Sunday, October 28, 2007



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.