they had seen
supervisors confiscating our flyers. Management was forced to return Dennis to his
job preference and post a notice admitting that union members had the right to
distribute literature and that management did not have the right to
confiscate our flyers. [ NLRB Cases: GR-7-CA-46561-1 and GR-7-CA-46584-1]
(6) - In February 2006 WOOD TV News in Grand Rapids claimed it was my
fault that Toyota hadn't decided to build a plant in Michigan. The story was
preposterous but that didn't prevent the Grand Rapids Press from publishing my
picture with the headline, "Did this Man Scare Toyota out of Michigan". It was
clearly an attempt to intimidate. The accusation was baseless and absurd but
the unemployed in Michigan were feeling rather debased and unobserved
themselves. When I went to work that night a security guard asked me if I was all right.
I said, "I'm all right. It's Toyota that's scared."
When I went to my machine a couple of skilled tradesmen were already
there. "Your machine is down. You're not working tonight." The machine didn't
get fixed until I left the building. The entire line was shut down for the
night. **** happens. Sometimes so much **** happens it starts rolling back uphill.
So many people phoned and e-mailed WOOD TV to complain about the fake
news story that they aired an interview with me the next day to make up for it.
I got right to the point. "The Delphi bankruptcy is the result of fraud,
mismanagement, and racketeering." After all, that's why they were trying to shut
me up. I had nothing to do with Toyota or unemployment in Michigan.
One battle won't win the war, but the struggle begins on the shopfloor.
That's the ground we have to organize out from under the Con Caucus. Want a
real union? Back representation with direct action.
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Yes, elections are not the answer. Direct Action is (one of the answers).