American Axle strikers solid

Inside UAW Local 235 in Hamtramck, across the street from the largest of the struck American Axle plants, Ray Wood, President of UAW Local 14 at the GM powertrain in Toledo was speaking to Local President Adrian King and Vice President Bill Alford. “Whatever you need….we’re only an hour away, when they mess with one, they mess with all of us, we’re family.” Wood had just traveled up from Toledo and his local had brought a bus and car caravan of union members to walk the picket lines.

Wood said the Toledo local is in local negotiations (those taking place following last fall’s national contract) and told King and Alford “solidarity, that’s what it’s all about” We’re going to be there for the long haul as well.”

“That’s a war wound, brother” said Wood while looking at the large cast on Alford’s leg and ankle, both broken while falling on the ice picketers have had to deal with through much of this strike.

Alford said people are coming out of the woodwork to offer support. This coming Monday, UAW local 412 from nearby Warren is sponsoring a solidarity rally and BBQ lunch for strikers. King and Alford said locals from GM, Chrysler and Ford are bringing everything from pizza, pop, and chips to a dump truck of wood to keep the barrel fires going on the picket line. The local Subway’s donated party trays but Alford said there’s still no Hamtramck Polish sausage – made locally and some of the best in the country – hint! hint!

One step inside the local hall or a walk outside on the picket line quickly shows the determination of the strikers. Morale of members is high, said Alford. They show up on time for picket duty and do not miss their four hour shifts. Some do eight or more, coming in every day. Older guys who have been here 30, 40 years are still coming in here to walk the line, said Alford.

President King said the local is taking steps to help workers who may be having financial problems. One UAW local will be holding workshops to help people with mortgage or credit problems. A welfare rights organization has offered assistance to those needing help with utility payments. The union is identifying couples where both work at the plant and may be in need of special help and are beginning to find locals who will sign up for an “adopt a worker program” for strikers who are having financial problems. This is the solidarity that makes victories possible.

Now in its fourth week, with 29 General Motors plants all or partially shut down and 40,000 workers being affected, the pressure mounts on American Axle to negotiate in a straight forward manner with its 3,650 striking auto workers. Although making over $37 million in profits last year, American Axle is still seeking huge wage and benefit cuts. American Axle’s chief executive, Dick Dauch, has set up eight non-union plants in the United States, Mexico, Poland, Scotland, India and China.

Automotive News estimated that in the years 2003 through 2006, the CEO received $58 million in compensation. Because the company has provided no data to justify the harsh cuts, the union has charged it with unfair labor practices. UAW president, Ron Gettlefinger, has said talks have been a “one-way” street of company demands.