Monday, January 05, 2009
The UAW As Whipping Boy, Solidarity As Answer
I worked in a Ford Assembly Plant for 31 years and for much of that time I was a rep in my United Auto Workers Local Union. I knew in my early days in that factory most of the best trade unionists I have known in my life. They were very principled people. Very tough. Very honest. Very hard-working. Very friendly and funny.
What they held in most in common was an absolute faith in God and the goodness of common men. (They had a lot of faith in women too but in 1972 when I started, there were only two women in the 2500-member UAW workforce.) They expected one worker to support another and they fought as hard as they could to keep their jobs fair and as comfortable as line work can be.
Against us was the hated stopwatch of Taylor and Fordism. But the Solidarity of lineworkers was a powerful force and each time the company cut jobs out of the line and passed the work to those jobs that remained, we managed to leave this extra work undone. Within a couple of weeks the cut jobs were reinstated, the war was ended, civility returned.
It was this fight against speedup and the emergence of Solidarity to win it that always defined the union for me. It was such a great and successful moral resistance to the assembly line and to all those who were so determined to make us robots that it made us all proud to be union. We were proud of our union even as the UAW hierarchy joined Ford against us. By the mid-70's, however, the UAW Bigs had persuaded most Local Union reps to go against us too and there was a short-lived, fairly broad rank-and-file rebellion against this new UAW and it's turn to company unionism. The speedup fights are long gone now. Here and there you can still see the best union members standing up for each other even though they are closely surveiled by UAW/Ford appointees and reps. Getting back to Solidarity means putting these rebels and fighters in touch with each other.
Why did this rebellion against worker against worker competition fail to make a revolution - that would be a return to the UAW's original family and community virtues? I think it was because none of us knew anything of Chesterton or Distributism in those days. We were boxed in by Left/Right ideas and never found the core of things, the things that most good people believe in. For one thing, we were coached through all sorts of very spendy industrial psych programs, that we didn't understand why the very idea of friendship, community and Solidarity had to go. We lined up with wrong ideas and the wrong people. We worked with the Left then left the Left when we discovered they didn't have the answer either. The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists dwindled away in anti-Communism, failing to provide us the Church's truths on Economic Justice, Subsidiarity and Solidarity.
The UAW was telling us that some of us had to go and the rest of us had to work harder to compete first, with the Japanese and later with everyone who needs a decent job. In 1982, we lost the fight for Solidarity amongst ourselves. We lost the fight for Solidarity with the Japanese. In 1984, we lost the fight for Solidarity with our own Canadian members as they abandoned the UAW's dog-eat-dog philosophy. In the 1990s we lost the fight to stop the assasination of Mexican Ford workers. Basically, we lost the fight for the respect and love one worker has for another. We lost the fight for the Christian belief that God wants us to be fulfilled by our jobs. All of us.
The UAW has a long Left history. It started from the Old Left but that Left was much different to me. The old Lefties in my Local were family guys with plenty of kids. they actually liked children more than cats, dogs and vegetables! They were Socialists and Communists because they were anti- Capitalists and the Left was the only other game in town. They were gutsy, highly principled, self-educated men. I expect many of them would have been Distributists if they could have been turned on to Chesterton and logged on to The Distributist Review. Most of all they would have loved Chesterton's belief that The Good Fight actually meant a fight.
Today, the UAW retains Lefties at the top, mostly in research departments where they are allowed to do little more than Bigs butt kissing and inform on the rank and file Left and true trade union fighters who continue to work real jobs in the factories.
About 10 years ago, my friend, Chestertonian Jeff James, a fighting, UAW rank and file activist in Ohio started me on Chesterton thus saving my activist life.
Five years ago I became friends with the fearless Santino Scalici who I immediately was able to add to my long list of noble Pros, UAW, Vets, family business people - all friends who will never stop standing up for others.
Last year I discovered the perfect sense of John Medaille and his terrific colleagues. Our side is looking up!
The dog-eat-dog, fear-mongering opposition is well-healed, everywhere, persuasive and persistent. The UAWs politics of fear work against us everywhere these days. It is a tough, tough thing to fight back in the shops and offices. But it is loco no? - that most of us have to go so the few can do well. You all are providing us lifeline ammunition we need to reason ourselves back to Solidarity.
I hope everyone here in this blog, understands what a wonderful thing you do, especially for us factory folk, in reinforcing our common sense, hope and courage.
We have, for many years, tried to make some sense of what the powerful preach to us on the necessity of selfishness. We have tried to argue for Solidarity against this false duty they assign us to attack ourselves.
Our job is to pass along all this great JUSTICE stuff for common sense, the common good and in particular, The Good Fight. Pass it on to everyone we know. Everyone can do something as MLK said. It doesn't have to be a big deal just buy someone coffee or start a workplace newsletter and spread the truth that Solidarity still works.
Thank you all for giving us the arguments and confidence to carry on this work.
God bless all!
"A pickpocket is obviously a champion of private enterprise. But it would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that a pickpocket is a champion of private property. The point about Capitalism and Commercialism, as conducted of late, is that they have really preached the extension of business rather than the preservation of belongings; and have at best tried to disguise the pickpocket with some of the virtues of the pirate. The point about Communism is that it only reforms the pickpocket by forbidding pockets."
- G.K. Chesterton