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On the picket line

July 6, 2007 | Page 14

Iraqi labor tour

By Lee Sustar

WORKERS AT bankrupt Delphi Corp. last month approved a contract that cuts wages and closes plants as United Auto Workers (UAW) leaders pushed for some of the most drastic concessions in the union's history.

The deal, approved by a 2-1 margin, reduces top pay from about $27 per hour to $18.50 and clears the way for the company, the former parts division of General Motors, to close 10 U.S. plants, sell four others and keep four open as the company transforms into a largely offshore supplier for GM and other auto companies.

The vote comes nearly 18 months after Delphi declared bankruptcy. Since then, Delphi and GM funded buyouts for approximately 20,000 Delphi workers who took earlier retirement or transferred back to GM.

As a result, of the 17,000 current Delphi workers eligible to vote on the deal, just 4,000 were UAW veterans. The rest were new hires who were already paid on a lower tier of $14 per hour, and had no opportunity to earn the top rates anyway.

For many of these new hires, the contract was in fact a vote on a severance package they will receive when their plants shut down.

More givebacks will soon be on the table at local plant contracts to be completed over the next two months. The UAW has agreed that the local agreements will reduce skilled trades classifications and eliminate restrictions on combinations of jobs.

"The UAW is now neck and neck with the unorganized in a race to the bottom," wrote Gregg Shotwell, a former Delphi worker who is employed at a GM warehouse in Michigan. "In an effort to pull ahead the [UAW Administration] Con Caucus shed the burdensome seniority rights sometimes referred to as 'work rules.' The Con Caucus sees no reason why one person can't do two jobs. After all, Con Caucus reps can talk out of both sides of their mouths at the same time."

The deal has ominous implications for the Big Three contract talks that will soon officially begin. The UAW has effectively agreed to reopen the current contract by taking billions of dollars in concessions on health care costs at GM and Ford and buyouts to eliminate jobs. Local contracts at Ford and GM have also been renegotiated to give management greater "flexibility."

If employers have their way this year's negotiations will further roll back UAW gains built up over decades.

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Iraqi labor tour
By Lee Sustar

LEADERS OF Iraqi trade unionists toured the U.S. in June to give Americans insight into the class struggle in Iraq and foster solidarity for their cause.

The 12-city tour, organized by U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), showed an interest by U.S. labor activists in building solidarity with Iraqi workers.

However, as was the case in a similar tour in 2005, the events were clouded by controversy over the pro-occupation position of one of the union federations represented by one speaker--Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Electrical Utility Workers Union, which is affiliated with the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW).

As a statement on the tour by New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) put it, "The GFIW (formerly IFTU) is sponsored by the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) and former U.S.-installed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. These parties oppose immediate U.S. withdrawal, support Bush's 'surge,' and demand that the Iraqi puppet regime crush Iraqi resistance--positions that are echoed by the GFIW."

Abdullah Muhsin, international representative of the then-IFTU, was quoted in January as saying that "If the American troops leave, Iraq will become a bloodbath and turn toward the dark ages." Similarly, Wishyaar Hamad Haji, a top official in the Kurdistan Teachers' Union, an affiliate of the GFIW, said on a tour of Britain earlier this year that a troop withdrawal would be a "catastrophe."

"NYCLAW believes that such support for pro-occupation forces undermines genuine solidarity with Iraqi workers, weakens the fight for immediate U.S. withdrawal, and has no place on an antiwar platform," the group said in its statement.

The USLAW tour did include Faleh Abood Umara, General Secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Workers, which opposes the occupation position and which recently went on strike in defiance of the government.

However, visa difficulties prevented Umara from reaching Washington, D.C., for the opening of the tour, which included a protest at the office of BearingPoint, a consulting company that wrote the proposed Iraq oil law that would virtually privatize 70 percent of the company's oil wealth.

Jon Van Camp contributed to this report.

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