BY WILLIE REID AND JEAN LUC DUVAL
FLINT, Michigan - On June 17 at 11:00 a.m., hundreds of members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 659, their families, and supporters marched from the union hall to the picket lines at the General Motors (GM) Metal Fabrication plant here. They joined hundreds of other unionists already there from Kalamazoo, Lansing, Pontiac, and Detroit, Michigan; Dayton, Ohio; and other cities in the Midwest.
Spirited chants of "UAW! UAW! UAW!" and choruses from "Solidarity Forever" mixed with horns blasting from passing cars and trucks, showing support for the 3,400 unionists on strike since June 5.
A similar rally took place at the Delphi East picket lines a little later that day. UAW members in Local 651 walked out of that plant en mass June 11, swelling the ranks of auto workers on strike against GM in Flint to 9,200.
As the strikes approached three weeks, almost all of the North American assembly operations of the world's largest auto maker ground to a halt. Some 122,400 GM workers are laid off in 24 of its 29 assembly plants in United States, Canada, and Mexico. In addition, workers at some 100 plants that supply parts for GM assembly factories have also been affected.
Analysts estimate that the cost to GM is about $75 million per day in lost production. GM's lost production through June is estimated at about 250,000 vehicles, or $1.1 billion after taxes, assuming the strike is not settled this week.
The solidarity expressed daily in Flint is matched by many on layoff. UAW members at American Axle Manufacturing (AAM), where these reporters work, welcomed the layoff. AAM supplies drive line systems to GM. The layoff included 1,800 UAW members at the company's Detroit plants. It's seen for now as a break from the mandatory seven-day work schedule enforced in three out of five AAM Detroit plants, from January 15 through June 15.
Some workers at the GM, Electro-Motive Division (EMD) plant in Chicago are following events in Flint closely, as well. "I support the brothers and sisters," said Joe Thompson, who has worked there for more than 28 years. "I was out on strike in 1970 and I know what it is all about."
Both Flint strikes protest GM's violation of the local agreements, which stipulate investing more money on upgrading and training in these plants to stem jobs lost through restructuring and outsourcing. Also at stake are unresolved health and safety issues and the company's demand for "efficiency" through speedup. From GM's viewpoint, chairman John Smith said, "We must have an agreement that allows us to meet the demands of the changing [global] market place." Even with plant closings, job elimination, and job combinations, GM remains behind its competitors in productivity. Business Week cites GM's productivity as 27.3 vehicles per worker, compared to Ford Motor Co.'s rate of 33.3 per worker.
While GM has allowed the strike to drastically reduce its assembly production, they plan to proceed with the introduction of their new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. Dies that GM removed from the Flint Metal Fabrication plant over the Memorial Day holiday produce the parts for this new line. The dies were sent to its Metal Center in Ontario, Ohio, which is organized by UAW Local 549. According to the Oakland Press, Local 549 President Johnny Givand said "national union leaders gave his members the go-ahead to operate the equipment transferred from Flint." That allowed GM to continue producing a new line launched in early June. Suppliers who provide parts for these trucks continue to manufacture modest quantities.
Tom Young, a welder at the Ontario, Ohio, plant, commented, "The way they have got this set up, it's every plant versus every plant, every local versus every local.
Jim Mattis, a striker at the Metals Fabrication plant, said the stakes are high. He transferred here after GM sold the plant where he worked in Detroit. He said, "We gave away our classification to protect jobs, now we're losing them. This is not a strike over money or benefits, it's over our right to survive."
Reports in the big-business press present the strike as a fight to prevent "American jobs" from going to Mexico. This framework is often promoted by the UAW officialdom. Some workers echo this stance, such as Bill Caldwell, a UAW member at the Electro-Motive Division in Chicago. "I'm for what ever it takes to stop exporting jobs and our children's futures to foreign countries," he said, referring to the Flint strike. "We are all aware this is being done for greed and greed alone."
Rosa Garmendia, Socialist Workers candidate for governor of Michigan and a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, visited the picket lines June 22 with other supporters. Garmendia noted that more and more, workers are learning they have less and less in common with the bosses. "There is no strategy to negotiate `job security' for workers in any single plant, industry, union or country," Garmendia said. "On the contrary, by trying to save our `jobs' at the expense of other workers here and abroad, we will find ourselves out on the street along with the hundreds of millions of others. We can only advance the fight against unemployment-for jobs," she continued, "by uniting with others with others around the world who are also victimized by the impending capitalist disaster.
"One key proposal to advance the struggle for jobs - to shorten the work week with no cut in pay and benefits - is a demand that workers in every country can fight for."
Jean Luc Duval and Willie Reid are members of the UAW.
Helen Meyers, a member of the UAW in Chicago, contributed
to this article.
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