Workers Blues

November 23, 2005
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Songs have a way of sticking with people. You remember where you were when you first heard a certain song, and most carry a message that’s personal for the listener and varies from individual to individual. Putting music to words often underscores the poignancy of a situation and adds meaning to thoughts and emotions that don’t always come out the right way.

Maybe you’ll remember that you first heard about the song “Shop Floor” in Street Talk.

The new CD single will be hitting local stores in about a week. It’s a song “about the plight of the outsourced workers and its impact on middle class families,” said PhilBiggs, who wrote the words and music for the piece. MichaelCrittenden produced and engineered the song, and it’s performed by the band Mid-Life Crisis.

But the part where art meets real life is interesting.

“My co-underwriter is JimZawacki, CEO of GR Spring & Stamping, a local automotive company that employs about 600 people,” Biggs said.

Zawacki is the former chairman of the National Manufacturers Association and active in several other national trade groups. And he’s not shy about making his opinions heard, everywhere from City Hall to the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

“He has been outspoken in looking for ways to save American jobs from going overseas,” Biggs acknowledged. “Jim is using the CD as an add-on to a letter-writing campaign nationally, and he has some prominent political leaders and media contacts he plans to talk to.”

Biggs, who worked in an automotive plant for a couple of summers many years ago, uses that experience to sprinkle loads of business references throughout the song.

Here is a sample of some of the lyrics:

You sent my job overseas

Far away to a foreign land

Now I’ve been cut and thrown away

By those who cannot understand …

Just expense on a “P ‘n’ L”

You don’t even know my name

Dirty work but your hands are clean

I will never be the same …

Remember the shop floor

Empty corridor …

Remember the shop floor

I refuse … refuse to ignore

Biggs, for one, likes the message the song sends, both to the business sector and community at large.

“I think the song is very powerful,” he said.

  • There’s another message being sent to management, too.


If the United Auto Workers union decides to call a strike on Delphi Corp., the workers will be ready. That is because rank-and-file union members decided at recent meetings that they would begin a “work-to-rule” action. The aim of this type of action is to disrupt the flow of auto parts being produced by Delphi, including those from its Coopersville and Wyoming plants.

“The corporations control the courts and the politicians. The most effective control we can exert is at the point of production,” local author, Delphi employee, and union activist GreggShotwell wrote in a message about the work-to-rule action. “We have more leverage on the shop floor than anywhere. That’s where the battle must be fought.”

That battle will involve deliberate actions to control Delphi’s production, according to the UAW’s New Directions Movement.

“Working to rule is not exactly the same as a slowdown and it is not sabotage, neither of which are legally protected union activities,” read a statement clarifying the nature of the action. “Working to rule generally means restricting output, undermining quality, or cutting back on service by working strictly by the book.”

The local union workers may also organize “sick-outs,” where numerous workers take sick days at once to disrupt production. They may also refuse to work overtime, organize demonstrations or boycotts, and other activity that will interrupt the ordinary flow of work at Delphi.

How the work-to-rule action will manifest itself in the West Michigan plants is not yet clear. According to Shotwell, it won’t mean inferior quality parts.

“Working by the book will not effect quality in a negative way. Management typically sacrifices quality for numbers and encourages employees to cut corners or pass along sub-standard work. Working by the book ensures a better quality product.”

The work-to-rule action comes in response to ongoing discussions between the bankrupt auto supplier, union officials and the rank-and-file membership. The UAW and five other unions that have formed a coalition called Mobilizing@Delphi refused the company’s most recent offer, which included provisions for 24,000 job cuts and drastic reductions in benefits for remaining hourly workers. The unions called the offer “ridiculous.”

“Delphi’s contract proposal was not designed to be a framework for an agreement but a road map for confrontation. (The offer) is ridiculous and they know it’s ridiculous,” said UAW President RonGettelfinger

The union coalition was quick to call for solidarity among its membership. Knowing that the holiday season and the general state of the economy make the prospect of a strike-induced interruption in pay all the less appealing, the unions made an emotional plea to the membership.

“We have been subject to an unprecedented attack on our wages, our working conditions and our living standards by SteveMiller, a rogue CEO who has stated his intention of forcing Delphi workers to live on poverty-level wages,” read a statement from the union coalition. “Miller is a corporate raider, not a corporate savior, and his record at other companies shows that his method is to slash wages, ruin retirement security, stiff shareholders and devastate our communities.”

Delphi has asked the bankruptcy court to nullify its contract with the UAW if a concession agreement cannot be reached by Dec. 16. Should the union call a strike before then, it could cause severe damage both to Delphi and to the company’s largest customer and former parent, General Motors Corp.          

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