Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Strike at San Leandro Ford off: Union officials opt for cooling off period.

On the picket line at San Leandro Ford
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The strike at the Ford dealership by members of the Machinists union local 1546 has taken a familiar turn; it has been called off and a so-called 30-day cooling off period has been put in its place according to workers I have spoken to.  I commented on this in an earlier blog. This is a familiar game the bosses and the labor leadership play. We saw it in the recent BART dispute.

Were the labor leadership, willing and prepared to fight, not simply of the unions involved in these struggles but of the entire labor movement, we would be hearing about “heating up” periods not cooling off periods. Workers are angry at the attacks on our living standards and have every right to be heated up; it is not the job of the labor leaders to cool us down. The “cooling off” period is nothing but a strikebreaking tool. Does anyone with any brains at all think the workers at San Leandro Ford will walk of the job this Christmas?

This is a familiar pattern. We saw it with BART.  What happened in both these situations is this.  Bosses,whether at BART or  an auto dealership, are relentless in their efforts to drive down wages and conditions. The Union leadership and their army of staffers and lawyers would willingly capitulate if the bosses would simply demand a little less. But this is a different time. They are on the offensive; they are out to take everything they can and the labor leadership, which sees themselves as part of the system, will not fight.  

The labor hierarchy is caught between the attacks of the bosses’ who are relentless in their assault, and the pressure from within their own ranks to stem the blood flow after years of concessions and givebacks.  The BART union officials made it clear long before the first strike that they would go away if the bosses’ would be less demanding.  But they refused. At the same time the union membership did not want to make concessions. So rather than admit they would not fight to win, labor leaders took their members out on a strike with no strategy to win it. This is what the so-called cooling off period was, and is about.

The “cooling off” period is an increasingly used strikebreaking tool; it should be called the “make concessions and get the workers back to work tool.” It’s almost certain that the workers at the Ford dealership will end up back at work as a federal mediator has been called in, most likely at the request of the movers and shakers atop the Machinists union in agreement with the bosses.

The workers will have lost a few weeks pay and be back at work and the boss will end up with a concessionary deal. Union staffers and higher ups don’t lose wages when they take their members out on strike knowing they have no strategy for victory. It suits their general view of the world----the members will be demoralized a little more, will lose faith in the union, will stay out of their hair and life can go on; another defeat from what could have been a victory.  It will be the rank and file that will be blamed for the defeat of course.

I was told by one worker at the Ford dealership that a union official had tried to talk them out of striking but couldn’t.  The cooling off period is a boon for the union tops; they know no worker will want to go back out again at Christmas.  Their compliance in this strikebreaking method is criminal, but they don’t have to work under the wages and conditions that their concessionary deals with the bosses impose on their members.

The boss in this particular instance is Bob Knezevich. Bob has a nice 6,600 sq. foot 5 bedroom, 5-bath property in Redwood City that sits on a nice 20,000  sq foot lot.  It’s worth around $1.8 million according to reports I’ve read.

Bob made sure that contract negotiations included issues designed to divide the workers.  In the parts dept. Knezevich wanted to lower the pay from $28 to $20 an hour and compensate the workers for their loss with a commission plan. After the strike Knezevich offered a wage increase of 30c an hour over three years for these guys.  The blue-collar mechanics backed up their co-workers in sales refusing to allow the boss to divide them.

The mechanics on the other hand are paid a flat rate per job, a form of piecework. San Leandro Ford is not set up for this type of procedure one worker told me but piece-work is also nasty as it causes workers to work faster which is divisive as we all work at different paces. It is also discriminatory toward older workers. There was a general attempt to turn workers in each dept. against each other, mechanics, lube guys, techs, parts etc. Incidentally another issue a striker complained about what that the union was not very clear about developments at the table as the strike wore on.  This is nothing new.

The labor officialdom blames members for not being active in their unions, but their whole strategy is designed to demoralize the members and convince us that we cannot win, that we are too weak. Why would we go to a union meeting to hear the same argument from our leaders that we hear form the boss? You can’t get people active around a program of concessions and that’s exactly the intention.

Bob Knezevich lives, or at least has property at 18 Colton Court in Redwood City, maybe a 40-minute drive away.  One strategy would be to picket his home, leaflet his neighborhood.  If the union leadership had any intention of fighting at all they should organize to do this and leaflet where he shops where he goes to church or where his kids or grandkids go to school. A campaign for solidarity action should be taken to all the other Ford plants and outlets. The battle should be taken to Ford, to the owners of the Ford dealerships and to all the bosses’, their lives should be disrupted. Such a campaign can also be used to organize the non-union dealerships. A campaign like this could also lead to fighting opposition caucuses in our unions that can change the present direction.

These methods do not have to involve illegal activity, it is our 1st Amendment right to gather, inform, take the battle to them and their private lives as long as we don’t threaten or invade private property. Defiance of the law can occur when we have the numbers, that’s how the trade union movement was built.

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