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Visteon strikers suffer defeat

By Lee Sustar | June 25, 2004 | Page 11

BEDFORD, Ind.--Workers at the Visteon auto parts plant here voted to accept a contract with major concessions after a two-week strike that saw clashes with security guards and state troopers in riot gear. The workers, members of International Union of Electrical Workers-Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA) Local 84907, voted 528 to 410 to accept a deal that will eliminate about 300 jobs, impose a pay cut, introduce a two-tier wage scale and force retirees to pay a portion of their health insurance.

"I voted no," said Melody Gratzer, who's worked at the plant for nine years. "I don't know why we took a step backward," she told Socialist Worker. "There are only 700 jobs guaranteed, and there are going to be [more than] 300 people without jobs."

Gratzer was angry that union members were given just 24 hours to review the proposed contract, rather than the 72 hours that is standard. "I just think a lot of people got scared," she said.

The strike began May 30 when workers rejected a contract that would have eliminated 600 jobs. Visteon--formerly the parts division of Ford--told workers that the jobs were headed to a plant in Mexico. In fact, they're being shipped to a Visteon plant in Rawsonville, Mich., where the United Auto Workers (UAW) represents workers.

Shamefully, the UAW abandoned its own strike threat to settle on a contract that included the jobs from Bedford. Management clearly used the Bedford plant as an example for future union negotiations, deliberately provoking a strike and standing by as security guards brutally attacked the strikers.

When workers fought back, management called on Indiana state police, who also attacked strikers. Supporters of the strike fought back a few days later, dumping old cars on the picket line, where they were flipped and one was set afire.

News of the confrontation spurred widespread support in the area, including delegations from CWA workers at SBC and other IUE-CWA workers from a Visteon plant. UAW members from a big General Motors plant nearby also showed their support.

But the IUE-CWA had no strategy to win. Local 84907 President Earl Willis was on the picket line constantly, but never called a meeting to discuss strategy even after the picket-line clash. And when rank-and-file members brought Confederate flags in response to African-American security guards and strikebreakers, local union leaders let this divisive and racist symbol go unchallenged.

Without any clear direction from the union, and management apparently dug in for a long fight, the 100 votes that rejected the previous contract swung the other way. The deal will cut workers' hourly pay by 79 cents, down from $16 per hour.

New hires will start at $10 per hour, reaching $10.90 at the end of the four-year contract. Retirees will pay 8 percent of their health care premiums. The deal will allow 250 workers to take buyouts of just $25,000.

The bargaining committee recommended a "yes" vote, according to Willis. "We felt it was the best offer we could get at this time without a long, drawn-out strike," he said. Yet Willis and the local leaders all but conceded defeat from the outset, agreeing to the two-tier wage cuts and pushing health costs on retirees.

The courage that the Bedford Visteon strikers showed on the picket line was wasted. The only way to defeat aggressive companies like this is to be equally aggressive. And that means turning the solidarity shown by workers in the area into more action on the picket line.

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