US: Flint car workers rally goes forward despite union leaders sabotage

Delphi delays attacks to prevent autoworkers strike

Hundreds were expected for the picket line outside Delphi Flint East to protest against the auto parts manufacturer’s drive to layoff 24,000 workers and cut wages by 60 percent. But the day before the rally officials from the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 651 called off the event, citing a minor snowstorm as an excuse.

Still, upwards of 75 workers formed a lively picket line, most of them supporters of Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS), the fighting opposition movement within the United Auto Workers who initiated the idea for the protest.

The cancellation of the picket and rally had more to do with politics than snow. According to several UAW Local 651 rank-and-file activists at the Thursday picket, the union leaders feared the event would increase the influence of SOS dissidents at their expense. After all, while the leadership had done little to mobilize for the rally, supporters of SOS had spent weeks spreading word on the shop floor and community.

On Wednesday the Local leadership passed out leaflets and called members’ homes to tell to tell them the picket and rally were cancelled. Even the Flint Journal advertised the cancellation of the protest as its banner headline Thursday morning! If only UAW officials put that much energy into building for protests.

This sabotage is consistent with the methods of the UAW leadership in general. When asked how auto workers could overcome such maneuvers from their leadership, Todd Jordan, a prominent SOS activist who came to Flint from Kokomo, Indiana, said “It’s going to take solidarity, real unionism from the bottom up, worker to worker, educating other union members on the shop floor.”

“Its extremely disheartening,” Jordan continued. “This bureaucracy tells us to wait and see. They hold rallies, but they don’t tell us anything… they tell us to vote for Democrats, but that’s not what the people want to hear; they want to come out and they want to fight back. The bureaucracy is essentially blocking any type of real social movement from the rank and file.”

Delphi delays to avoid strike

The Thursday rally was timed to precede Delphi’s bid to cancel its contracts with the auto workers in bankruptcy court, allowing the company to unilaterally impose massive wage and benefit cutbacks and layoff over two-thirds of its North American workforce. But on Friday, Delphi announced it would put off such a request for six weeks to continue negotiations with the UAW in hopes of avoiding a strike. A strike would cripple both Delphi and General Motors, which relies on Delphi workers for auto parts.

While the UAW leaders have done absolutely nothing to prepare Delphi workers for strike action, pressure from below is forcing them to consider this option. SOS has been holding mass meetings of Delphi workers across the region, demanding the UAW organize members to “work to rule”. This tactic, where workers can dramatically slow down production by refusing to do anything more at work than the formal rules demand, is designed to prevent Delphi from stockpiling inventory to ride out a strike.

The Soldiers of Solidarity network is among the most exciting developments in the US labor movement today. It has brought together a layer of long-time autoworker activists and, most importantly, it is beginning to bring a fresh layer of workers into union activity around a fighting program. While the number of core SOS activists is still quite small and mostly limited to Delphi, it is an important sign of things to come as attacks on autoworkers and the American working class become more fierce.

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