So Stepchild has been on hiatus while I sort my life out. It’s been a very busy couple of months. I’ve moved out of my beloved city, changed shifts, changed departments and dealt with some weird and unexpected health issues. Most of that time, I was also working about 50 hours a week. So I’m sorry I haven’t been around to comment on all things working class or automotive. My guess is that very few miss that commentary anyway.
I’ve thought a lot about the Willie Lynch dynamic that Chrysler has working for it in the team leader structure. I’ve devoted tons of mental time to trying to understand what it is about auto work that makes me so sentimental, when it’s clear that it doesn’t love me back. I’ve really sat with questions about solidarity and haven’t come up with much. The best I can come up with is that there are some real rat bastards out there, that people will lie when the truth won’t hurt and no matter how you cut it, we should not be spending so much time worrying about what someone else is doing. Of course, for every rat bastard wanna-be-a-boss jerk, there are at least five other people who are enormously decent, will lend a hand if it’s needed and are just trying to get by, same as me. I’ve never been a wide-eyed pollyanna, but I do have an unshakeable faith in people. I can’t help it. I think I get it from my mama.
That said, I’ve stepped off the Main Line and into something really new. I’ve gone from a highly-coveted department –Body In White (I love that name, I’ve always thought it sounded like an avant-garde ballet), where all the overtime is– to the Trim department (that name is far less lyrical, I’d say). Most people make the opposite move: Going from Trim, where the work is very fast, with very little overtime to Body, where the work is a little slower (but with more heavy lifting), with a lot of overtime. About ten hours of difference per week. That adds up. I’ve taken a pay cut to leave my former team, my former department, my former shift. It was like starting a new job, but without the stress of having to find my way to work.
In the meantime, however, other stuff keeps presenting itself. As was noted in an earlier entry, Stepchild went bilingual. I’ve been invited to present it as part of a talk in October at the North American Labor History Conference. Another conference has been created, called the New Worker Conference. That’s a very polite way of say Tier-2 conference. This is a big deal to me; organizing new workers, the second tier. This is especially important at Chrysler, where we have SO MANY new folks (I’m not even new anymore. After a year and a half, I have enough seniority to get on the day shift) and it’s going to really matter when the next contract comes, in 2015. It’s already halfway through 2012, the new contract is just around the corner. And the prevailing wisdom points to a strike. How could it not? WHY on earth would the company give up its new serfs? The majority of us in the second tier are fresh off the unemployment line when we arrive at Chrysler. We are of a generation that doesn’t get health care with our multiple 20-hr/week jobs. We can scarcely imagine making over $50k in a year, especially not with just a high school diploma. No matter how hard we work. And believe me, we are working for it. We are terribly uninformed about our rights, our history, our legacy. As nice as it was to see commemorations of The Battle of the Overpass and the Flint Sit-Down, I only saw those on my own. It would have been really something if there was something in the plant that reminded people of those events. A flyer, a newsletter, a sticker. Any damned thing. But nothing. The UAW has so much to be proud of, but instead it shies away from telling CURRENT AND NEW members anything much of our history. The Flint Sit-Down didn’t occur in a vacuum, and neither are the 2-tier structures. We need discussions about how we got to the state we’re in, and what that means. I need to know how much my labor costs Chrysler. I keep getting emails from my grandmother (the widow of a Chrysler retiree) saying that Chrysler’s profits are up so much from before. Because they only pay me about $16 an hour! I’ll be glad when I get my little two-thousand dollar profit sharing check, but I’m not the least bit fooled by it. I’d still rather be on track to making $28.32 or whatever it is. I work my ass off. Just about everyone I came in with works their asses off. We deserve more, we want more. We aren’t really sure about how to go about getting it. So how about it?
We need, we need, we need, labor education. And Chrysler’s newly re-instated tuition program doesn’t cover it. It only covers degree-seeking curricula at accredited colleges and universities. You can get Chrysler to cover your tuition if you want to be a supervisor but not if you want to be an informed, educated line worker. If you’re reading this and you’re a ‘Traditional’ UAW worker, please consider contributing to the Elise Bryant Educational Grant fund, or your local’s Education Committee. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It’s like the 1930s out here. The bosses know it, and they’re acting like it. It’s time for us to acknowledge it and start acting like it too. Start putting away those bonus checks and vacation checks. I’m sure a rainy day is coming. It’s going to be the only way we can have the sun shine on everyone.