West Coast Auto Local Rejects Preferential Seniority
Workers Vanguard, No. 39, 1 March 1974
FREMONT, Calif., February 25 – The worst layoffs to hit the auto industry since the depression of the 1930’s (more than 100,000 United Auto Workers members currently on indefinite layoff), coupled with the unwillingness of the Woodcock bureaucracy to fight this attack on UAW members’ livelihoods, has led to a flurry of reformist schemes on how to deal with unemployment in several locals across the country. The main thing that these non-solutions have in common is that they do not fight layoffs at all, but simply accept the growing unemployment without proposing a program which could get back the job of even a single laid-off worker, much less prevent further job losses.
One particularly dangerous, divisive and anti-union scheme, coming from Southgate (Southern California) UAW Local 216, calls on individual union members to take both General Motors and the UAW to court, suing for a modified seniority system in which women and minorities would be able to accrue “double seniority” until some sort of pre-determined racial and sexual balance is reached! In other words, the white male workers are to pay for the companies’ racist and sexist hiring practices.
This not only ignores the potential strength of a united rank-and-file fight against all layoffs, it divides the membership into special interest groups pitted against each other in a desperate struggle for a declining number of jobs. It also throws the door wide open to a vicious company and government attack on the unions’ hard-won seniority system which, although it will certainly reflect historic discrimination against minorities and women in hiring and despite (in many instances) de facto discriminatory provisions, is the only form of job security workers now have. Union militants must fight within the unions to eliminate discriminatory practices, such as departmental hiring which is often used to lock minorities into the worst jobs, but must not appeal to the bosses’ courts to destroy the seniority system and overturn contract benefits won by union struggle.
An important resolution which rejects such objectively pro-capitalist, divide-and-conquer tactics as the above, was approved yesterday (though by a narrow margin) at the February meeting of Fremont Local 1364 of the UAW. The resolution, which was printed in a leaflet distributed at the GM plant today, reads as follows:
“The government is a tool of big business. The use of government agencies and branches such as the NLRB, Department of Labor and the courts against the union in any form is an anti-labor act which can only weaken the union and open it to attack. To rely on the same government to settle internal union problems also fosters illusions in the government as a neutral force between workers and the companies. There is no substitute for the mobilization of the union membership to fight for our needs.
“‘Preferential layoffs,’ ‘inverted seniority layoffs’ and other such schemes accept the companies’ employment cycle and result in unfair treatment of one section of the work force. This pits worker against worker, instead of all workers against the company. Isolated strikes and individual job actions cannot bring lasting benefits to the workers. Layoffs and speed-up must be fought with solid union action: An industry-wide strike, linked up internationally, for shorter hours with full cost-of-living paid, to make jobs for all! To begin organizing such solid union action, UAW Local 1364 should establish an official committee to contact all other UAW locals to communicate this proposal and begin preparing for such an industry-wide strike against layoffs. “
According to union members interviewed after the meeting, the disorderly state of the meeting and the bureaucratic cutting-off of discussion after only one person had spoken (a committeeman who argued vigorously in favor of the motion) prevented a full discussion of the important principle and demands contained in the resolution. Despite the confusion, however, the line-up of votes was revealing. Elements in the right wing of the Brotherhood Caucus, an opportunist grouping (supported uncritically in the pages of the October League’s Call) currently in power in the local, reportedly voted against the motion. These same people, who claim to be against Woodcock and against all layoffs (though opposing strike action!), are calling in leaflets and in the meetings for such non-solutions as “inverse seniority” at a time when the SUB (supplemental unemployment benefits) fund is running out, and for various plans for preferential treatment of women workers (see the report in WV No. 38, 15 February).
Another grouping within the union, some of whom support the Bay Area Worker, apparently found themselves caught off-guard by this concrete expression of many of the ideas they give verbal support to. Reportedly, some voted for the resolution, others against and still others abstained. Their main contribution to the meeting was a motion calling for preferential hiring of laid-off UAW members into all companies which are UAW shops, a motion which in itself is supportable, though hardly relevant to a situation of mass layoffs and minimal hiring. Local bureaucrats such as Earlie Mays, shop chairman, and Vern Diaz, president, called for nationwide action, though not specifying what kind of action, but abstained on the motion for a nationwide strike against layoffs.