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Locked-out UAW members reject latest contract offer
Accuride workers still defiant

By Lee Sustar | November 9, 2001 | Page 10

HENDERSON, Ky.--Locked out workers once again said "no" to a union-busting contract proposal from Accuride that was pushed to a sudden vote by the UAW's International staff. With more than two-thirds of the workers voting, the contract was rejected by 97 percent--again.

The proposal would have eliminated all skilled trades and janitors, based all raises on performance standards determined by the company, increased pensions just 50 cents per year and imposed co-payments on health insurance amounting to $200 per month for a family.

Of 405 workers eligible for recall, only 80 to 110 workers would be offered jobs. But the International pushed this deal anyway. "We didn't have but two days notice from the International about this vote," former Local 2036 president Billy Robinson told Socialist Worker. "They told us, 'We don't give a damn.'"

It was the latest attempt by UAW top officials to force a settlement since 400 workers at the auto parts plant were locked out in March 1998 after five weeks on strike.

At one point, the International cut off strike benefits--including medical coverage--for 14 months. Workers protested outside the UAW International's Solidarity House in May 2000--and the benefits were restored four months later at double the normal amount.

The Accuride struggle has become a focal point for dissidents and reformers in the UAW--especially for Caterpillar workers, who were forced to end their second long strike when the International cut off their benefits. The International even put an administrator in control of the local to run negotiations with the company.

Recently, UAW leaders cut strike benefits in half. And earlier this year, the International barred Billy Robinson from holding office on the grounds that he retired. Never mind that UAW retirees hold office in other locals--this was an attempt to silence Robinson and intimidate others from speaking out.

"UAW members were totally shocked that the International would do this to us," Robinson said. "They think that we are sacrificial lambs, so to hell with it--that we didn't have enough members to really care about."

The International's conduct of this struggle is not only shameful, but flies in the face of the UAW's strategy of organizing key parts plants. The Accuride plant produces wheel rims used in SUVs and pickup trucks made at General Motors' Janesville, Wis., plant and Ford's Louisville plant. It also is a major supplier to Navistar, the truck and agricultural implement maker.

By abandoning the Accuride workers, the UAW undercuts its appeal to the 80 percent of parts workers who are now nonunion.

But activists in the UAW Solidarity Coalition and the New Directions movement across the country are organizing to publicize the Accuride struggle and to oppose the current leadership's policy of collaboration with management.

Robinson is also considering running for UAW president in order to get that message out. "It's sad to say, but how can anyone have confidence in the UAW?" Robinson said. "How are you going to organize people when you are constantly doing things like this? Where is the help that we are supposed to be getting?"

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