Speaker Lectures on Socialism and the Auto Workers’ Union
Midwestern autoworkers, most notably in Detroit, set the standard of the “American Dream” in the first half of the 20th century, explained Ty Moore, OC ’00, at a lecture on auto workers this week. But because of the industry’s massive layoffs and salary cuts, he said, that era is decisively over.
Moore, a member of the Socialist Alternative, spoke to students about recent events in autoworkers’ struggles at Tuesday’s meeting of its Oberlin branch. He primarily focused on an amorphous rank and file movement called “Soldiers of Solidarity.”
“These workers are essentially saying, we’re not going to give up without a fight; we’re not going to simply allow our families to be thrown into destitution without fighting,” he said.
Moore outlined significant job cuts since the 1980s by the “Big Three” (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler), including GM’s current plan to shut down 12 plants by 2008. He had spent the previous week in Flint, Michigan, where members of SOS had pressured the local branch of the United Autoworkers Union to organize a strike against GM’s parts supplier company, Delphi.
Delphi claimed bankruptcy in October and had recently announced plans to lay off two-thirds of its North American division (24,000 workers) and cut wages by up to 60 percent.
“Although Delphi is where the most serious attacks are happening, it’s also where the most serious fight-back is happening,” Moore said, identifying much of the current resistance against the company as coming from the Socialist movement.
The UAW organized the strike for Feb. 16, the day before Delphi was scheduled to ask permission in court for mass layoffs. On Feb. 15, however, the union called off the strike on the grounds of a minor snowstorm. Moore identified the light snow as merely an excuse.
“The reality was that the leadership was panicking because they understood that all the credit was building up for this dissident group Solidarity,” he said.
Moore said that both SOS and the Socialist Alternative have many members within the UAW. According to its website, part of the Socialist Alternative’s larger mission is to “campaign for the building of a mass workers’ party to represent the interests of workers, youth and the environment against the two parties of big business.” And with bases in Michigan, Indiana and New York, Moore said Oberlin is right in the “regional heart” of its battleground.
Resistance has caused Delphi to delay putting up a concessionary contract for vote by its membership. At the rate SOS is expanding and organizing, Moore said a massive strike is possible as early as April.
Moore expressed optimism in Oberlin students’ ability to influence the movement.
“I would really appeal to you all... to try and organize Solidarity,” he said. He urged students to join picket lines, organize fundraisers, bring strikers to campus and collect money from different student groups.
“If the strike happens it will be one of the most exciting developments in the labor movement in a recent period,” he said.
“This is a crucial movement to be in solidarity with.”