Against the Current, No. 218, May/
Out of the Imperial Order: Chaos
— The Editors
"Nationtime": The Black Political Convention
— Malik Miah
Rising Up at Amazon
— Dianne Feeley
Book Banning Past and Present
— Harvey J. Graff
Punishing the Criminalized Sector of the Working Class
— James Kilgore
The Invisible Chinese Activists
— Mo Chen
Feminism(s) in Mexico
— Margara Millán
Faiz Ahmed Faiz: The Restless Traveler
— Ali Shehzad Zaidi
The Complete Rosa Luxemburg
— William Smaldone interviews Peter Hudis
- Revolutionary Experiences
Introduction to Revolutionary Experience
— The Editors
On-the-line in Auto -- 1970s-1990
— Elly Leary
Organizing in '70s Wisconsin
— an interview with Jon Melrod
Prison Abolition: A Primer
— Efrén Paredes, Jr.
How Alice Became an Activist
— Adam Schragin
When Radicals Ran the U.S. Congress
— Mark Lause
Dust Bowl Chronicler
— Cassandra Galentine
Surveying Revolutionary Thought
— Herman Pieterson
an interview with Jon Melrod
Dianne Feeley: Where did you grow up?
Jon Melrod: Growing up in Washington, DC was like living in an apartheid-like city. When my family drove out to the Virginia countryside, I saw a Black prison chain gang, shackled together, working on the roadside, with big white guys with shotguns on horses. When the nearby Maryland amusement park, Glen Echo, where we went as kids got desegregated, whites went out of their mind. They poured bleach into the water so that nobody could use the pool and they shut it down.
And when my father and I went to the D. C. high school football championship — a Catholic school that was private and white, competed against a public school that was all Black — a race riot broke out. These incidents taught me at a young age how deep racial divisions ran and how the fight against racism was so vital.
When I was at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I was active in SDS. By the fall of 1969, SDS leadership knew that our first meeting would be huge. The year before, we had thrown the mandatory Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) off campus. In May there had been the Mifflin Street riots, during which pitched street battles with riot police went on for days. So we knew people were really looking to SDS.
There were about 800 people at the meeting, mostly new students. The Weathermen (a faction that played a major role in the 1969 SDS split —ed.) came to disrupt it. About a dozen of them marched in, dressed in black leather. They grabbed the mic and said, “We’re a bunch of stone-cold communist revolutionaries. And we ain’t students up here. We should go out onto the streets right now and start tearing down shit, burning buildings.”
SDS leaders had contingency plans to turn our chairs around and conduct the meeting from the rear of the room, where we had another mic. Unfortunately, the Weathermen so disrupted what had been a very well-planned meeting that it led to the devolution in Madison of what was a really well-organized, tightly-knit SDS chapter.
SDS had developed three demands around the Vietnam War that we wanted to unify everyone around. They were well-conceived demands, a systematic program of how to organize the campus struggle against the war: throwing ROTC, the Land Tenure Center and Army Math Research Center off campus.
The Land Tenure Center did research for counterinsurgency in Latin American countries; Army Math developed the technology that enabled the military to locate Che Guevara in the jungle of Bolivia.
Because the Weather people so disrupted the fall introductory SDS meeting, we had to rebuild and pull the student body together around those three demands. We were very organized. Three nights a week we went into the dorms, room to room talking about the war and why we thought Washington was fighting, using facts and logical positions to demonstrate our opposition.
So we really had a sense of organization, which is something I’ve carried through with my whole life, believing that you had to have organization. When SDS totally fractured, we formed a new organization, the Mother Jones Revolutionary League (MJRL). We wanted our name to be a tribute to a courageous woman fighter who had played such a prominent role in the working class as a woman leader. From the beginning, we looked toward the working class as the motive force that held the power to radically transform capitalist society.
When I traveled to the Bay Area in the summer of 1970, I checked out the Revolutionary Union (RU) because my girlfriend’s brother was a member. I started working on their first working-class newspaper People Get Ready in Richmond, California. And I worked on the Los Siete De La Raza movement to support seven Latinos who had been arrested on framed-up murder charges. There was a Bay Area-wide mass movement supporting Los Siete, the Panthers were part of it and the seven were eventually found not guilty.
For me, the RU was just a natural evolution, more than a conscious ideological choice. Many of the Madison group of about 40 cadre in MJRL joined the RU. We left Madison to go to Milwaukee and went into various factories to organize.
At that time you could get an industrial job in a day. We all followed a relatively similar game plan: build a militant rank-and-file caucus based around a newsletter that primarily rooted itself in shop-floor issues. We sought to democratize the union, create transparency, build militancy and bring the rank and file into the leadership of the union. At the same time, we utilized the newsletters to bring in political struggles taking place like the murder of a Black youth by Milwaukee cops, notorious for their racism.
I should mention that while I was a member of the RU, the organization didn’t always play a determinative role in what we ended up doing. We were sort of a unit that grew from our leadership in SDS and stayed together as we moved to Milwaukee to get jobs. Over time, as our organizing work in factories developed, some in RU leadership critiqued our practice as right-wing trade unionists, not revolutionary.
I used to reply: “You come and work in this plant by yourself with 7,000 people. You think you’re going to unfurl a red flag at the punch out line on May Day? We worked hard to build for May Day marches in Milwaukee, but based those rallies on concrete political, social, and economic issues that impacted Blacks, women and all working people.” We had our own thing and our own people, and our own brand of what we were doing and I remain proud of it to this day.
DF: What was the situation when you hired in?
JM: I was lucky to score the best industrial job in the city. I went to work at the American Motors Corporation (AMC) Richards Street plant on the auto assembly line. The plant had a very long, militant tradition. I started in 1972. Three years earlier, there had been a dozen wildcats within one week in the two AMC plants, the ones in Milwaukee and Kenosha.
We had one steward for every 35 employees; a steward could get off the line in a half hour by giving notice. And if they didn’t get off the line within a half hour, the person on the line who requested the steward walked off the job and sat down in the lunchroom, waiting for the steward. All overtime was voluntary; we had a right to strike over all grievances.
It was the International UAW, under Walter Reuther, who bargained away all three of the planks that had historically made the UAW strong and militant. In my book, I talk about how Reuther replaced ’blue button stewards’ with the committeeperson system in the Big Three (GM, Chrysler and Ford). He gave up voluntary overtime and vehemently opposed strikes as disrupting production.
Despite attempts, the International was never able to break the back of our union’s independence at the two AMC plants. In ’69, during the wildcats, an article in the New York Times called on Reuther to get the AMC UAW locals under control because it was so disruptive to production, but he was never able to do so.
When I first started at the Milwaukee plant there were no other political people there, but there were hundreds of young people. Young white kids were sort of the Woodstock generation, they were rebellious and anti-system. The Vietnam vets of color felt betrayed by being in Vietnam. They did not plan to be subjugated by a new boss.
I went over to visit one of the first guys I met, a Black vet who had Marx’s Capital on his bookshelf. I asked him “How’d you get into Marx”? He said when he got back from ’Nam, there were some brothers on the base in a study group and they read Marx, but it was hard to understand. I said “Yeah, it is hard to read, but it sure is the truth, isn’t it?” And his response was “Yeah, it is.”
The Fightback Caucus
DF: How did the caucus get formed?
JM: When the company announced that they were going to schedule Saturday overtime, we checked out the contract that none of the young people had read. I found a provision saying overtime was voluntary. So, we photocopied pages of the contract, and handed them out. The next day, when the company went around and asked for people to work overtime, there was widespread refusal among the young workers: Working five days a week is enough slavery, we’re tied to this line and we’re not going to be there on our weekends.
They couldn’t get a workforce. Soon after that, management tried to speed up the assembly line. By this time, we had formed a rank-and-file caucus. We knew we couldn’t fight the speed up one person here, one person there; we’d have to be at the gates with the leaflets to stop the speed up by fighting it together.
Half of our original Fightback Caucus, UAW Local 75 were women — Black women, mainly church women. The whole 13 years I worked in auto there were many active women, largely women of color. The church had given them a sense of organization, a sense of looking out for each other.
At our first caucus meeting Kitty, a young Black woman put up her hand, “I’m the treasurer at my church. I’d like to be the treasurer of the caucus.” Then a Puerto Rican guy who I had seen wearing a Young Lords button on his shop coat volunteered to be the secretary and take notes. A Black Vietnam vet volunteered for another position. I became the de facto chair. So, all of a sudden, after our first meeting, we had an organized caucus of about 10 young workers.
We put out a leaflet calling for a fight against the speedup. We read the contract, which said that we only had to work at a normal pace. So, when management created new work assignments that dictated to the second what you had to do, there was a mass rebellion.
People kept working at a normal pace. The older workers taught us that the way you fight a line speed up is to “ride the line.” You stay in the car until you finish your whole job. That means by the time you finish your operation you’re two or three stations out of your work area. You’ve pushed everybody else down the line. There were repairs in aisles, repairs on the roof. We had completely disrupted their plans. That’s when I began to hear rumors about me being circulated by management and realized that I was personally being targetted. Years later I got my FBI file through a FOIA request and found out AMC had approached the FBI about me. The FBI came back and said, he’s in the Revolutionary Union. They’re putting out newsletters in factories all over Milwaukee, and their newsletters all look alike. They’re causing sit downs and work stoppages.
Now I have files with those entire memoranda exchanged between AMC and the FBI, and that led to my firing a couple weeks later.*
DF: Were you coordinating with RU members across the city?
JM: Yes, we coordinated our activities, but we were green so there was a lot of finding our way. Unfortunately, there were no veterans to teach us how you go into the working class and organize these struggles. We had to figure it out on our own. None of us were older than 22, 23 years old. We leaned on each other a lot. When I look back at the newsletters that we put out at probably six or eight factories, the FBI was right, they all looked the same. They were all printed on the same mimeo machine.
We had our own newspaper, The Milwaukee Worker. Despite the level of militancy and activity in fighting forced overtime and speedup, I wanted to broaden the context in which those struggles were taking place. That was the importance of the RU newspaper, which wrote about organizing going on in Detroit auto plants; it talked about the police murder of a young Black person, Jerry Brookshire, or the arrest of a local young Latino Ray Mendoza on murder charges. I’d stand out in front of the factory gates and sell The Milwaukee Worker and I’d sell them in the shop as well.
About four months after I was hired, I was standing in line to punch out with a stack of Workers under my arm. One of the conservative Korean War vets challenged me. The Korean War vets, all white, worked in the cushion room, where they had easy off-line jobs. The guy called me a communist and said if I didn’t cut out selling that newspaper, I was going to end up like Roy Webb.
I didn’t know what he meant, but Roy Webb had been a steward and a member of the old Communist Party. He had circulated a petition opposing the Korean War, and these conservative workers had thrown him down the stairs and broken his neck.
Then a Black guy named Jimmy Graham, over six feet tall and in hella good shape, stepped between me and the redbaiter. He said, “I just came back from Nam. I didn’t go over there to dodge bullets, fight some fucking war that I don’t know what it’s about to come back and have you tell my man over there that he can’t speak out and say what he wants to say. Before you think you’re going to do anything to him, you’re going to do something to me.”
We remain friends to this day even though I live in California and he is in Milwaukee.
After the FBI became involved, the company hired three private detective agencies to check out all the new hires and found out that I had falsified my application. I was discharged, but at the union meeting members wanted to vote in favor of scheduling a strike vote to win my job back — remember, we had the right to strike over unsettled grievances. But when the vote was taken, the president ruled the vote was against scheduling a strike vote. We won the vote! They won the count!
I appealed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which found I had been fired for protected union activity. Even though I had falsified my application, I had been in truth fired for fighting over wages, hours and working conditions — protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act.
At first I wasn’t going to bother going to the Board. After all, they are the government and I assumed would never take up the case. What I learned from that experience is that you have to utilize every avenue to strengthen your struggle. You may be surprised at what you can win.
I have an FBI memo in which AMC states they would never bring me back, no matter what the NLRB said. Then a federal judge ordered me rehired; still AMC wouldn’t budge. Finally the case went to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Illinois. When that court ordered that I be rehired I eventually was reinstated.
During those two and a half years I worked in a couple of different plants, union and non-union. I got fired at the Crucible Steel foundry before the end of my probationary period when the FBI told the superintendent to fire me.
Now that I have my FBI file, I know the FBI had been alerted about my employment at Crucible by the Milwaukee Red Squad (the police). But then I got a job at a steel fabrication plant where I was able to build a strong caucus, and we led the first strike lasting over eight weeks in over a decade and a half.
In January 1976 AMC was forced to reinstate me. Soon after I got back, the caucus insisted that I run for a union position. I ended up running for head steward even though I didn’t think that I was ready.
At Local 75, we had a very democratic system of voting that enabled everyone to vote. The ballot box went from person to person down the assembly line so everyone votes. This actually favors the rank-and-file candidates. But this time, they placed the ballot box in the guard shack over the weekend.
On Monday, we came out with a leaflet pointing out that never happened before in the history of the union. Why would union leadership allow the company to watch the union ballot box — it’s clearly an attempt to keep Melrod from becoming head steward. We held a march to the union office, demanding that the election be re-held, which it was. But I didn’t win.
Then AMC announced that they were cutting a thousand jobs from the Milwaukee plant with 350 going to Kenosha. We put out a flyer demanding the local call a strike vote to stop the runaway of the thousand jobs. We organized a picket line in front of the AMC employment office. Because we didn’t allow a truck with parts through the line, I got fired again, along with three other caucus members, for causing what they claimed was a work stoppage.
However, the NLRB ordered them to remove the discipline and it turned into a two-week suspension. But the transfer went through that summer, and I was one of the 350 transferred to Kenosha, an hour’s drive from Milwaukee. When we got to the Kenosha plant, we discovered the Kenosha workers considered us as competition stealing their jobs, causing their low seniority folks to be laid off.
Local 72 workers couldn’t prevent us from transferring, but they didn’t welcome us in any way. A couple of militant activists had just begun to form a caucus — Fighting Times — which took a courageous stand and put out a flyer welcoming us, but it was a slow, daunting process to build a unified local.
Knowing that I had to eliminate the division based on geography, I moved to Racine, just a few minutes from the plant. I felt if I was going to organize in Kenosha, I had to live nearby.
I immediately started hanging out with the Kenosha workers at the bar, shooting dice, drinking, talking the way you talk after work and soon I was accepted as a UAW Local 72 guy. Most of the Milwaukee people continued living in Milwaukee and basically segregated themselves.
The steward system, where representatives are elected annually and represent 35 workers, creates the possibility for many shop floor militants to be elected. With the steward system, if you don’t do your job within the year, you likely got voted out. The steward system created a much more active and a much more militant union.
For example, when we were fighting speedup, one of the vets in the caucus suggested we make up t-shirts with a stop sign on the front that said “Fight Speedup.”
We figured out how to silk screen t-shirts at my house. We brought the first bag of 20 into the plant and sold some in the lunchroom. Right away, people bought them all. We said, we’re onto something and silk screened another 50. When they were all bought in the next morning management put out the word that anybody who wore a t-shirt the next day would be discharged. The head steward of my department (trim) and the local’s Vice President both announced they were going to come to work the next day wearing t-shirts.
When I first got hired in, I thought the union officials would all be bureaucrats and oppose anything militant we did. I quickly learned that even at the membership vote to fight for my job there were stewards, a few head stewards and the Vice President, who voted to schedule a meeting for a strike vote to win my job back. I’m not saying that exists in every union, because I know it doesn’t, particularly in the Detroit auto plants where people had a much tougher fight with the union than we did at American Motors.
The President of Local 75 in Milwaukee was in bed with the International UAW. The International rep came to the meeting where we were discussing what to do about my being fired. He advised people not to vote to strike because they shouldn’t risk their jobs for one communist who hadn’t worked in the plant longer than nine months. So clearly there was a cabal between the International and some of the union officers in Local 75, but there were also decent militant trade unionists. I learned it was important not to lump them in as a single group.
An important lesson that Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) taught us is that sometimes you make tactical alliances within the union. It doesn’t mean that that’ll be an alliance that will apply to everything you ever do, but an alliance at a certain time or over a certain issue can move the union forward to create a greater democracy and more militancy.
DF: How did rank-and-file activism develop in the Kenosha local?
JM: When people from our caucus were elected to stewards’ positions in the Kenosha plant, we supported a “reform” candidate for president. He was pressured to put us on the local’s standing committees, which were powerful positions.
We used the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), where we had a caucus member, to launch the first Martin Luther King commemoration of any UAW local. We won a paid day off to honor Dr. King and the civil rights movement two years before it was won for the rest of the UAW in the national contract.
So we were able to utilize the union structure to our advantage. I was put on the education committee and proposed a seven-week union school for active members and stewards. We held one class each week to teach people how to write grievances, how to bargain, but we also taught the history of the local.
I went through the local’s history of how socialists, communists and other radicals formed the original organizing committee at the Nash plant, which became American Motors. Actually, our local was the oldest in the UAW.
Two hundred and thirty members, both on first and second shift, signed up to attend the union school. It was a tremendous success. We did our organizing within the union structure while we maintained our caucus and put out our shop newsletter.
Even though our caucus members were a minority within the union committee structure, we were able to unleash the power of those committees. The women’s committee showed “With Babies and Banners,” the history of women during the Flint sitdown strike, to celebrate International Women’s Day.
We were able to have the FEPC rent a bus to bring local members to walk with other trade unionists for a Martin Luther King march to demand a national holiday. There were a couple thousand, mostly Black, workers from unions in Milwaukee. In those days Black workers had union jobs. We marched through the Black neighborhood connecting unions with the community.
This in turn broadened the FEPC’s work. The FEPC invited a speaker to our first MLK event. He led a committee in Milwaukee against police murders and spoke about the viciousness of the police tactical squad. In those days, the police drove through the Black community with shotguns out the window just to scare people. They were renowned for the level of racism and unbridled brutality.
We’d always look for political issues that could deepen workers’ understanding of the class relations in society. As I saw it our goal was to create a class-conscious workers’ movement, not just a trade union movement.
We really got our opportunity to do that when Renault, the French automaker, bought half of American Motors. We were then clearly part of an international working class.
Barriers of Racism
DF: Did your caucus link up with other caucuses around racial issues within or outside the plant?
JM: Yes. The Fighting Times caucus also went to march against the Klan in Tupelo, Mississippi. Our caucus leafleted the whole plant of some 5000, recruiting people to go with us and educating the plant about the KKK’s racist role terrorizing Black people in Mississippi.
Around 1000 marched. After we returned, I talked to one of the most militant chief stewards in the paint department, a white guy whose family was from the south. He told me, “You don’t understand that the Klan are a bunch of good old boys kind of like the Dukes of Hazard.”
I said, “That’s just not true. We went down there because they’re prohibiting Black people from voting. They’re stealing Black farms. They’re not hiring Blacks. Their police are more brutal toward Blacks.”
Now, he and I collaborated on union affairs. When there would be a walkout in his department, my department supported the walkout. But he and I would argue constantly about racism.
I’d say, “How can you be such a militant trade unionist, willing to put your job on the line for everyone in your department, including Blacks, yet have these ideas in your head?” Much as I made it a struggle to change what was in his head, I never succeeded.
With a production cutback, he lost his job in the paint department and got bumped into the machining department. Because of the machining oil, around a dozen people including him got terminal cancer. When he was buried, he had a UAW chief steward button on one side of his lapel and Klan paraphernalia on the other. He went to his grave thinking you could be both a Klan member and a good union member.
DF: This story is why it’s important to understand that when we’re all in the plant together, the majority will defend women and Blacks, but when we leave the plant, we go to different neighborhoods that are still largely segregated. We live different lives; our children go to different schools and have different friends. Most white workers don’t feel comfortable entering majority Black spaces. That’s why socialists can’t just be for uniting the class at the workplace.
JM: I think you’re a hundred percent right. Let’s just even look at the first Local 72 Martin Luther King event, which was attended by 98% Blacks. The last event before I left in ’84 had a thousand people; it had become an event for Blacks in that entire area of Wisconsin. But again, there were still a limited number of whites.
We tried to knock those barriers down with a lot of social events. The caucus held social events that were completely integrated. We would try and bring the cultures together particularly through food and music. Even in the trim department, we put on departmental-wide parties that crossed those racially divisive lines.
One time we had a trim department party that 400 attended at union headquarters. It was racially proportional to the workforce, because union headquarters was neutral territory. But then something terrible happened. A Black woman, whom I was friendly with and was in the caucus, came over and sat on my lap. It was just a social gesture but the young white woman I was going with came out of the bathroom and immediately came over to me and said, “What’s that *** doing sitting on your lap?”
That was, as they say, a deal breaker in terms of my relationship. But another time I came into work and there was a cluster of young white guys who called me over. The chief steward spread gossip that he had seen a young white woman kissing a Black worker in the parking lot. (Both worked in trim and were active in our caucus.) I had been elected Department Chair, which meant I could call and set the agenda for departmental union meetings. So we put out the word that we were going to confront the chief steward at this meeting.
About 80 came, about half were Blacks. Most had never gone to departmental meeting before but they unloaded about racism in the union and racism in the company. It became a session where they felt they could speak out. Under the circumstances, the chief steward was forced to apologize. He probably wasn’t sincere, but the point is that you had to battle over racism while recognizing it’s deeply ingrained.
DF: How did international contact change union members?
JM: In 1982 when UAW Local 72 was invited to attend the first world conference of Renault workers, the caucus raised money in front of the plant holding out coffee cans. The caucus message was that we can’t limit ourselves to just thinking about our own situation in Kenosha, now we were part of 100,000 Renault autoworkers.
We sent two caucus members, including me, to the conference as part of 57 delegates from 13 countries around the world. The International UAW didn’t want to have anything to do with the conference because French unions are defined by their politics and the UAW was anti-communist. (Of the two main French trade union federations, the CGT was dominated by the politics of the French Communist Party and the CFDT by the social democracy. Both unions had representation in the French plants.)
At UAW conventions we worked with Locals Opposed to Concessions, with people like Bill Parker and Pete Kelly. We tried to inspire locals that overtime should be voluntary, that there should be a right to strike. We advocated the steward system, where stewards represent the frontline militants.
We took that same message to the Renault world conference of auto workers, which voted to support the UAW at American Motors/Renault in keeping the superior contract we had won.
It became part of people’s thinking that we needed to look further afield than our Kenosha local, to see who our friends and allies were.
As part of working to transform the department union, I mentored a group of young Blacks and young women on how to run for steward and how to stand up to management. After that election, half of the stewards elected were women and Blacks.
It completely changed the complexion of the union. Now at our stewards’ meetings, which we could call right in the department, we were talking about how there is a line for the women’s bathroom on breaks. There weren’t enough toilets and there weren’t enough sanitary napkins — issues that women had never brought up became union issues.
To me, that was one of the biggest accomplishments I felt that I made. In the trim department the stewards were a third Black and a third women. The steward body was representative of the workforce on the trim line We became a much stronger unit because of it.
In 1984, the gas crisis ended and people stopped buying small cars. But those were the only models we were making. AMC/Renault sales took a dive and Renault came back for some serious concessions.
I had always taken a position against any concessions, saying that concessions don’t get us a single job. It’s the market that determines how many cars are being sold. That’s the lesson I learned from Pete Kelly and Al Gardner, UAW veterans in Detroit who first formed Locals Opposed to Concessions. Chrysler workers took concessions and then the workforce was cut in half. Concessions don’t do us any good.
Management demanded that we agree to 13 pre-conditions (concessions) or they were going to shut the plant. The local president, respected by everyone as having led countless sit downs and wildcats going back years, declared the pre-conditions constituted “unilateral surrender” — not within his repertoire.
As a tactical move four local officers, including the president, recording secretary, me and John Drew, another caucus member, drove to the NLRB office to make a formal complaint. Meanwhile the company sent notices to members’ homes declaring it would begin phasing out operations within 60 days, with other operations, including the engine division, to follow as soon as possible.
Within two days, the NLRB issued a ruling that the company violated the National Labor Relations Act by bargaining in bad faith. That, plus all the public pressure we could bring, broke the stalemate and we bargained without pre-conditions hanging over us. At the next union meeting, when we asked members if the local was willing to accept concessions, out of the thousand who were there, almost everybody voted no. They voted that the bargaining committee could enter into negotiations, but only to guarantee jobs for the Kenosha plant or to bring a new Renault model to the plant.
I had always tried to understand the auto industry by reading the Wall Street Journal and Automotive News. I knew that in this case, Renault had unused capacity in France and that our labor costs were in fact higher.
That meant we were in a weak position. Given that the radicals on the board held the balance of power, what could we recommend to the membership? What could we possibly gain if we bargained to accept those concessions?
That July 12, UAW Local 72 members ratified a new agreement, sacrificing long-cherished provisions in exchange for a bit of job security, They knew that a No vote, in this case would shut the plant with work being moved to France to utilize unused capacity. In the final analysis, as our president described it, “We decided a job with a Big Three contract is better than no job at all.”
Our steward structure was replaced with committeepersons who represented 250 workers; we took a pay cut, softened by increases in pensions and insurance benefits. This was no minor provision, given that we had 18,000 retirees. The contract kept the engine plant open for more than a decade and when Chrysler bought the plant and shut the assembly plant down, workers had the right to transfer to other Chrysler plants.
DF: Was the only way you could have won by demanding nationalization, which is what Renault workers had in France? That’s why the UAW is wrong to embrace the electric car as saving the auto industry. If we are really serious about climate change, then what could the current work force do to quickly reduce the environmental catastrophe? Society can’t afford individual vehicle production; we have to move to developing free, quality mass transit system at the local, regional and national level. That’s creating a new market.
JM: That’s right. Under the capitalist system, we’re always at the disadvantage because we don’t control the means of production and we don’t control the market. That’s the ultimate contradiction of capitalism. It’s not in business to guarantee employment.
To preorder Fighting Times or to read excerpts before the book is released contact: www.jonathanmelrod.com.
*To see a database of those FBI memoranda go to https://www.jonathanmelrod.com/fbi
May-June 2022, ATC 218