Disgruntled Autoworker # 17
Death of the American Dream
On May 13, 2005, the sprawling 70-year-old GM Baltimore Assembly plant officially ended production and went into shutdown mode. Boasting about 6000 union members in its heyday, the remaining 1000 members will be placed in a Jobs Bank program until the UAW National Agreement expires on September 14, 2007.
From May 13th tol July 25th the Jobs Bank was located in the assembly plant. We knew we’d have to move eventually because the plant was rapidly becoming a deconstruction zone and safety hazard. The shutdown didn’t really hit home until the morning of the 25th when we were told we’d convoy from the assembly plant to the new Jobs Bank site located on the second floor of the old Western Electric plant down the street.
The convoy’s lead vehicle, a Chevy pickup, had a big black and yellow UAW flag mounted in the back. As we pulled out of the lot, it felt like a funeral procession. All that was missing was a hearse and limos. We must have looked like a funeral procession too since most of our vehicles had daytime running lights and we were driving slowly so we wouldn’t lose anyone.
This was my third plant funeral in the last 20 years and each one was more gut wrenching than the last. Fortunately I’ll have enough time to retire at the end of this agreement and won’t have to transfer to another plant like several of my coworkers, many of whom may experience a couple more funerals during their careers.
Ironically the Western Electric plant, which is being refurbished, suffered its own untimely demise several years earlier. The assembly plant won’t be so lucky. It will face the wrecking ball within months. Investors have been circling the 182-acre property like vultures since it was announce last February that GM would be pulling the plug.
Delphi, which split from GM, is supposedly on the verge of bankruptcy and asking for pay and benefits concessions from the UAW and financial assistance from GM. And GM is demanding its own concessions from the UAW and announced plans to pull the plug on several more plants in the not too distant future due to supposed legacy cost, whatever that means.
With all the bad news out of Detroit lately, our biggest concern is that our health care and benefits may be reduced, or worse, eliminated all together, along with our pensions like workers and retirees from Bethlehem Steel. And like them, our problems are due in large part to mismanagement and corporate greed.
Our Union’s Leaders were supposed be the members watchdogs. Their job was to protect us from the corporation’s selfishness and greed and set the standard for ethics and morality in the work place and our communities. They failed miserably and became spineless wimps when then President Reagan fired PATCO represented Air Traffic Controllers in the early 80s.
Instead of uniting in solidarity behind PATCO workers, like Unions in Europe unite in times of crisis and shut down the entire country until a reasonable resolution is reached, they turned their backs on them. Since then it’s been concession after concession for union workers and a steady decline in the standard of living for all workers.
Another example of the lack of solidarity was when the Baltimore plant went on strike in the early 90s; Teamsters represented car carriers crossed our picket lines. Then a few years later, GM solicited independent car carriers, and the same Teamsters leafleted the plant for support, which of course was denied. They were fired and replaced by non-union drivers.
There is no loyalty between any of the AFL-CIO’s unions. They compete with each other for members outside their trades and still cross each other’s picket lines. The AFL-CIO’s recent split will not change that as is evident during August’s mechanics’ union strike at Northwest Airlines.
And some AFL-CIO affiliated unions don’t even honor their own strikes. In 1998 when then UAW Regional Director Ron Gettelfinger told Local 2036 President Billy Robinson to take his members out on strike, the UAW did absolutely nothing to support strikers when their company, Accuride Corporation, makers of steel wheels, hired scabs.
In fact the UAW’s Leaders turned a blind eye when GM and Ford installed Accuride’s scab made parts on their vehicles. They neglected to inform their members in the affected assembly plants that they were installing scab parts. Their inaction allowed that strike to drag on for 4 years.
After his membership rejected the contract several times, the UAW’s Leaders prohibited Robinson from running for reelection. His membership didn’t waver. They rejected the same bogus contract a total of 9 times. Then in 2002, prior to Gettelfinger’s appointment as the UAW’s next president, the UAW’s Leaders swooped in like chicken hawks and decertified the Local, pulled their Charter and abandoned its 400 members in the name of corporate greed and Jointness.
Our Union’s self-appointed Leaders are as much responsible for the loss of good paying manufacturing jobs and the death of the American Dream as the greedy corporate executives they’re supposed to be adversaries of. Since the PATCO sellout they’ve gone beyond their ‘Go along to get along’ policies and formed Joint Partnerships with the corporations and give them Carte Blanche to promote dog eat dog between our plants, and workers, while they undermine solidarity and democracy in our Locals to maintain their one party Dictator Slates at the Internationals.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Dictators/Traitors of today’s AFL-CIO unions spent more time and money to suppress dissident movements within their ranks than they do on organizing. There are several incidences in the UAW alone where official at both the national and local levels have gone so far as to conspired with the corporations to suppress dissention by having dissidents placed on medical leaves, severely discipline into silence, and in some cases, fired. Today members fear their union officials more than they do Management.
While our union’s leaders were, and are, preoccupied with enriching themselves off our hard earned dues money and literally selling us out to their corporate partners, the Corporations and their Government have been promoting the selling-out of the American Dream with their *NAFTA and **CAFTA agreements. If that’s not a trifecta screwing by Team America, I don’t know what is.
Trying to reform our unions from the bottom up, one local at a time, is pointless because of the relentless and ruthless interference of the Traitors at the top. If we seriously want to reform our unions, we need to take our fight to the Traitors. We can no longer afford to sit back and hope it will all work itself out. The time to act is now. If we do nothing, then we’ll end up losing everything like workers at Bethlehem Steel, United and US Airways, and God knows how many others.
It was a sad day indeed as we pulled out of the parking lot for the last time. Obviously we’re not the first workers to lose our jobs due to the wholesale slaughter of the American Dream. Over the years this scene has played out all across the country, devastating one community after another with no end in sight. I ask you, where is the outrage?
If autoworkers aren’t next, we soon will be. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, no one else will, especially not our Union’s Traitors. And if we do lose all that we’ve worked so hard for, we should do every-damn-thing within our power to make sure that the Traitors lose theirs too.
In Solidarity, Doug Hanscom
* North American Free Trade Agreement
** Central American Free Trade Agreement