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Autoworkers at Detroit auto show: ‘A job is a right— Fight, fight, fight’

By Martha Grevatt |
January 17, 2011
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Detroit, MI - For the third consecutive year, rank-and-file autoworkers picketed the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Jan. 9. Workers maintained a spirited picket line in sub-freezing temperatures, chanting “A job is a right, we’re gonna fight, fight, fight” and “Say it loud and clear, no two-tier.”

NAIAS bills itself as “the auto industry’s indispensable North American event” where “attention turns to Detroit for global unveilings and news from an optimistic industry.” (www.naias.com) Many autoworkers on the shop floor, however, don’t share the enthusiasm of “the industry” — meaning the executives, stockholders and moneylenders.

The billions in profits General Motors and Ford are raking in — and that Chrysler expects to start accumulating this year — have come at the workers’ expense. The Jan. 10 Detroit Free Press reported that these three companies have eliminated nearly 80,000 union jobs in Michigan in the past two years. Now, with an upturn in vehicle sales and an increase in the Detroit Three automakers’ market share, the Free Press stated that 28,000 new job openings will be filled this year.

The catch is that under a two-tier wage structure demanded by the U.S. Treasury in 2009, the pay of these new hires will be frozen at $14 an hour until 2015 — half of what higher seniority production workers currently earn. Many will be hired as temporary workers and remain on temporary status indefinitely.

The Rally for Jobs was initiated by the Autoworkers Caravan and supported by Factory Rats United; Warriors of Labor; Coalition of Concerned Citizens; Windsor Workers Action Center; Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs; and Supporters of Gary Walkowicz.

Walkowicz challenged the two-tier pay structure last year at the United Auto Workers Constitutional Convention as an opposition candidate for International president.

The rally addressed a number of issues. Frank Hammer, former president of UAW Local 909, explained that the current version of the Free Trade Agreement between South Korea and the U.S. would eliminate thousands of jobs in both countries. The only change from the original 2007 agreement is that the new FTA delays the lifting of trade barriers.

Wendy Thompson, former president of UAW Local 235, raised the demand that the many closed auto plants be reopened and retooled to produce the buses and trains — which the auto companies once built — needed to revitalize mass transit to reduce carbon emissions and combat global warming.

Walkowicz addressed the upcoming UAW National Bargaining Convention, calling on union members to fight to get back everything they gave up in the 2007 contracts with the Detroit Three and the additional modifications during the 2009 GM and Chrysler bankruptcies.

Abayomi Azikiwe, representing Moratorium Now!, stated that Michigan public sector workers were facing an attack similar to that directed at the UAW and called on those present to demonstrate against layoffs and service cuts during the State of the State address of newly elected Gov.Rick Snyder.

Greg Clark, Shop Chair of UAW Local 23, talked about the struggle of GM workers in Indianapolis against company plans to sell their plant to a supplier that would have cut their wages in half and taken away benefits. Solidarity statements were read from autoworkers in Canada and Brazil.

The demonstration was an important challenge to the capitalist position — unfortunately embraced by the UAW officialdom — that workers in the plants need to make whatever concessions deemed necessary to make the companies profitable and competitive.

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