Sep 22, 2003
The contract the leaders of the United Auto Workers union (UAW) just negotiated with Ford, GM, Chrysler, Visteon and Delphi has been hailed by bosses throughout the country. UAW leaders were praised for their "realistic" and "cooperative" attitude. Business analysts reported that the union put the welfare of the companies first. The bosses' most important newspaper, the New York Times, called this the "biggest concession contract since the 1980s."
When a contract makes the bosses this happy, the workers must be getting screwed. And they are. Even on health care – where UAW President Gettelfinger had pledged the UAW would hold the line – there were important give-backs. As for pensions – about which the same pledge was made – they will fall still further behind inflation. Current retirees were really stabbed in the back – getting no increase of any kind for the next four years, only a small lump sum.
As for wages, two years from now, workers will be behind where they are today, since cost of living adjustment on wages is reduced once again, and there are no wage increases for two years. A two-tier wage system is to be brought into Visteon and Delphi – meaning that wages for new hires are to be set much lower.
The most cynical part of the new contract is the ready agreement the union made with the companies' proposals to close or sell plants, giving up in advance at least 20,000 jobs – on top of the 73,000 lost since the last contract began. In exchange, they got a promise the companies will let the union gain a foothold in other plants with just a card check of employees, and will encourage their suppliers to do the same thing.
Gettelfinger even went so far as to brag that the union's aim in these negotiations was to show other companies that they had nothing to fear from the UAW.
This contract certainly shows that. But if the bosses had nothing to fear from a union, what would be the point in joining a union?
This contract is just one further – but very big – step down a path that the UAW itself opened up in 1980 – giving back gains workers once had to companies that claim to be in bad shape. In the 1980s, Chrysler gave the appearance that it was about to go under – although that was nothing but a charade, as Chrysler's almost miraculous recovery, starting to make enormous profits within two years, showed. The concessions contracts settled earlier this year in airlines and steel were sold based on declarations of bankruptcy, or threats to do so. There too, there was more charade than reality. Smaller bankrupt steel companies may have been bought up by bigger ones – but if the bigger ones bought them up, it shows they had the money to do it – even while getting more concessions from all the workers.
But what is striking about the current UAW contract is that these companies, some of the biggest in the world, came asking for concessions just as soon as they went through the usual down part of the cycle which auto always goes through. Just like telephone unions did when they gave away the store to Verizon, the auto workers union is ready to hog-tie the workers into a four-year concessions contract, just because the bosses asked.
No wonder the corporate world celebrates these new agreements. It's a signal that the country's once powerful unions can be had just for the asking. And if they can be, the bosses surely believe that the way is clear for new demands to be made on everyone else, unionized or not, in a new tightening of the spiral to the bottom.
The agreements unions have cut in this last year in the airlines, telephone, steel and auto – all major industries – show that the working class cannot depend on today's top leaders of the unions to defend their interests. Working people need to mobilize themselves to fight for their own interests – in the process either taking back the old unions or forming new unions that they themselves control.
Sep 22, 2003
California Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, has had no more loyal ally in his fight against recall than the AFL-CIO. The union officialdom opposed the recall from its very start, furnishing millions of dollars to the campaign, as well as lending the AFL-CIO's political machinery to the effort. When the recall made it on the ballot back in August, the AFL-CIO pronounced "We are united against the recall of Governor Davis," which the AFL-CIO characterized as a Republican coup.
Certainly, the main force behind the recall was the Republican Party, which is seeking to seize control of the largest state in the country. But if there are many union members and other workers who signed the recall petition, it's not because they are Republicans but because they are fed up with the attacks the Davis administration has been carrying out. Just two years ago, the electric utilities and power generators cooked up a phony energy crisis to rip off working people and the state treasury to the tune of tens of billions of dollars – with the help of Davis. At the same time, under Davis, the state has severely cut back many services, including health care and education, and it is planning to lay off 17,000 state employees – many of them union members. Finally, Davis and other state politicians are planning to triple the vehicle licence fees starting on October 1. This is a tax increase that will hit working people the hardest.
In arguing against the recall, the AFL-CIO insists that if a Republican wins, the attacks will get worse. But – what they don't say – this will happen under the Democrats as well.
If workers are to stop these attacks – carried out by both Democrat and Republican – they will have to mobilize their own forces in a fight against layoffs, cutbacks and tax increases.
The recall pushed by the Republicans certainly diverts workers from that fight – so do calls by the AFL-CIO to support Davis.
Sep 22, 2003
With its vote on September 17, the U.S. Senate joins the House of Representatives to pass the first federal law that openly reduces the right to abortion since abortion was made legal in 1973. The bill, expected to be signed by President Bush shortly, makes certain second and third trimester abortion measures illegal, even those which protect the health of the mother.
The vote was 93 to 0, meaning that even so-called liberal senators who pretend to support women's access to abortion agreed to its passage. In fact, the strategy which got it passed was designed by Barbara Boxer, a liberal Democrat from California. She admitted in the debate before the vote that her amendment to claim the Senate "supported Roe v. Wade" was an amendment that would be stripped out of the final version of the bill. Nonetheless she orchestrated the charade that resulted in a unanimous vote attacking women.
A majority in the country has said repeatedly it supports the right to abortion. Instead of representative democracy, we get legislation of certain religious views. Instead of protecting what goes on between a woman and the physician she consults, the government proposes to interfere in our most private decisions.
Before the last election, some liberals and union leaders argued a vote for Democrats would at least prevent George Bush coming to power, where he would promote anti-abortion views. The Senate vote shows that women can no more count on Democrats to support their access to abortion than they could expect Republicans to do so.
Sep 22, 2003
George W. Bush pretends that the education of American children is his first priority. "No Child Left Behind" has been his slogan, the catch phrase for his federal education law. Bush claimed that he had turned the public school system around in Texas, where he was governor, and that he intended do the same for the whole country as president.
Bush appointed Rod Paige, the former superintendent of Houston schools, Secretary of Education. Paige seemed to be the perfect choice: when it came to reducing dropout rates, Houston led the pack among the school districts in Texas.
But this "Texas Miracle" has now turned into one big "Texas Scandal." Independent studies, like the one done by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative policy research group, have found that the dropout figures reported by Texas school districts were false. Districts were fudging the numbers by using different tricks, such as not counting dropouts who said they still hoped to earn a high school diploma, or calculating dropout rates from seventh grade, when practically no one leaves school. Houston schools, in particular, were undercounting their dropouts by as much as 55%. One Houston high school, for example, had a freshman class of 1000 that dwindled to 300 students by senior year – and yet this school reported not one dropout!
Texas authorities now say they will impose penalties on those in the Houston system who lied about their dropout rates. A recent article in the Village Voice asked: Will the President dock Paige's pay?
Yes, will he? And what about George W. himself – the man who told the biggest lie when he said education is his first priority?
Sep 22, 2003
George W. Bush misses no opportunity to brag about his federal Education Act, dubbed "No Child Left Behind." He says that the key to enforcing this law is to hold schools accountable – by giving parents the right to transfer their children from low-achieving schools to better ones.
This year for the first time, letters are being sent to parents notifying parents about their transfer rights, as required by the law. Potentially, all students in a school which has failed to meet testing standards two years in a row may now choose to go to another school.
That's thousands of schools across the country. But the big question is: what other school would all these students go to? In rural areas, the next available school can easily be hours away. And in the country's big cities, where many of the low-scoring schools are, overcrowding is already the rule. Most of the states have not only not built enough schools in their poor, overcrowded urban districts for decades; they also now claim to have budget deficits and further cut funding to schools.
So perhaps George W. would help, providing federal funds? After all, he is the one who said he would leave "no child behind." Not a chance: in fact, he has been busy cutting federal funds for education too. Of the 18 billion dollars Congress authorized for "No Child Left Behind," for example, the Bush administration has budgeted only 12 billion, cutting one-third of the funding even before the program was implemented!
In the meantime, of course, Bush has asked Congress to give him an additional 87 billion dollars for the occupation of Iraq. And he has been giving the richest layers of the population big tax cuts. Apparently, Bush meant only the children of the rich when he said no child would be left behind!
As for the children of the working class, Bush has not only left them way behind – he and his fellow politicians in the service of the big bosses have launched a fierce attack on their very future.
Sep 22, 2003
Of 11 postal workers who were infected with inhalation anthrax two years ago, six survived. Five of those workers are still unable to return to work. They continue to suffer weakness and fatigue, memory problems, cold sweats, low-grade fever, shortness of breath, joint pain, and headaches.
These workers have been struggling to survive on their workers compensation payments ever since October of 2001. They continue to have high medical bills for their treatments. One victim's health insurance payment will go up to $548 a month – a quarter of his worker's compensation payment.
Has this government – which talks so much about protecting us from terrorism – offered higher compensation? No! Has it provided medical care? No! All it does is issue orange and yellow alerts to scare us.
Sep 22, 2003
Hurricane Isabel roared ashore in North Carolina packing 105 mile per hour winds. During the next day or two, as it diminished in strength, it traveled up through Virginia and West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and finally Canada.
This storm caused more people to lose electrical power in Virginia, Maryland and some other areas than had ever lost power before. In the Washington, D.C. area two-thirds of all homes, counting half a million people, were without electricity. In central Maryland, including Baltimore, 60% of all homes, with one and a quarter million people, lost power. All together, about six million people in the affected states were left in the dark, without refrigeration and in some cases without even running water. Two days after the end of the storm, about three million people still had no electricity.
While there may be no way to prevent hurricanes and other destructive storms, there certainly are ways to prevent much of the damage these storms cause. Most power losses in storms are due to damaged above-ground electrical lines, transformers and other equipment. If these lines and equipment were sheltered underground, for example, much of this damage would not occur, even in storms more severe than Isabel. In addition, if the power utility companies hadn't gotten rid of so many of their linemen and other repair workers in recent years, they could repair storm damage much more quickly, so homes and small business weren't left without electricity for days.
But companies that produce and distribute electric power for a profit don't organize their business according to such calculations. Their chase after profit is why there is no cheap and sure source of electric power for the population.
Sep 22, 2003
Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. military forces in Iraq, recently admitted what has been obvious for a long time: U.S. troops are coming under attack from ordinary Iraqis angered by the U.S. occupation of their country. "We have seen that when we have an incident in the conduct of our operations, when we killed an innocent civilian, based on their ethics, their values, their culture, they (Iraqis) would seek revenge," Sanchez was quoted as saying.
Of course, Sanchez explains civilian attacks on U.S. forces as though it's mainly a question of some strange cultural aspect that demands revenge.
The fact is, the U.S. Army is an occupying force in a country where the population doesn't want it. And the U.S. Army is acting like any occupying army does: It is carrying out a wholesale attack on the population in an attempt to terrorize people into submission. It's what U.S. forces called "pacification" in Viet Nam. In sweeps through the neighborhoods, the army has snatched so many people from their homes that over 10,000 Iraqis now populate the same prison in Baghdad that Saddam Hussein once used to imprison and torture those suspected of opposing his rule. And there are yet thousands more in other prisons and holding camps around the country.
"To a lot of Iraqis, we're no longer the guys who threw out Saddam, but the ones who are busting down doors and barging in on their wives and daughters," one anonymous defense official said recently. He was commenting on an intelligence report the news media had gotten hold of the day before Sanchez made his statement that predicts that the most formidable foe for U.S. forces in Iraq in the months ahead will be ordinary Iraqi people resentful about the U.S. occupation – and not just in the Sunni heartland around Baghdad, but also in the much larger Shiite areas.
U.S. soldiers, themselves coming under attack, increasingly are responding in ways that only inflame the situation. In just one week recently, U.S. troops shot and killed 11 Iraqi policemen who were chasing a highway bandit. They destroyed the car an Associated Press photographer and his driver were in with tank fire and shot a machine gun at an AP reporter, all of whom were simply trying to cover an earlier attack on U.S. forces. They mistakenly shot up a car carrying the Italian diplomat who has been heading up U.S. efforts to recover Iraq's looted art objects, killing the diplomat's driver. They also killed a 14-year-old Iraqi boy and wounded six other people when they opened fire on a wedding party. These incidents made the news. Many more undoubtedly didn't. Shoot first, don't even ask questions later – this becomes the rule.
It's an intolerable situation to be part of an occupying force ordered to terrorize a population – one that led in Viet Nam to situations like the My Lai massacre.
As the situation in Iraq spins more and more out of control, U.S. imperialist history begins to repeat itself.
The U.S. should not be in Iraq. The soldiers should be brought out of there now!
Sep 22, 2003
With complete cynicism, the Israeli government on September 11 adopted a resolution which declared Yasser Arafat an "absolute obstacle to all reconciliation attempts between Israelis and Palestinians." It went on to say that "Israel reserves the right to get rid of this obstacle in one fashion or another, and at a time it will deem suitable."
The more "moderate" members of Ariel Sharon's government suggested this meant Israel could expel Arafat to another country. Others have said, plain and simple, that they would rather have the head of the Palestinian Authority assassinated. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmer, for example, said on September 14, "We are trying to eliminate all the heads of terrorism, and Arafat is one of them."
Sharon and his government act like mafia bosses who are deciding to "whack" a rival. The only difference is that the godfathers of the mafia do so discreetly, amongst themselves, while Sharon and his gang announce their criminal intentions loudly and proudly.
Sharon must think that he can get away with saying anything, calling Arafat an "absolute obstacle to reconciliation," when the Israeli army has rained down terror for years on the entire Palestinian population, assassinating thousands of men, women and children.
Yasser Arafat has actually accepted many compromises and retreats. He has served as a cop against his own people in return for the tiny autonomy granted to his "Palestinian Authority." In the ten years since the "historic" Oslo accords which followed the first Intifada with its thousands of Palestinian casualties, it's the Israeli government that never respected the agreements it made. During all these years of the so-called "peace process," Israel never stopped depriving Palestinians of their land, strangling them economically, reducing a large part of the Palestinian population to a state of misery and pushing an entire people into despair.
It is this policy that has fueled the blind terrorism expressed in suicide bombings. After the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, the Israeli army responded to demonstrations with open terror, adding thousands more deaths to those before. In the last three years, over 2250 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, while 800 Israelis lost their lives as a result of attacks by Palestinians.
The random terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas and other Palestinians organizations are also unjustifiable. They are nothing but the counterpart of the terrorism carried out by the Israeli state. Both types of terrorism demonstrate contempt toward a whole population, be it Israeli or Palestinian. Islamic leaders who propose suicide bombings do so in their own interests, which are not those of the Palestinian people. But if so many Palestinians – mostly young men but sometimes also young women or even older people – are ready to blow themselves up in random attacks on the Israeli population, this shows the level of despair that has accumulated in the Palestinian population.
As for Arafat, since December 2001 he has been confined to his compound in Ramallah, sometimes with Israeli tanks at his window. In March, he agreed to give up his power and appointed a prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, who had the approval of Israel and the U.S. But that was still not enough for Sharon & Co. Despite the truce and the U.S.-sponsored "roadmap," they continued to assassinate Palestinian leaders who had actually agreed to suspend their actions, and they continued to routinely shoot on crowds in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The only role that Sharon saw fit for Abbas was to act as an auxiliary to the repression organized by Israel.
The cycle of violence thus restarted led to a new impasse and the end of Abbas's tenure. And now the Israeli government wants to seal the fate of Arafat himself. But that would resolve nothing, and Sharon knows it better than anyone else. That kind of humiliation will only aggravate the situation even more and unify the Palestinian people in struggle even more.
Thousands of Palestinians have already taken to the streets to announce this. The U.S. government has expressed its objections to expelling Arafat by force because it is aware of the danger of an explosion this can bring about in the whole region. Of course, it would be an illusion to count on the U.S., the staunch longtime sponsor of Israel, to stop Sharon. Not surprisingly, the U.S. was one of only four countries that voted against a United Nations resolution last week calling on Israel to rescind its threat against Arafat – the other three being Israel, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.
But it would be equally naive to expect all the other governments which condemned Israel at the U.N. to put any kind of real pressure on Sharon's government. From the past several decades, the U.N.'s books contain hundreds of resolutions condemning Israel, but not even once has the U.N. done anything to try to enforce those measures. As the recent example of Iraq also proves, a U.N. vote has meaning only if the U.S. agrees with it.
Sep 22, 2003
The same U.S. soldiers who are being sent to fight abroad in places like Iraq and Afghanistan face poverty, want and misery while stationed in the U.S.
The military may advertise itself as a way out of poverty, a step up in the so-called "American Dream." But a large proportion of its enlisted men and women have to depend on federal assistance such as food stamps and WIC in order to make ends meet.
Not only that, but troops and their families have to go to charities and church groups to get food, furniture and clothing and other services. At military bases around the country, hundreds and thousands of families have to go to food pantries and bread lines every month because a week before payday, they are out of money. Sometimes families have to sleep in tents as they wait to get housing on bases.
These families face such dire conditions because the 60% of the army, navy and marines who are privates and corporals, or their equivalents, earn pretax incomes that start at $1065 a month, not including minimal housing and food allowances. In other words, the money that the military pays for a full time job isn't enough to keep a family of four above the official poverty line.
Instead of being a way out of poverty, the army just reinforces it – before sending troops off to be used as cannon fodder.
Sep 22, 2003
Howard Dean (ex-Governor) and Wesley Clark (ex-General) are both running for the Democratic nomination for president. Both are attempting to appear as the choice for people who oppose the war in Iraq.
However, at the end of their patented politicians' double-talk, as they try to simultaneously take a stand and avoid taking one, Dean says he opposed the war because it should have been done through the United Nations – but now the U.S. is there, we should send more troops.
Clark says that the war was a big mistake by Bush, but he (Clark) "would probably have voted for it" in Congress – and now we should send more troops.
With "anti-war" candidates like these, Halliburton and Shell have nothing at all to worry about!
Sep 22, 2003
After Army Sergeant Vanessa Turner, a 41-year- old veteran of 10 years, collapsed in 130 degree heat in Iraq, she suffered heart failure.
She survived, received a medical discharge and was sent home. That was only the beginning of her problems.
When she returned to Boston with her daughter, she could not find a job. Her army disability check was not enough even to cover the rent on an apartment. Neither could she get treatment for a leg that had suffered nerve damage. The VA told her she would have to wait several months to see a doctor.
In fact, Turner was one of the few lucky returning vets, because her case was taken up by the local news media. Then, of course, politicians rushed to secure her a job and an apartment. As for the VA, it suddenly found an immediate appointment for her.
But the same cannot be said about many other veterans, especially combat veterans. Said Ron Conley, national commander of the American Legion, "Current veterans that we're making today are facing the same problem that previous veterans are facing."
The fact is that a big proportion of veterans suffer from many of society's most desperate ills. Almost three-quarters of them, for example, suffer from alcohol, drug, or mental problems. Veterans also make up one-quarter of the estimated 3.5 million homeless people in this country. Many veterans wind up in prison. According to a special report released by the Bureau of Justice in January 2000, over 225,000 veterans were held in the country's prisons or jails, imprisoned at a rate far higher than the rest of society.
Despite all the talk from every single politician and businessman about the need to "honor" soldiers for their "sacrifices" in the capitalists' wars and foreign adventures, almost nothing is provided to help them return to civilian life. In fact, wounded soldiers now being treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington even discovered the government was charging them $8 a day for their meals!
Today's soldiers returning from Iraq may be treated to speeches, parades and medal ceremonies, but they soon find themselves thrown away on the trash heap when the news photographers shut down their cameras.
Sep 22, 2003
On Wednesday, September 17, several hundred workers, called out by the American Postal Workers Union Detroit District Area Local, picketed loudly at the downtown post office in Detroit. The chant that pleased demonstrators most was, "Keep the postal service public – privatize Bush!" They were protesting the recommendations made by President Bush's hand-picked commission to "improve" the U.S. Postal Service.
These recommendations include: privatizing big chunks of the mail handling and transport by contracting them out to corporations; closing smaller, rural post offices; and appointing a three-person panel with power to cut postal workers' wages and benefits.
All this would be done – according to the commission – to make the Postal service better, by making it "more efficient." That's a lie. Private industry is not more efficient - it usually carries a thicker bureaucracy at the top, sucking up all the wealth they can get. In any case, its main purpose is to make profit – not to be more efficient.
That means cutting back on services, not making them better. And it means trying to take more from the workers doing the work.
In fact, overnight and two-day delivery service at the post office has already deteriorated, due to privatizations carried out earlier.
The commission's proposals are nothing more than a way to hand more money over to profit-making companies.
The Detroit postal workers are right to say "NO!" to this attack. They need more allies to stop it, but today there are potential allies everywhere – workers who also need to fight to defend themselves.
Sep 22, 2003
Forbes magazine came out with its annual list of the 400 richest people in America. The wealth of these 400 people went up by ten% in the last year. They now have a total wealth of almost a trillion dollars. Bill Gates alone controls 46 billion dollars. The family that owns Wal-mart has over 100 billion dollars.
The amount of wealth of these 400 people is equal to the amount of wealth produced last year by 130 countries combined. They have as much wealth as more than 50% of the American population combined. Just the increase in their wealth is more than the wealth produced last year by many countries.
How did they get all this wealth? They stole it from the rest of us both here in the U.S. and the poorer countries of the world!
Sep 22, 2003
On September 17, Merrill Lynch, one of the biggest stock brokers in the country, cut a deal with the government.
In 1999, Merrill Lynch had set up a fake company, allowing Enron to pretend to sell it an interest in power facilities in Nigeria. In fact, there was no sale, but Enron showed a 12-million dollar profit on its books. Enron also sold some power to Merrill Lynch, which promptly sold it back at the same price to Enron. But Enron used various accounting tricks to claim a large gain from the transaction. Merrill Lynch even admitted that it might have suggested some of these deals to Enron.
The federal prosecutor, in announcing there would be no criminal prosecution, said that Merrill Lynch "is committed to being a responsible citizen and ensuring that the illegal activities that occurred will not be repeated."
Tell that to 12,000 Enron employees who lost their pension money when Enron's shares, which their 401(k)s were invested in, collapsed.
Tell that to the people in California who are still paying the bill for Enron's manipulating of energy prices.
Of course, they already know that big companies get away with murder.
Sep 22, 2003
The auto companies and the UAW say workers must give concessions so that U.S. companies can compete against imports like Toyota and Honda.
This story has always been a snow job. Ford, GM and Chrysler are not small, weak U.S. companies threatened by mighty world auto powers. Ford, GM and Chrysler are the mighty world auto powers! GM is the world's largest auto manufacturer. Ford is the world's largest maker of trucks and the second largest auto company. Chrysler is part of the world empire of Mercedes-Benz, now known as DaimlerChrysler.
Compared to these longstanding world powers, Toyota and Honda are just a couple of new kids on the block, decoys the Big 3 use to shift our attention away from them.
The Big 3 talk about "market share," while they hide the fact that they deliberately chose to let the new kids make the less-profitable small vehicles, while the Big Three concentrated on bigger high-profit-margin vehicles.
As for so-called "labor productivity" – what makes the Japanese factories more productive is the money those companies invest in machinery. While the Big 3 take it out in profits, the Japanese plow a lot back in!
Then there's the "legacy costs" which the Big 3 talk about, to hide the fact that they were supposed to put money aside to cover pensions and benefits from the moment you're hired. If they have to pay more money now, it's because they haven't been putting enough money in all along.
There's no reason for us to be taken in by these decoys. The world powers can give us world-class treatment.
Sep 22, 2003
Almost every state in the country has declared it faces budget deficits – with 65 billion dollars in budget cuts carried out or threatened this year.
In fact, there would be no budget deficits if businesses paid taxes at the same rate individuals do. Even if they just paid at the same rate compared to what they paid 20 years ago, when their taxes had already been significantly reduced, the states would have collected 50 billion more dollars this year, almost as much as the cuts in social programs and public services the states are carrying out.
Budget shortfalls? No! Just conscious decisions made by politicians of both parties to give away everything not nailed down to the corporations.
Sep 22, 2003
Despite the fact that more than a thousand State of Michigan workers demonstrated at the state office building in the very heart of Detroit, the bourgeois media showed a distinct lack of interest. Only one radio station showed up – no television stations or newspapers were there to broadcast the workers' pledge not to accept any concessions. Why not? Maybe Granholm leaned on them. Maybe the UAW, which is in the middle of pushing through one of the worst concession contracts in UAW history, used its influence to enforce the blackout. Wouldn't want other workers to see the example of saying "NO!"
But so what? Workers have the means to get the word out themselves. We have tons of friends, relatives and neighbors. Workers from any big workplace have links all over the city – links that can spread the word much faster than any bosses' newspaper when we use them.
State workers are saying NO to concessions. The word – and the idea – should be spreading.
Sep 22, 2003
The administration of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm just sent out notices of its intent to lay off as many as 3,000 state workers.
Even while announcing this threat, Granholm's spokesperson declared that Granholm was confident lay-offs wouldn't be needed, that the state could come to a deal with employee unions for concessions.
In other words, the lay-off notice was nothing but an outright extortion attempt – much like the kidnapper who threatens to kill a child if the parents don't give him the money he wants.
If Granholm has stooped to extortion, it's because state workers up until now have resisted all her demands for concessions.
Almost as soon as she took office last winter, Granholm let it be known that she wanted concessions totaling $4100 per worker per year from unionized state employees. She may have thought because she was a Democrat that the workers, who were angry at her Republican predecessor, would fall over and play dead. She was wrong.
On April 16, she learned just how wrong she was. Nearly 700 workers turned out that day in front of the state office building in Detroit to angrily demonstrate their unwillingness to give her $4100.
On the very evening of the demonstration, Granholm announced that she would rethink the issue, trying to come up with other ways to save the money, and then her administration let the summer pass. Obviously, they expected that the workers' anger would cool down. Occasionally, they let it be known they were still looking for concessions, but everything was downplayed, waiting for the Fall and a change of heart in the workforce.
Neither the workers' hearts nor their minds were changed by this waiting game. Nor did the threat of layoffs deter them. That was shown on September 18 when state workers came out in still bigger numbers to demonstrate their resolve once again. The one radio station that covered the demonstration reported that over 1,000 people had taken part. Whatever the number, it was impressive, all the more so since people had to take their lunch hour and some workers came not just from the central offices, but from offices around the city.
If anything, the workers were more determined than in April. The two favorite chants were, "No concessions, no way!" and "No pay, no work!" The second slogan was a reference to a program the governor has recently floated which would require workers to continue working the same number of hours, while getting paid for 4 fewer hours per two-week pay period, with a "credit" of sorts going into their account, which they could draw on – but only if they had exhausted all their other days off – or get paid for when they retire.
If the workers maintain their unwillingness to give up a single concession, the state may well try to lay off workers. That happened before. And what happened before can happen again. The work didn't get done then. None of the work can get done this time either. It's already falling further and further behind. And it should. State workers are overworked, with the state having reduced the workforce by over 7,000 through early retirement last year.
If the governor wants to sabotage the functioning of the state, so be it! Let the work go to damnation! Besides, workers know more than their bosses. They know which work to do and which work to let slide.
The same determination that got the workers this war will keep them hanging in to make this new battle when it comes. And it certainly can tide them over so they don't allow the governor to drive a wedge between the newer workers, who fear the lay-offs, and the older workers who've been there before and know they can be fought.