Saturday, October 26, 2013

Machinists strike San Leandro Ford. Usual takeaways on the table, benefits, wages.

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Workers at the Ford dealership in San Leandro are on strike. They are members of the Machinists union 1546. A friend and I went down there today. We weren’t able to stay too long but we picketed for a while and spoke to some workers. The friend with me has been visiting the line regularly; he’s a public sector union worker.

The situation is one we’ve heard a million times. The bosses are making money, they have gotten wage freezes and other concessions in the past but they want more. As the guys in the short clip above point out, the boss is after further wage reductions and increases in medical contributions, almost doubling them over a two-year period.

Unfortunately my phone ran out of memory so the interview ended abruptly so I apologize for that, but they also pointed out a truck with its hood up in the adjacent lot. A worker had turned off the dealership’s water so now a camera is always pointing at it. We talked about that and the need for the union movement to not fight these battles in isolation but through mass mobilization and hitting the boss where it hurts, production and profits, shutting off their water falls in to this category.

They agreed with this and also with the Occupy Movement’s methods, “Without the vandalism” the worker says. It shows, turning off the bosses’ water to a business is one thing, indiscriminate self indulgent vandalism is another. A strike from the bosses point of view is mass terrorism, but it is a conscious mass act in defense of our interests. The 1% wages economic terrorism against working people and our families on a regular basis, it's the norm for them.

As is usually the case, while individual workers and union members have been to the picket lines, there is no attempt at all by the leadership of the Machinists Union, the Central Labor Council or the labor movement as a whole to mobilize the potential power of organized labor in these instances. Locals are left to fight battles in isolation against bosses who use the police, the courts the media and all their forces against them.

We walked across the street to talk to machinists at a rival dealership. They are in contract negotiations and belong to the same local Union yet there is no linking the two. Workers from across the street haven’t even come over to show their support during their lunch or after work workers told us. The official negotiating both contracts said the same thing when we spoke to him and both felt it was the workers fault to a degree, and I agree it is to a point, but I don’t accept it is their fault in the main, it fits in with the general strategy of the labor leadership not to mobilize the power of the members, to keep workers apart.

The strategists atop organized Labor generally agree that concessions have to be made and normally limit their approach to appeals to the bosses to be a little less aggressive which simply encourages more aggression. In fact one worker we spoke to said that an official tried to discourage them from striking but as the two in the video pointed out, their employer is making lots of money.

We went across the street and spoke to some of the machinists there and encouraged them to visit the line. They initially repeated the argument that they have different issues than the other dealership but when we raised some of them they said they were pretty much the same. As my friend said, “don’t tell me the two owners of these dealerships don’t meet and talk.” It actually goes beyond that, while organized labor is purposely fractured as the various leaderships jockey for jurisdictional dominance and competition for more members which means increased revenue in the form of dues, the bosses belong to the same organization too, the Chamber of Commerce, the organization that opposed OSHA for example.

Note: I am adding this later as I wrote this commentary fairly quickly but it would make sense for the workers in both these dealerships and any of the others along auto row there to be meeting together to coordinate demands and approach.  You know the bosses at the Nissan dealership talk to the boss at the Ford one about what's happening and how they can both get the best of the workers involved.
The union officials will not do that of course because not only do they obey the laws of the land religiously even when it hurts workers and their own members (unlike the corporations and their politicians who break it all the time) but to mobilize this power would threaten their own positions positions, privilege and perks which are based on cooperation and labor peace. So the tactics and strategy that can win for us will have to come by building organized fighting caucuses and new leadership from below. (end added note).

The owners of businesses like these, the CEO’s and directors of the corporations that control the political life of our communities meet in many different situations over coffee, at conferences, lunch, golf and other venues where they discuss their war against workers and our communities. They fight hard to maintain their interests.

The militant and rich tradition of the American working class has definitely been driven deep in to the recesses of our consciousness. One worker had to look at the sign he was holding to familiarize himself with the acronym for the organization he is affiliated to, the AFL-CIO. This is very common. Many liberals will hold the rank and file worker responsible for this situation but the main responsibility for it lies squarely on the shoulders of the labor leadership at the highest levels. I explained to this young worker that if the Union had a strong and militant presence on the job, if it was seen as the organization that was identified with wage increases as opposed to failing to prevent and in many cases supporting openly, wage decreases; if the union leadership were as aggressive in defending what we have as the boss is in taking it away, he’d know what organization he belonged to and wouldn’t have to look up at a sign.

I think there is undoubtedly an increase in strike activity and worker resistance to the continued offensive against us by the 1% in the US. We are being driven to fight back and I think that this mood, coming on the heels of the Occupy Movement, is placing upward pressure on the labor leadership to do something; it's not so easy for them to achieve their usual "labor peace" deal with the bosses. We have said on this blog that the boss will not let up. It is not about an individual boss, but about a crisis of capitalism, globalization and competition. But it is the case that the rank and file worker cannot continue to leave it to someone else.  We have to step forward with an alternative strategy, tactics and approach if we are to survive. And this will inevitably mean a political struggle against the present leadership.   The more we give, the more the boss wants.

The heads of organized Labor have failed to defend their members and the gains we have won over 150 years.  When it comes to fighting for workers and our communities as a whole, they have been absent for the most part. The reason for this in my view is that they have the same view of the world as the bosses as I have said before.  They see no alternative to the market, to capitalism.  They promote the Team Concept, that bosses and workers have the same interests so mobilizing the tremendous potential power of their members and workers as a whole is pointless, it can only lead to chaos. 

Also, while we may have differences with the union leadership in these incidences, the crushing of the trade union movement is detrimental to all workers, for these unionized workers to lose more ground, it means those outside unions ranks, the unorganized, the poor, the youth and minorities will become easier targets.

If you live in San Leandro or if you don’t you can head down and picket awhile with these folks. As someone who has been on strike it means a lot. It’s on Marina Blvd, across from the Honda and Nissan dealerships.

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