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UAW rank and filers meet to strategize

By Lee Sustar | November 18, 2005

KOKOMO, Ind.--More than 100 members of the United Auto Workers jammed a hotel meeting room November 13 for the second rank-and-file meeting in as many weeks. The meeting, chaired by UAW Local 2151 member Gregg Shotwell, focused on the efforts by bankrupt Delphi Automotive to slash wages by nearly two thirds or get a bankruptcy court judge to void contracts altogether.

Also present were workers from General Motors plants in Indiana, as well as those from the big Chrysler transmission plant that sits across the street from Delphi's massive complex here. With local union leaders mum on instructions from top UAW leaders, union members are increasingly frustrated about the union's failure to mobilize against Delphi.

Workers and retirees from GM were on hand as well to voice their criticism of the union's acceptance of big cuts in retiree health care coverage worth $3 billion per year--a measure that was approved through votes of local unions last week.

Tom Seymour, a retiree from heavy machinery maker Case (now CNH), outlined how to hold companies to their contractual obligation to pay retiree benefits. "There has been a sophisticated propaganda campaign [by management] since the 1980s to get us to this point," he said of the companies' efforts to shed retiree health care obligations.

The rank-and-file meetings have served as an opportunity to both vent anger--both at the companies and the union--and to strategize.

Two veterans of the UAW Caterpillar strikes of the 1990s--retired Local 751 President Larry Solomon and Local 974 activist Rob Wilson--spoke on in-plant strategies to fight management. Bill Hanline, a worker at a Delphi plant in Alabama, gave a presentation detailing how joint programs have created financial incentives that help management "coopt the UAW."

A number of younger workers also spoke up, including Local 292 member Robb Betts, a worker at the Delphi plant here. Having seen GM "gypsies" who have traveled from city to city after plant closures in his own plant, he vowed that he "would not be run out of this community" by Delphi.

Warren Davis, former director of the UAW's Region 2D, blasted the UAW leadership--and reminded the crowd that similar meetings launched the fight for every major UAW gain in the last 40 years, from retirement after 30 years to cost-of-living adjustments. "You are fighting this fight on behalf of workers all over the world," he said.

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