CONTINUING TOUGH TIMES FOR THE AMERICAN LABOR MOVEMENT- AND THAT IS NO LIE
FORGET DONKEYS, ELEPHANTS AND GREENS- BUILD A WORKERS PARTY!
This writer entered the blogosphere in February 2006 so this is the third Labor Day scorecard giving his take on the condition of American labor as we approach Labor Day. And it is not pretty. That, my brothers and sisters, says it all. There was little strike action this year. The only notable action was that of the autoworkers last fall that I made comment on then and have reposted here. The situation since then for the beleaguered auto workers has only gotten worst, as the dramatic decline in auto sales and the energy crunch have kicked in.
Once again there is little to report in the way of unionization to organize labor’s potential strength. American workers continue to have a real decline in their paychecks. The difference between survival and not for most working families is the two job (or more) household. In short, the average family is working more hours to make ends meet. Real inflation in energy and food costs has put many up against the wall. Moreover the bust in the housing market has wrecked havoc on working people as the most important asset in many a household has taken a beating. Once again forget the Federal Reserve Bank’s definition of inflation- one fill up at the pump confounds that noise. One does not have to be a Marxist economist to know that something is desperately wrong when at the beginning of the 21st century with all the technological advances and productivity increases of the past period working people need to work more just to try to stay even. Even the more far-sighted bourgeois thinkers have trouble with that one. In any case, here are some comments on the labor year.
*The key, as it was last year, to a turn-around for American labor is the unionization of Wal-Mart and the South. The necessary class struggle politics that would make such drives successful would act as a huge impetus for other areas of the labor movement. This writer further argues that such struggles against such vicious enemies as Wal-Mart can be the catalyst for the organization of a workers party. Okay, okay let the writer dream a little, won’t you? What has happened this year on this issue is that more organizations have taken up the call for a boycott of Wal-Mart. That is all to the good and must be supported by militant leftists but it is only a very small beginning shot in the campaign (See archives, dated June 10, 2006). National and local unions have taken monies from their coffers not for such a worthy effort as union organizing at Wal-Mart but to support one or another bourgeois electoral candidate. Some things never change.
*The issue of immigration has surfaced strongly again this year, especially in presidential politics. Every militant leftist was supportive of the past May Day actions of the vast immigrant communities to not be pushed around, although one should also note that they were not nearly as extensive as in 2006 or 2007, a sure sign that the norms of electioneering by the affected ethnic leaderships have put a damper on such extra-parliamentary actions. Immigration is a labor issue and key to the struggle against the race to the bottom. While May Day and other events were big moments unless there are links to the greater labor movement this very promising movement could fizzle. A central problem is the role of the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church in the organizing effort. I will deal with this question at a latter time but for now know this- these organizations are an obstruction to real progress on the immigration issue. (See archives, dated May 1, 2006 for a recap on this factor)
The Auto Workers Struggles of the Fall of 2007
NO TWO- TIER WAGE RATES- EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK
The big labor news this fall has been the fight by the United Auto Workers (UAW) for new contracts with General Motors, Chrysler and now Ford. I have already discussed the GM and Chrysler settlement and now as of Friday, November 3, 2007 Ford and the UAW have reached a tentative agreement. That agreement is along the same lines as those ratified by GM and Chrysler (barely) - a new two- tier wage system for new hires who will get one half the average pay of senior autoworkers and union takeover of the health and pension funds. As I have lamented previously these contracts are a defeat for the autoworkers. Why? The historic position of labor has been to fight for equal pay for equal work. That apparently has gone by the boards here. Moreover the pension and health takeovers are an albatross around the neck of the union. No way is this an example of worker control not at least how any militant should view it. After all the givebacks its time to fight back even if this is a rearguard action in light of the previous votes AND the futility of the 'apache' strategy. Any illusions that the give backs will buy labor peace and or/avoid further layoffs, close downs or outsourcing got a cruel comeuppance in the previous contract negotiations. No sooner had those contracts been ratified, and well before the new contracts were even printed, Chrysler announced layoffs of 8000 to 10, 000 and GM had previously announced about 1500 layoffs. FORD AUTOWORKERS VOTE NO ON THIS CONTRACT.
I HAVE REPOSTED THE NOTES ON THE GM AND CHRYSLER SETTLEMENTS TO GIVE A PERSPECTIVE OF HOW THE HOPES THAT ORGANIZED LABOR COULD START TO FIGHT BACK AGAINST THE TIDE OF GLOBALIZATION HAVE FADED AS THE PROCESS HAS UNFOLDED THIS FALL.
A SHORT NOTE ON THE CHRYSLER AUTOWORKERS SETTLEMENT
The Wal-martization of the Once Proud UAW
Yes, I know that we are in the age of ‘globalization’. That is, however, merely the transformation of the same old characters like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in the auto industry that we have come to know and love moving away from mainly nationally defined markets to international markets. In short, these companies allegedly are being forced to fight their way to the bottom of the international labor wage market along with everyone else. As least that was the position of these august companies in the on-going labor contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers (UAW). And the labor tops bought the argument. In the General Motors settlement GM was nicely absolved from having to administer its albatross health and pension funds. Now autoworkers are held responsible for deciding what autoworkers get what benefits. This is not my idea of workers control, not by a long shot. Based on those provisions alone that GM contract should have been soundly defeated. That it was not will come back to haunt the GM autoworkers in the future.
Now comes news that, as of October 27, 2007, the Chrysler workers have narrowly (56%) ratified their contract, although some major plants voted against it and the labor skates pulled out all stops to get an affirmative vote. If anything that contract is worst than the GM contract because it also contains a provision for permitting a two-wage system where ‘new hires’ will be paid approximately one half normal rates. So much for the old labor slogan of 'equal pay for equal work'. If the GM contract will come back to haunt this one already does today. Remember also that Chrysler was bought out by a private equity company that has a history of selling off unprofitable operations, driving productivity up and then selling the profitable parts for huge profits. That, my friends, is what the global race to the bottom looks like in the American auto industry. This contract should have been voted down with both hands. Ford is up next and based on the foregoing that contract should also be voted down.
Look, every militant knows that negotiations over union contracts represent a sort of ‘truce’ in the class struggle. Until there is worker control of production under a workers government the value of any negotiations with the capitalists is determined by the terms. Sometimes, especially in hard times, just holding your own is a ‘victory’. Other times, like here, there is only one word for these contracts-defeat. Moreover, this did not need to happen. Although both strike efforts at GM and Chrysler were short-lived (intentionally so on the part of the leadership) the rank and file was ready to do battle. The vote at Chrysler further bolsters that argument. So what is up?
What is up is that the leadership of the autoworkers is not worthy of the membership. These people are so mired in class collaborationist non-aggression pacts and cozy arrangements (for themselves) that they were easy pickings for the vultures leading management. The epitome of this is the ‘apache’ strategy of negotiating with one company at a time. If in the era of Walter Reuther, at a time when there were upwards of a million union autoworkers, that might have made some sense today with reduced numbers it makes no sense at all. Labor’s power is in solidarity and solidarity means, in this case, ‘one out, all out’. Beyond that it is clear a new class struggle leadership is needed, just to keep even, and it is needed pronto. Those rank and filers and, in some cases, local union leaders who called for a no vote at Chrysler are the starting point for such efforts.
VICTORY TO THE GENERAL MOTORS AUTOWORKERS!
THE FIGHT AGAINST THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM BEGINS HERE! CALL
OUT THE WHOLE UAW!
As of September 24, 2007, after a break down in negotiations the General Motors autoworkers went out on a nation-wide strike. In the old days, in the 1930 and 1940’s, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union was created and solidified by fierce class battles. This action evokes memories of those times although then the fight was centrally around wages and working conditions. Today, in the age of ‘globalization’ (meaning, in reality, most of the same capitalists like GM fighting it out in the world market rather than in nationally isolated markets) the fight is against the corporation- driven race to the bottom. The issues of health care, pensions, outsourcing and job guarantees are what drive today’s struggles. And the prospects are not pretty.
Take the case of heath care provision. General Motors (and ultimately the other auto makers) want to foist that responsibility onto the union with some kind of trust fund arrangement. I think an unidentified UAW local president in Detroit made the most eloquent response to that idea. His response: Why should the union be responsible for cutting off the health benefits to its own membership as health costs continue to spiral or a member reaches the plan maximum. Make no mistake this scheme is not some step in the fight for workers’ control of working conditions. The company is merely trying to bail out from its own mistakes. Ditto on the under- funded pension plans. However, GM is more than happy to try to lock the union into an agreement on outsourcing to their other plants internationally in order to cut costs. This they know how to do as the decline in membership of the UAW dramatically shows. In the end that means poorer working conditions not only here but also internationally. To mitigate the problem of outsourcing it is not enough to call for job protection. Also necessary is an international organizing drive to unionize all autoworkers.
One of the most compelling pieces of data that I have run across lately on the labor movement is from an article on globalization in which it was stated that today there are as many auto workers as in the past but only about a third of them are organized. Today GM has 73,000 UAW autoworkers. In the past there were several times that number. As we support the current UAW action let us remember this for the future. The same can be said for the other members of the Big 3. And while we are at it since all autoworkers will ultimately be affected by the GM action- extend the picket lines to the other Big 3. Call out the whole UAW to defend this strike. VICTORY TO THE GM AUTO WORKERS!