The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.60/No.33           September 23, 1996 
Auto Giants Sense Weakness In UAW Tops  

CHICAGO - The United Auto Workers contract with the Big Three auto companies - Chrysler, Ford Motor, and General Motors - is set to expire at midnight, September 14. The UAW, which represents some 400,000 auto workers, has chosen the Ford Motor Company as the lead target for negotiations, while continuing contract talks with Chrysler and GM.

The big-business press has touted the Ford/UAW relationship as "excellent," with a "history of devising innovative solutions to intractable labor disputes," as the September 6 New York Times put it. The UAW has not had a strike against Ford since 1986.

For the past several decades the union has negotiated a contract at one auto company, then demanded the other two sign a similar agreement.

Sensing weakness in the willingness of the union tops to resist the Big Three's demands weeks before the November elections, all three of the automakers have been jockeying among themselves to be selected by the union. GM is taking the hardest stance. "This year, GM insiders and even some UAW leaders are bracing for GM to take a harder line, even if the union settles first at Chrysler or Ford," reported the Wall Street Journal.

The negotiations take place a few months after the 17-day strike against GM at Dayton, Ohio, that the company turned into a systemwide de facto lockout and vicious assault on the workers. Since the strike ended in April, GM has been on the prod, reopening local UAW agreements and getting, in many cases, concessions from the union. According to one news account, GM is not living up to its agreement with UAW Local 696 in Dayton, the union that led the walkout in March. "They're backsliding on some issues agreed to," Local 696 President Joe Hasenjager told Bloomberg Business News. "I'm unsatisfied."

In the Big Three plants, little information on the contract has been provided to the membership. According to the UAW-Ford Bargaining Update, a fact sheet put out by the UAW-Ford Negotiating Committee, UAW president Stephen Yokich said, "We are not targeting anyone for a strike. Our target is to get a contract that we can take back to our members that they can ratify."

Reports in the big-business press indicate that Ford is pushing for a contract lasting four or more year. The current contract lasted three years. The company is also seeking to obtain concessions that allow the automakers "to pay permanently lower wages in any new auto-parts business they may enter," according to the September 6 New York Times. In exchange for this concession, the automakers "would agree not to let its unionized work force fall much below current levels for three or more years that the next contract lasts."

The negotiations take place in the context of the U.S. presidential elections with the UAW leadership pulling out all stops, like the rest of the union officialdom, to re-elect President William Clinton. The union tops are concerned that a possible strike would hurt Clinton's re-election bid. Yokich, along with several other international officers of the union, were delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

"If the UAW negotiates deals with Chrysler and Ford first, it can delay a possible strike at GM until after the Presidential elections on November 5," said the New York Times. "Such a delay is an important consideration for UAW leaders, who have aggressively backed President Clinton's re-election bid and have worried that a disruptive strike before the election could hurt Democratic candidates who are perceived as close to organized labor."

Although GM has tried to soften its image in recent weeks, the auto giant is determined to obtain new union concessions even if the UAW settles with Ford or Chrysler. The auto giant says 70,000 jobs must be cut from their current payroll of 240,000 in order for the company to be competitive.

Frank Forrestal is a member of UAW Local 551 at Ford Motor in Chicago.  
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