By Tom Laney

Tom Laney is a committeeman and 28-year member of UAW Local 879, Ford Twin Cities. This report is from a listserv for auto workers.

Two directions are pretty easy to see at our plant since the Ford life-wrecking announcements of plant closures. One is that the chairman and president of the Local and their appointed cronies have stepped up their work at promoting dog eat dog competition between locals. The other is that members of our Solidarity Committee have increased their own activity towards constructing a solidarity movement that will eventually change the world. What they are doing has already changed the work corners of our little world within our plant.

Quite a difference in these two efforts. One is confining, restrictive, exclusive and dismally mean-ass, destructive to solidarity and dead-ended, as anyone at Edison [a NJ Ford plant which just experienced major layoffs] should be able to explain. The other is warm and friendly, open and expansive, courageous and imaginative, and based in the ways that most people live their lives. That is, the solidarity committee expresses and reflects the way most of us treat each other on our jobs and in our families and neighborhoods—values like mutual support, equal treatment like no rank, democratic opportunity like free speech, the belief in a free and independent Unionism, the friendly obligation to be on all workers' side. These are the principles that make this committee work so well.

It is really amazing what this committee has already done:

1. It has survived the worst attacks of the local UAW misleaders and become stronger because of these attacks.

2. Solidarity members are friends! These friends have organized support for the best union members in our plant and outside our plant.

3. These folks have listened to each other and work together with the greatest respect. The committee meetings run themselves by mutual respect.

4. They write, talk, go on the road (four out-of-town trips so far just to meet and talk with other workers) and do all this on their own time and money.

5. They have turned all the lies about Local 2036 [Accuride workers locked out for four years and abandoned by the International UAW] into the truth and matched up against the FPS/UAW [Ford Production System, the "lean production" system at Ford] lie machine to spread the truth about the classification fight.

6. They have promoted email communication between us all and they build support and respect for what another generation of Unionists did for us all and fight to retain it all.

7. This committee makes the impossible seem possible. It is inspiring and invigorating.

The beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement included kids sitting in at five and dime lunch counters and getting the shit beat out of them. Repeatedly. They were awfully small in numbers. Their courage came from each other. There was no one else to appeal to for help in the beginning other than themselves. They were treated in shameful ways. They survived by depending on each other. I think solidarity committee members are a lot like these kids though some of us are quite a bit older.

There is but one way out of all the problems we face. Either we get ourselves together or we are going to lose everything our union has ever won. We are not going to be saved by the UAW porkchoppers [union hacks], because they are on the other side. They have been proving this every day for the past 20 years or so. They are on the other side. To pretend otherwise is to waste a lot of time. Anyone who thinks the great Ford Motor Company cares about us is about to get a rude wake up. The Ford "Revitalization Plan" which promises to destruct 35,000 jobs up front is only the beginning. Ford/UAW will come into our locals with a meat ax and go after every victory of past generations. Get ready.

We are the answer. We are also our worst enemies when we think we can't do anything. That is why the solidarity committee is so restoring—they think we can do everything!

I ran into a friend yesterday I had not seen for about six months. This guy loves the union in the solidarity sense. The last time we had talked I thought he was too focused on all the kiss-ups in the plant and the kiss-up leadership we have. Yesterday he was down because of personal things that weren't going well. As we talked we bitched about the sellout president who came by, the sellout appointee who runs the FPS BS and the sellout attitude that runs thru most of the local leaders. Then we started looking for the great union people around us. I could see Rob Ayotte over on Trim #1, John Bosneag on the IP hoist, the great Joel Gobats came by and talked a few minutes, John Boy the dinger drove by a couple of times yelling obscenities about the Packers, Kari Altima stopped for a second, we could see Vern Gagner and Eddie Deane on the chassis repair hoist.....We could see all around us great union people who believe in solidarity, people who are not afraid of the company or the UAW, people who have never failed to stick by their friends on the jobs.

We had a right to bitch about the hacks, but we had a responsibility too—to recognize that most folks we work with are pretty damn good. The reports from Janesville and Louisville proved this out too. Mike Melville, Jim Blackbird and Joel really liked the Local 2036 strikers they met down there.

We have to be careful to not get too wrapped up in the McKenzies/Franchinos [local UAW officials] and all their company friends. When they are gone they will be replaced with other sellouts. The sellouts and kiss-ups have always been a problem. They should never be the focus.

I have felt like my friend many, many times. I gave up on the UAW a long time ago. I believe it is worse than the corporations when you compare their duties and what should be the difference in their principles. One has always been a bloodsucker and the other has become a rattlesnake. I try to let that lie. I have always enjoyed most of the guys I work with and I have seen the line change from when it was pretty much controlled by line workers to where it is now controlled by Ford/UAW people who think we can always do more work. This shift in control has been and is managed by favoritism. It is all orchestrated by Ford with the UAW's blessing and it is all designed to make solidarity a very difficult thing to extend beyond our own jobs.

The change has all been done by design. The company knew exactly how tough solidarity can make speedup and plant closures so they set out to take it apart. It is all part of their plan to have absolute control of the shop floor and all the jobs and destroy the union.

Inside of that big cultural shift, we still have a lot of people who will always support each other because that is just the way most of us are. If we go out and look for these people we can find them everywhere and this is the first step towards getting ourselves together. WE just found them all over Janesville and Louisville too. Maybe Louisville was a little bit like a Greensboro lunch counter a lot of years ago, letting us see easily what is right and what is wrong.

Fact is, there are a lot more people out there who believe in solidarity than those misled leaders in local 862. Good real UAW people help each other out every shift all across the country in all sorts of little ways. There is, thanks to the work of the Solidarity Committee in our plant, a whole lot of linking up going on that is unlimited. All proof that we can build a movement that will be so democratic and become so powerful nothing and no one will be able to stop it if we just keep believing in the best values of workers everywhere.

In its brief lively life, members of our Solidarity Committee have proven this over and over by simply being themselves.

I should add that people can participate in the solidarity movement without having to travel, go to meetings or write anything on email. We are putting together a movement that will make people feel good and do good but we know that participation will differ because of priorities and family etc.

People don't have to use their time to be a part of this. They just need to trust their experience and common sense, to take sides, to be on the side of friendship and mutual support even if they can't mutually support someone or local 2036 or anyone else in person.

They just have to believe in solidarity and to think that people who are promoting solidarity are right. They only have to defend solidarity in their conversations and everything will change. Everyone will see that the best things they believe in and try to practice in every way they treat others in their families, neighborhoods and workplaces are the values that should be running the show. Why would anyone settle for less?

My favorite book is We CAN Change the World! by my friend Dave Stratman. The book picked me up when it was settling in on me what a crock of corporate crap the UAW had become and I thought union life was over as I had wanted it to be. It is a book about the confidence and trust we should have in each other and the possibilities for changing everything if we can just get ourselves together around democracy and equality. It's a book about all the things we thought about but probably thought no one else was thinking about and we were, thus, wacko. Very encouraging, practical book.

I don't think anyone on our Solidarity Committee has read this book. But I can see that Dave's belief in the goodness of ordinary people—I should say the extraordinary people on the solidarity committee—and their values, is completely verified and supported by the stuff this band of brothers and sisters talks about and is doing.

Happy King Day!

From New Democracy Newsletter, November 2001 - February 2002.