Arts & Video
News Archives
About LaborNet

From: MgriffWZEF@aol.com
Date: Fri, 14 Jan 2005

                    UAW Members Brutalized At Cat

             SUNDAY, JAN 9 2005 PROVED to be a day of infamy for UAW members
world-wide as the fallout from the new six-year contract will ultimately
touch the lives of every member; active, retired, and especially those
foolish enough to join.  Without any fight, any known strategy, UAW
leadership surrendered its most cherished values and any hope of recovery at
Caterpillar Tractor Inc.  The devastating contract passed by a narrow margin
of 59% after members were told by representatives that they would strike, be
permanently replaced, or that Cat may move production to Dixie.  In a
shameful effort to secure a yes vote, the gloves came off and the threats
flourished.  Members say the informational meeting in Peoria IL prior to the
vote. became so unruly after an international Rep was booed off the stage,
the meeting was cut short and the voting began.

            In Decatur IL at local 751, in spite of weak leadership, a savvy
rank and file rejected the national agreement and the local agreement as
well, by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.  Local 751 in Decatur however, does not
have enough votes to vote down the master agreement.  The militancy in
Decatur can be attributed to past leaders who had the courage to stand up to
Cat and the UAW. It was Decatur, who more than six years ago voted down
offers by Cat and the UAW, that left nearly 200 discharged members out in
the cold by such a large margin, the master agreement failed.  Cat and the
UAW was forced to return to the bargaining table and reach an agreement that
included the discharged members in spite of the fact the national UAW said
there was no more to be gained.  UAW members honored their heroes while the
³Mighty UAW² international union was willing to desert them.

            National and local UAW leaders became the choir of despair with
chants of, ³this is not the time², ³this is the best we can do under these
circumstances², without clearly defining when the right time would be or
what the right circumstances were. Cat began kicking the UAW in 1992 and
continued until 1998 when a six-year concessionary agreement was finally
reached.  This agreement will continue the beating for six more years.  Do
the math!  Eighteen years of, ³this is not the right time².  How much longer
will it take?  Never!

            In the past two decades the UAW has been on a path to destruction
through its ³jointism², partnerships with employers and a variety of other
schemes that mimic company unionism. Not one of those schemes has halted the
massive losses in membership suffered by the UAW.  When the UAW does circle
the wagons, the employers are allowed to join the circle.  Such was the case
at Accuride Wheel in Henderson KY a few years ago.  When UAW local 2036
refused to accept a horrible contract offer, the UAW, after informing the
company first, cut off strike benefits to the 600 plus member local. After
an embarrassing picket of UAW headquarters in Detroit, curiously named
³Solidarity House², the UAW reinstated benefits to locked-out workers.
Months later the UAW decertified the local and walked away, leaving those
members without jobs, union membership, or hope, after more than three years
of struggle.  The Regional Director over the Accuride workers during that
struggle is now the International President of the UAW.

            Outside the UAW halls considering the offer, corporate media
buzzards circled hoping for opportunities to distort the damage inflicted on
UAW members.  One twenty year old, who two years before was flipping
hamburgers at McDonalds, was glad it was over. ³This is the best job I have
ever had², she said. She was tired of all the hassle. Never walked a picket
line, never missed a days work, but she was tired.  Does the old adage;
³young and dumb² come to mind?  A more seasoned veteran voiced his anger
when he told the vultures that the scabs that crossed the picket lines in
the nineties; are ³getting what they deserved².  The media has soft-pedaled
the contract and have ³overlooked² more devastating and controversial
issues.  Silence by the UAW has left the general public in the dark.  I
guess it¹s hard for a rooster to crow when he¹s just laid an egg.

            The new ratified contract has few changes over the previous
offer other than negative. Caterpillar, without blinking, never put another
nickel on the table but shifted costs to different groups of employees.  Why
would they, with all the white flags the UAW threw up?  Incentive bonuses
were shifted to the ³bone us² column to cover health care costs.  Insurance
costs for certain retirees were lowered some, but continue to rise
throughout the life of the agreement.  Part of that cost will come from
working members who previously had paid insurance.  Temporary employees
remain third world members of the UAW.  No benefits, no representation and
no retirement; no hope!  New hires are allowed to become full time under
this agreement, but do not fare much better. The current ³supplemental
employee² at labor grade 2, step3 for example has a base wage of $15.37 an
hour.  In the same grade and step if he converts to a ³new hire², he of she
will paid $12.50 an hour.  The same pay for current employees is $20.44 an
hour.  New hires will receive benefits, which they now have to pay for, but
NO RETIREMENT!  New hires will have a 401K, which they must pay into and are
not a reliable source of retirement income. The August 04 offer gave new
hires the option of a 4401k or the Caterpillar retirement.  One UAW member
who voted for the agreement said it right; ³If we reject this offer, the
next one will be worse². Cat currently has more than 1100 supplemental
employees representing nearly 15% of their workforce and has offered early
retirement windows for current employees.  By the time this contract
expires, Cat may well be close to ending its defined pension plan.  That is
a giant step backward for any union, roughly 60 years.  New hires will in
many instances, be working for $10.00 an hour less than current employees.
Considering that most US workers are working for 1979 level wages today, Cat
has relegated its employees to poverty.

            The parts division of Caterpillar, now known as Logistic
Services, is paid so low after the 1998 agreement, some members are eligible
for food stamps.  York PA, has only a few UAW members left.  Cat has assumed
the role of Corporate Carpetbagger, shifting most of those jobs to North
Carolina. The Memphis facility wage scale starts at a whopping $8.25 an hour
from a company boasting record profits and the best position in the market
in the industry.  If the Memphis facility survives the six-year agony,
workers can earn $10.50 an hour.  Before we get too excited over this ³rags
to riches² story, Memphis has been excluded from Plant Closing Protection.
Currently Cat is on the move to Mexico with UAW jobs from the Peoria area
and salaried workers in the computer group have been outsourced to India.
In the mid-nineties when the Denver logistics UAW local voted to accept the
concession-ladened contract, the local union President committed suicide out
of despair.  Everything that union brother fought against, the UAW has
surrendered, and without a fight.

            What is in the future for UAW members at Cat?  The only possible
way to escape the ³Beg Bargaining² that robbed UAW members of the gains from
years of struggle is for the members to organize and take control, local by
local, and elect leadership that is accountable.  Even then there is no
guarantee the UAW won¹t write off the workers at Cat like those at Accuride
Wheel in the mean time.  By the time Cat finishes outsourcing, moving
production, and lowering standards of living, there may not be enough dues
for the UAW to fret over.

            As a trade unionist reflecting on our blood-stained history, the
sit down strikes, the men and women murdered by the bosses goons and police,
the blood shed and tears sacrificed by other generations for us, I am
angered by this generation of so-called leadership in our movement so
willing to piss on that sacrifice. From the top of the House of Labor to the
bottom; I am shamed by those who have deserted workers in battle; who have
lost the reality of class struggle, and contaminated our precious union with
mirror images of the Bastards of the Boardroom.

Mike Griffin

WarZone Education Foundation

Decatur IL

contact LaborNet

copyright 2005 © LaborNet