UAW sells out John Deere workers

Submitted by AWL on 1 December, 2021 - 9:50 Author: Angela Paton
John Deere

Ten thousand strikers at twelve John Deere plants across the US have accepted a contract backed by management and the UAW union after 5 weeks of strike action. One striker summed up the feelings of those battling Deere (and unfortunately their own union): “We were sold out”.

A six year contract with a 12% wage increase (i.e a shoddy 2% a year) was passed by 61% across Deere, although in the tractor plant at Waterloo, Iowa, it is reported that 56% of workers rejected the deal. The bosses’ papers dutifully parrot the Deere media blitz that a “significant margin” passed the deal, which is meant to have given them general raises, bonuses, improvements in the pension fund and a boost in base reduction pay. That account is grossly overstated, or just plain wrong. As a UAW member in Milan, Illinois, puts it: “they said we got everything we asked for. Far from it”.

The UAW strike fund is $800 million but workers strike pay was a measly $275 a week, so the union effectively starved workers into settling. Deere management had entered “phase 1” of their “customer continuity plan” — basically sending as much work overseas as possible and having ill-equipped and untrained supervisors, managers and engineers take over production lines in the US plants, obviously resulting in accidents, stress and 12 hour work-days six days a week. “Phase 2” was to bring in scab labour. Before that, the UAW and Deere managed to ram through a little-altered version of the contract that was voted down by 55% two weeks ago.

The company made $5.8 billion profit last year (an increase of 62% since 2013 and the last contract negotiation), and is at its most profitable in its history. Shareholders recently received a 17% rise in their dividends.

Workers at Deere, meanwhile, have conceded rights, benefits and decent wage rises for decades.

The last strike was in 1986, lasting five months and turned into a lockout. In 1997 the agreed contract eliminated healthcare benefits after retirement, cut pensions by two-thirds and brought in a two tier system, with lower wages and health benefits for new workers.

The recent UAW-backed contract had originally included a third tier, which would eliminate pensions for all new workers. The second vote got rid of that two weeks ago. It is unclear whether this has been snuck back in as the full contract has not been shown to the workers by the UAW, although the UAW press statement was prepared well in advance of the vote.

All this comes against a continuing backdrop of corruption scandals and allegations in the UAW, and a federal investigation. Two of the previous four presidents of the UAW have been imprisoned for embezzlement. Current president (and former Treasurer) Ray Currie has been investigated for accepting high-value football tickets from firms the union did business with, in breach of union rules.

The Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD) campaign continues to work in the UAW for direct one-member-one-vote election (in place of indirect elections) to get an honest leadership elected by the rank and file and for other democratic organising principles.

Shame on the UAW bureaucracy! Support the UAWD for a democratic union that won’t sell out its members or steal their dues in the future. Help them transform their union!

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