As the Big Three U.S. auto makers gear up for a showdown with the UAW over national bargaining agreements, rank and file auto workers met across the United States in mid-December and firmly agreed that the UAW leadership must reject any concessions over wages, hours, benefits and plant closings.

Meetings of rank and file UAW members took place in Flint, Michigan with 200 attending, and in St. Louis, Missouri, with 60 attending. The consistent theme in both of these autoworkers’ meetings was that the UAW leadership’s “team concept” has to go. In its place they demand a solid defense of the rank and file members’ interests by any means at the union’s disposal. The idea of the UAW and the Big Three auto giants being part of a “team” is the same as the “teamwork” exemplified by a deer and a hunter armed with a high-powered rifle! The tactic of collaboration with the bosses only serves to corrupt elements of the trade union leadership and undermine the interests of the rank and file.

So far, the only gains of the “team concept” tactic has been to give the GM and Delphi bosses the confidence to go ahead with their attempt to gut Delphi’s American plants and its workers. Even though Delphi CEO Steve Miller has abandoned any illusion of “teamwork” by demanding massive concessions from the UAW at Delphi, most of the UAW leadership is still trying to keep the “team” together, even if that means giving in to the demands of the Big Three. In this situation it is absolutely vital that the rank and file movement keep up the fight, and in doing so, build enough pressure from the membership to push the leadership of the UAW to stand up for its members.

If the Big Three auto makers are allowed to gut Delphi and squeeze a concession-ridden contract out of the UAW, this will have a huge impact on the entire labor movement in the United States ‑ not just for autoworkers, and not just for organized workers. An injury to one is an injury to all!

While Delphi has claimed that its U.S. plants have gone into bankruptcy because of the “greed” of UAW autoworkers, this is absolutely not the case. First and foremost, Delphi has grouped 11 of its U.S. plants into a “financially troubled” group, while leaving 34 of its other U.S. and foreign plants in a “stable” group. The financially “troubled” group accounts for more than 1/3 of its worldwide labor force. Keeping 11 of its U.S. plants in separate accounts than the rest of its operations, allows Delphi to skew its financial outlays and returns by basically making two companies out of one. Also, its “bankruptcy” notwithstanding, Delphi is currently holding $1.6 billion in cash plus a line of credit for $4.5 billion more from the banks JP Morgan, Chase, and Citigroup Global Markets Inc. This is certainly a very unique kind of bankruptcy!

In making the case for bankruptcy, Delphi CEO Steve Miller is demanding nothing less than the most drastic cuts from the workers of the UAW. The company’s demands include slashing the hourly wages of Delphi workers from $27 to between $10 and $12.5 an hour. If successful, these drastic cuts would have a reverberating effect throughout the country. They are part of an all-out assault by the bosses and their government on wages, conditions, and benefits, and represent a one-sided class war against working people in the U.S.

For more than 50 years, autoworkers have been among the highest-paid and most organized sector of the American working class. Any attack on the autoworkers will soon be felt throughout the ranks of the working class in the United States. If the UAW workers at Delphi are forced to take a 63 percent pay cut, it will not be long until the bosses begin demanding similar cuts in other industries.

As well as demanding huge pay cuts, the Big Three are demanding that autoworkers begin paying higher premiums for health insurance, dental, and vision benefits. Also of no small importance, GM began freezing retiree pensions on the first of January 2006. Pensions represent deferred wages, and freezing these benefits is in effect the theft of millions of dollars from those who have already given the best days of their lives to create billions in profits for the GM bosses over the last few decades. Across the board, the UAW is under attack. And what are the bosses at Delphi doing to help “save” the company? As we reported in the last issue of Socialist Appeal: “[Delphi CEO] Steve Miller claims that these cuts are necessary to keep the company competitive in the world market. To do his part, Miller has taken a pay cut himself this year. From his current $1.5 million salary he will only receive $1 in 2006. But many point out that this insulting self-imposed cut comes only after Miller received a $3 million signing bonus this past July.”

In addition, the company’s board of directors approved executive severance packages that were generous in the extreme ‑ the very day before the company filed for bankruptcy!

When the execs at Delphi hired Steve Miller as CEO, alarm bells should have been ringing in UAW headquarters. Steve Miller has in many ways been a ‘pioneer’ in the corporate strategy of using bankruptcy law as a tool to break unions and drive down wages and compensation. Mr. Miller was CEO of Bethlehem Steel in 2002 and 2003 when the company used bankruptcy to slash steelworkers’ wages, benefits and pensions, in the name of ‘saving the company.’ Miller was also a board member of United Airlines when it claimed ‘bankruptcy’ and then went on to collect its pound of flesh from the workers of United. Now, this same character is CEO of Delphi, and – to no one’s surprise – Delphi is in the throes of ‘bankruptcy.’ Mr. Miller is putting on his well-practiced performance of asking the UAW for the ‘necessary’ concessions.

The current bosses’ offensive against our class will only be emboldened by a defeat of the UAW at Delphi. Health care and pensions have been the first onto the chopping block. Recent news reports show that the private pension accounts that millions of the nation’s retirees depend on are nowhere near fully funded, especially when it comes to health benefits. Standards & Poors recently reported that average overall health benefits pension funding for companies within the grouping stood at just 22 percent.

Standards & Poors is a stock market grouping of the largest 500 companies in the U.S. (the well-known S&P 500). These companies represent the commanding heights of the U.S. economy, and the decisions their CEOs and boardrooms take affect every one of us. According to the same S&P report, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. has not laid aside a single penny to cover $3.2 billion promised in benefits to its retirees. Nor has auto parts manufacturer Visteon, which has promised $1.1 billion in benefits.

The amounts under-funded by Ford Motor Co. and General Motors are even more astounding: $32.4 billion and $61.5 billion, respectively. So much for a worker’s “secure” retirement! Is it any wonder why the pro-business politicians in Congress are ever-eager to raise the retirement age? The message from the capitalists to the American working class is clear: Work until you die.

Many members of the brewing rank and file revolt in the UAW are calling themselves the ‘Soldiers of Solidarity.’ This is brilliant reflection of the militant spirit, discipline and determination needed to beat back the bosses’ offensive. For far too long, our trade unions have been mired in the dead-end swamp of collaboration with the bosses – our class enemy – in the name of “teamwork” and “partnership.” The facts speak for themselves: this “team” has a rotten, losing record and has landed us at the bottom of the standings.

And what have the trade union tops won for the rank and file through their close collaboration with the bosses? Absolutely nothing ‑ unless you count setbacks, betrayals, concessions, and defeats. What is needed now is a return to the militant traditions out of which the U.S. Labor Movement was born. It was this that allowed us to actually win significant gains for the working class.

This is precisely what the Soldiers of Solidarity are setting out to do, and they deserve the solidarity and support of everyone who works or has ever worked for a living, both the organized and the unorganized. All those who realize that the victory of the UAW at Delphi is vital to the interests of our class must stand behind these workers. As Roland Garrett, a long-time trade union activist points out: “As the NYC Transit Workers have just found out, we are now approaching the end of the ‘American Dream’ and the beginning of the ‘American Nightmare’. The ‘social contract’ for United States workers, which started during WWII, is coming to a close as the entire nation goes further into debt. As the song went: ‘You load 16 tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.’ In the eighties the companies robbed from future workers, now they rob our future.

“All are being attacked. If we do not develop solidarity of the entire working class and hang together, we will all hang separately. The political bankruptcy of our leaders has never been so apparent. We should all become part of the ‘Soldiers of Solidarity (SOS)’ with the Delphi workers. We have now reached the point in the long run and in the short run, that we have nothing to lose.”

As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels pointed out more than 150 years ago, the interests of Labor and Capital are completely opposed. There can be no question of “partnership” with those who profit from our exploitation and whose primary occupation is to undermine our living and working conditions and quality of life. As the struggle at Delphi develops and the rank and file of the UAW mobilize to oppose the concessions that would be thrust on them from above, it should be of great encouragement to remember this line from the Communist Manifesto: “The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”