The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Issue no. 840 — February 23 - March 9, 2009

Editorial:
Obama Continues Bush’s Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Feb 23, 2009

When President Barack Obama announced that he was sending 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, he signaled that it is only the first installment of a new U.S. escalation of the war. Obama is considering practically doubling the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the next year.

For more than seven years, the U.S. has been waging war in Afghanistan with troops, assassination squads, bombs and missiles. The U.S. has imposed a puppet government made up of war lords and fundamentalist fanatics. The U.S. has destroyed the Afghanistan economy and turned the country into a narco-state.

The U.S. invasion has fueled an ever growing war. The more troops the U.S. has sent, the more bombs U.S. planes have dropped, the more this has enraged the population, and the more they have fought to get the U.S. out.

Obama claims he has the answer for Afghanistan. He says he wants to imitate Bush’s surge in Iraq. He says Bush’s surge in Iraq “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” That’s what Obama told Bill O’Reilley on Fox News during the electoral campaign.

This is a complete lie. The U.S. surge in Iraq was a huge catastrophe. The U.S. and its death squad allies killed so many people, it turned the country into a vast cemetery. Those who survived were forced to flee for their lives, or else to live in ethnically-cleansed, walled-off ghettoes almost like prisoners.

The result: Iraq continues to be a powder keg, ready to explode along the divisions that the U.S. played on in order to impose its order. And despite all the talk about “success,” the U.S. continues to keep 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The military talks about troops still being there five years from now.

Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan will only produce a bigger disaster. And not just for the people of Afghanistan. The U.S. war is spreading into Pakistan. Three days after taking office, Obama ordered an Air Force drone to bomb two separate Pakistani villages, killing what Pakistani officials said were 22 people. Since then, the U.S. bombings in Pakistan have continued. And U.S. Special Forces and assassination squads continue to operate in that country as well.

Just like Bush, Obama is risking a wider war in Pakistan, a country with a population of over 170 million people!

Obama rode to office promising a “change.” But his policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is simply a continuation of Bush’s bloody policies.

The U.S. working class has paid for these wars. Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been wounded and disabled. And these wars have already cost us trillions of dollars.

With his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, Obama expects us to pay even more: in lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, even as the bosses’ economic crisis, layoffs and unemployment threaten our livelihoods here at home.

It is time to tell Obama: No to his rotten surge in Afghanistan and into Pakistan. Get all the U.S. troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan!

Pages 2-3

Colleges Flunk Affordability Test

Feb 23, 2009

Forty-nine of 50 states fail the test for college affordability, according to a recent study.

College tuition has skyrocketed by 29% in the past ten years, while family incomes have fallen. On average, a college education takes up 28% of a family’s income, and this will only get worse in the coming years. More and more, a college education will be priced out of the reach of workers’ families.

Of course, lower-income families are hardest hit. Nationally, college costs families in the top fifth only nine% of their income – but families in the bottom fifth must devote 55% of their income to pay for college. Fifty-five%! At that rate, who could possibly afford college on top of food, housing and clothing?

Public colleges are paid for with workers’ taxes – yet more and more, workers can’t afford to send their kids to these schools. Only the wealthy will be able to afford college any more, even at public colleges and universities!

These blood-sucking leeches owe even their education to the work that we do – yet they dare to shut us out?!

State Unemployment Funds Running Out Just When Needed

Feb 23, 2009

Unemployment compensation funds in seven states are already running a deficit. This includes Michigan, Ohio, California and New York. Funds in 11 other states are expected to be exhausted by the end of this year.

Of course, there are more people applying for unemployment benefits now. But the basic cause of the problem is the systematic cuts in state unemployment taxes paid by employers during the past years of relatively “good times” when funds should have been built up to prepare for the bad times.

In Michigan, for example, the state with the biggest deficit in its fund, unemployment taxes on businesses were cut three times in 12 years. Because of cuts like this all across the country, the average state unemployment fund had only about half the reserves on hand at the start of the current economic decline that it had at the start of the last recession in 2001.

These meager reserves aren’t running out because benefits are so generous. The average unemployment check covers about one-third what people were paid before they were laid off.

And eligibility rules have been rigged so that many minimum-wage workers don’t qualify, even though they worked full time for years – their earnings were too low! Other workers, employed for over a year at somewhat higher wages, may not have worked long enough to qualify because of the way states fix the qualifying period. Altogether, more than two-thirds of all unemployed workers don’t qualify for any benefits.

This government, which has handed over 50 billion dollars to Citigroup and 45 billion dollars to Bank of America – can’t find the money to cover all the unemployed.

Shows whose side the government is on.

Foreclosure Plan:
Money to Banks, not Homeowners

Feb 23, 2009

The Obama mortgage plan is being touted as a boon to homeowners in danger of losing their homes. No – it’s really a boondoggle for banks holding mortgages through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The plan “entices” mortgage companies to rework loans. How does it do this? By giving them money, of course! These mortgage companies will get 1,000 dollars for just meeting with each eligible homeowner, and another 1,000 dollars per year for each reworked mortgage (for up to five years) after that. There are around 4 million mortgages that could be eligible for these reworked mortgages, so that comes out to a 24 billion dollar gift to the mortgage companies – just for agreeing to take the homeowners’ money more slowly. And that money can be doubled in most instances.

No actual money goes to the homeowners in danger of losing their homes. In fact, the homeowners won’t be saved any money at all. If their house is no longer worth the value of the mortgage, they still have to pay that original value. Yes, it’s at a lower rate of interest – but since they’ll be paying for a longer period of time, that interest will still accumulate. Homeowners will have two choices at the end of this three-to-four year period: pay the remainder of what they owe in a lump sum, or see their interest rate move back up to the rate it was before it was reworked! These homeowners will be trapped in a ballooning payment all over again!

Obama justifies this by saying that by that time, the housing market will have rebounded and home values will be up again. Oh really? And what if they aren’t? Those values were already hugely inflated by the real estate bubble created by the banks in the first place, with their sleazy adjustable-rate mortgages.

Why give any money to the banks that created the problem and not to the homeowners who are trapped by it? Obama said he didn’t want to “rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible.”

What BS! That’s exactly who’s being rescued by this plan: the unscrupulous mortgagers who ripped people off. And it blames and punishes those who were duped by the fraud those mortgagers perpetrated.

If they truly wanted to get rid of the crap mortgages gumming up the economy, they could simply CANCEL the mortgages: don’t give a DIME to the people who created this problem – the bankers and investors who fraudulently drove housing prices up, and the slimy mortgage brokers who pushed fraudulent mortgages with hidden, exploding interest rates onto people who they KNEW could never pay them. Make the criminals pay, not the victims of this fraud!

The Obama plan is nothing more than a gift to the mortgage companies – a bribe to string homeowners along. If it succeeds, it will only create another real estate bubble.

After the banks get their money, homeowners will be left holding the bag – again.

Bailing out the Banks on the Backs of the Unemployed

Feb 23, 2009

The latest scam involves debit cards by the states for people who apply for unemployment benefits. The result is that the unemployed must pay bank fees to access their benefits!

Thirty states have struck deals with banks including Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and US Bancorp to provide unemployment compensation through debit cards. In several states the unemployed have no choice but to use these debit cards.

With more than a million workers losing their jobs in two months time there is a growing market for these bank-issued unemployment cards.

The banks make money off the interest earned after the state deposits the money and before it’s spent. They also get between 1 to 3% off the top for each transaction someone makes with the cards. Not to mention all the fees – fees for withdrawing money, fees for call customer service, fees for checking the balance, fees for using out-of-network banks, overdraft fees and so on.

Not surprisingly, the banks and credit card companies do not say how much money they make off the program.

But occasionally we can get a glimpse. In Missouri, for example, almost 95,000 people got their unemployment benefits through debit cards from Central Bank. If each cardholder used the card normally, the bank would collect nearly $521,000 from these 95,000 people each month. That would come to 6.3 million dollars a year. That’s just for one small bank.

The culprits who brought us this economic crisis – like the banks – are getting another bailout from people who have lost their jobs due to the crisis.

Rocket Docket

Feb 23, 2009

Florida has found a quick and dirty way to speed through all the thousands of foreclosure cases flooding their courts.

It’s very simple. The judge asks two yes or no questions: Are you current on your mortgage and are you living in your home? If the answer is no to first question and yes to second question, the judge says you have 60 days to work something out with bank, if not your house will be sold. 20 seconds top and get through nearly 1,000 cases per day.

The wheels of justice turn quickly when they favor wealthy bankers!

California:
Tax Breaks for Rich, Cuts and Tax Hikes for Us

Feb 23, 2009

The new California budget is nothing but a big, open attack on working people. It includes 14.8 billion dollars in cuts to schools and colleges, healthcare, transportation and aid for the poor. It also includes a 12.5 billion dollar increase in the kinds of taxes that target working people directly. The sales tax is increased by one%. Car license fees are doubled. There is a flat rate increase in personal income taxes as well. And these come on top of other attacks, such as regular monthly furloughs and the loss of several days of holiday pay, that will result in a 10% pay cut for most state workers.

This budget was bi-partisan. It was put together by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic majority in the state legislation. A tiny number of Republican legislators got the budget the two-thirds majority needed to pass it. Whatever disagreements they had, one thing was clear: both parties agreed to play their role, making ordinary people foot the bill.

California politicians actually included a new round of corporate tax breaks in the new budget, worth more than one billion dollars a year – which will come out of the extra money workers will pay in taxes.

Huge handouts to corporations in the past are the main reason why California has budget problems. Since the 1980s, state politicians reduced the corporate tax rate twice, from 9.6% to 8.8%. If the corporate tax rate had stayed the same as it was in 1981, the state would have collected 8.4 billion dollars more in corporate taxes for just the one year, 2006. Mutiply that by dozens of years.

Corporate taxes went down – at the very moment that corporate wealth – which goes to big stockholders – grew enormously. Between 2001 and 2005, for example, during the supposed recovery from the last recession, the net profits reported by corporations increased 557% – that is, more than sixfold.

The money is there – to pay for all the services California needs – but it’s all in the coffers of big corporations and wealthy individuals.

Chicago:
Parking Meter Ripoff

Feb 23, 2009

The City Council raised meter rates in Chicago. The minimum rate at a meter in the neighborhoods is now $1 and $3.50 downtown, seven days a week.

The meter revenue is going to one of the largest investment banks in the country, Morgan Stanley. What does Morgan Stanley know about installing and servicing parking meters? Nothing.

But they know a lot about ripping off people.

Pages 4-5

Guadeloupe :
The Strike Hardens and the Mobilization Grows

Feb 23, 2009

The strike in Guadeloupe is total. The Hayot and Despointes group (known for writing the latest racist declarations) attempted to open up the Carrefour grocery stores in Milenis and Destreland using replacement workers protected by the police. Some bosses made the replacement workers sleep in the store.

But in fact, the bosses have not achieved their goal. Everywhere there are picket lines, visible from the main streets, in front of the factories. Strikers are standing up, vigilant or playing cards in front of the gates.

Strikers Use Their Power

The workers on strike used their power to close or open factories when they wanted and when it was necessary in order to provide supplies to the population. The workers of the CGTG (General Confederation of Labor of Guadeloupe) at SARA (refineries of Guadeloupe) decided to deliver bottles of cooking gas (there is no city gas in Guadeloupe). During three days last week, the strikers opened up the service stations in order to re-supply people with fuel, while telling people that beginning the following Monday, the stations would again be shut down. At the ports that are on strike, the workers allow only the containers holding urgent supplies, like medical supplies, to be let through.

At the airport, the planes are forced to go to other neighboring islands to refuel, such as to Saint-Martins, Puerto Rico or Antigua.

At the moment this article is written, nothing functions except the distribution of water and electricity, with short and rolling shutdowns of the service. On the other hand, it was discussed on the level of the LKP (the grouping of unions and political organizations organizing the strike) and among the strikers of the General Water Works to not shut off the water supply, even though these city workers are on strike. Since city workers are on strike and public services are not functioning, odors have built up around the piles of garbage. The LKP and striking workers are discussing this problem that is creating a nuisance for the population – which accepted it up until now.

With the Population

Everywhere, in fact, the striking militants are encouraged by the population. People say to them, “thank you, thank you, for what you are doing for us,” and “finally we have some unity.” When a group of strikers travelled from town to town last week, the populations applauded and greeted the militants of the LKP who spoke to them in meetings of up to 200 people at a time in each area.

Of course, the administrators and elected officials shouted out against what they call “excesses and looting,” etc. Sure, it can be said that some stores have been broken into and looted. But overall, this explosion of anger that has touched all the urban centers shows above all the exasperation of the young people in a country that officially registers nearly 30% unemployment, the majority of whom are young people. One person in six lives below the poverty line, many earning less than minimum wage. What is surprising is that this explosion of anger did not occur before.

The refusal of the bosses, their arrogant attitude looking down on the workers, the lies of government officials like Jégo and Fillon who go back on their promises, only inflame the situation. It is because of this that barricades have been built on all the major roads of Guadeloupe and that the young people have expressed their anger. Condemnations of “excesses”change nothing so long as there is no clear response to the demands of the LKP and of the unions.

More Than Peanuts

The situation will not calm down in Guadeloupe. There is no reason for those who have demonstrated four weeks now – the 10,000 then 20,000 up to 60,000 people in the streets – to agree to stop their movement without receiving more than a little bonus here or there, a few peanuts! They are demanding a real increase in wages, real jobs for those on the edge, reduction of prices on the goods that are part of everyday consumption, another cut in the price of gasoline and fuel oil …

The bosses, and in particular the big bosses, are so voracious and accustomed to being on the hunt, that they have lost their minds. They don’t even realize that their refusal of a wage increase of 200 Euros (260 US dollars) a month is leading them to risk losing much more than that and even to loose their ability in Guadeloupe to continue to carry on business at all.

Guadeloupe:
General Strike Continues for the Fifth Week

Feb 23, 2009

Faced with a massive and still growing general strike in its overseas department of Guadeloupe, the French government responded to some of the strike demands. The strike in this Caribbean island of 450,000 had just spread to the island of Martinique, another French department with 400,000 people.

The strikers had demanded a 200 Euro ($260) a month raise for everyone. Instead the government seems to be proposing differing amounts of a raise depending on family size and income level, trying to cool down the strike. Up until now, the strike has not only held firm, it has intensified, and heated up, as the following articles show.

Negotiations between the strike organizers, the LKP or Collective Against Profiteering, and the bosses backed up by the French government will pick up again on February 23.

The following articles are translated from the February 20th issue of Lutte Ouvri re (Workers Struggle) in France, based on reports from Combat Ouvrier (Workers Fight) comrades active in the struggle in Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Long Live the Struggle of the Workers of Guadeloupe and Martinique!

Feb 23, 2009

The workers of Guadeloupe are beginning their fifth week of a general strike. Their comrades in Martinique have joined them.

Jégo, the French government Overseas Minister, who in negotiations promised wage increases, appallingly pulled back and today adopts an aggressive tone. He’s rediscovered the typical language of the bosses and the government about these strikers who,“take the population hostage.” In this situation, the argument isn’t only shocking, it’s ridiculous. The strike enjoys the support of almost the entire population, other than a few profiteers. Demonstrations of 20,000, 30,000, indeed 60,000 people follow one another in Guadeloupe, which has a total of only 450,000 inhabitants!

The strikers enjoy profound support from everyone, because everyone suffers from high prices. Prices in general, including those of food and basic necessities are 20% to 50% higher than those on the continent, where they are going up in an intolerable fashion. Those responsible are easily identifiable. The majority of the big stores, the local food industry and the export-import businesses are in the hands of a dozen great families who enjoy a monopoly and who literally extort the population with the blessing of the state authorities. These are the same people who own a large part of the land and who, after enriching themselves in sugar cane production, continue to enrich themselves with banana cultivation.

A Strike for Dignity

The majority of them are the békés, that is to say, descendants of the old slave masters who live in unbelievable luxury, dominate social life and who have friendships extending to the top of the French state.

If the strike is waged over material demands and above all for a wage increase of 200 Euros ($260) a month in Guadeloupe and 300 Euros ($390) a month in Martinique, it is also a strike for dignity, in this Caribbean society where men and women who are of African or Asian origin constitute the poorest part of the population: workers, white collar employees, and the unemployed. On the other hand, the higher one goes on the scale of wealth or in the state administration, the more places are occupied by the European minority.

This struggle for dignity represents an entirely legitimate aspect of the struggle which is developing over there. But those who insist on the specifically Guadeloupean and Martiniquean aspects of the movement diminish its importance and meaning. The békés aren’t the only ones responsible for the price increases. Alongside them, above them, are the big European and French companies, among them the oil company Total. This business, the richest and most powerful in France, completely controls the provisioning of oil in the French Caribbean through a subsidiary. Now, let’s recall, it was the price of gasoline which was the spark which ignited the social fire.

A Strike Against the Exploiters

So the struggle of the workers and the population against price increases is also the struggle against these big French businesses which steal from and exploit those on the island, but who also steal from and exploit us here in France.

A minority pillages and exploits the majority in Guadeloupe and Martinique, but also in continental France. Of course, there isn’t the weight of the slave owner past on the continent! And the luxury of the great fortunes of France is more hidden than that of the békés. The richest béké family with 390 million dollars in wealth is only in 136th place in the ranking, very far from Bettencourt, Arnault, Pinault, Dassault, Lagard re, Bouygues, Bolloré, etc., who exercise a still greater power over society and over the State.

The workers of Guadeloupe and Martinique aren’t setting an example only for the other overseas departments. They are setting it for all workers.

Their fight for wage increases and an end to price increases concerns all workers. They are a part of our class who have chosen to struggle and who are showing us the way. It is in the interest of everyone, workers over there and here, that the struggle be carried out at the level of the entire working class, for then, we will multiply our chances of changing the relationship of forces between exploiters and exploited.

Pages 6-7

SEIU:
Behind the Fight in the Apparatus

Feb 23, 2009

On January 27, the national leadership of the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) took over one of its local unions, UHW (United Healthcare Workers-West) headed by Sal Rosselli. SEIU President Andy Stern dismissed the top UHW officials and executive board and sent a small army of SEIU officials and administrators to take possession of the UHW treasury and 16 local union halls scattered across the whole state of California. Altogether, the UHW local has 150,000 members.

Stern claimed that he was taking over the local because of financial malfeasance. Yet, a panel that Stern himself appointed found that UHW’s finances did not warrant trusteeship of the local. Nonetheless, within days of the panel’s report, Stern took over the local anyway. No, Stern’s takeover of UHW was not about corruption and personal financial enrichment.

From Allies to Opponents

Stern and Rosselli had started out as allies. In 1998, Stern had begun to merge smaller locals into gigantic statewide or regional locals. He anointed Rosselli, who had headed a local in northern California, the president of a new, gigantic local for all of California. When Stern negotiated outright sweetheart contracts with employers in return for being allowed to “organize” a lot more members, Rosselli jumped on board.

In 2003, for example, Rosselli went along with a secret agreement that Stern made with several chains of nursing home owners in California. According to articles in the San Francisco Weekly (“Partners in Slime”, June 30, 2004 and “Union Disunity,” April 11, 2007), the SEIU promised that in return for being allowed to sign up workers into the union, it would keep wages and benefits extremely low, as well as not make any demands on staffing, working conditions, the conditions and treatment of the patients, etc. On top of that, SEIU officials promised to use their influence among California Democrats to get the nursing home owners more state subsidies, and new laws that would make it more difficult for patients and workers to sue the nursing homes for their horrible health and safety conditions.

The owners of 42 nursing homes signed on to the deal. In return, the UHW was able to sign up a wave of new members. Rosselli blandly explained, “Traditionally, there has been an adversarial relationship between SEIU and general health care providers. We’ve been changing those relationships to accomplish common goals.

Apparently some UHW officials had second thoughts. In 2007, UHW staff prepared a top secret report, “The California Alliance Agreement: Lessons Learned in Moving Forward,” whose findings were published in the San Francisco Weekly. The report detailed how the UHW helped win the nursing home operators at least two billion dollars over four years in extra subsidies, a windfall from the state government. The report also warned that the deal had provided absolutely nothing in return for the workforce, and it precluded any advances in the future.

Is it any wonder that we have often heard from these workers that ‘the boss brought us the union?’” the report notes. The UHW was calling its own agreement with the nursing home operators a “sell out.”

This signaled problems and frictions between UHW local officials and the SEIU national leadership.

Later in 2007, Rosselli openly clashed with Stern over the terms of a new national contract with Tenet, the second largest private hospital chain in the country. The SEIU had about 22% of Tenet’s employees under contract. The SEIU national leadership offered enormous concessions to induce the company to not oppose unionization for the rest of the company. The SEIU gave Tenet the right to subcontract up to 12% of the jobs, as well as wage give-backs and a seven-year extension of the no-strike clause.

UHW officials, claiming that they were not consulted about the terms of the contract, walked out in protest. Rosselli’s opposition was out in the open.

Stern retaliated by proposing to take 65,000 home health care and nursing home workers out of the UHW and put them into a new mega-local of 240,000 long-term health care workers. In protest, in February 2008, Rosselli resigned from the national SEIU Executive Board.

At the September SEIU national convention, Rosselli tried to make a case for greater local autonomy and independence from the national SEIU. This provided an opening for officials from other locals facing similar problems to voice their concerns. Some of them coalesced into an informal grouping called SMART (SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today). Nonetheless, the SEIU convention rejected Rosselli’s proposal overwhelmingly. Four months later, Stern took over the UHW local, putting it into trusteeship.

Rosselli then immediately announced that he and other former union officials from UHW intended to organize a new union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), which would compete with the SEIU. Less than a week later, Rosselli announced that the NUHW had delivered petitions signed by 9,000 workers from 62 facilities to disaffiliate from the SEIU as a first step for union elections “to form NUHW’s founding chapters,” as Rosselli wrote.

What Is at Stake

Rosselli came to oppose Stern’s growing power and “interference” in local unions, especially Stern’s habit of going over the local leadership’s heads to negotiate contracts and make agreements.

But does Rosselli represent a different policy from that of Stern? That’s the real problem. Judging so far from what he has said, it doesn’t seem like it. Certainly, he has never repudiated his own policies at the helm of the UHW.

Under Rosselli, the UHW collaborated closely with their corporate partners to impose concessions and sacrifices on the workers, the infamous “partnerships.” And under Rosselli, these “partnerships” were imposed on the workers by a paid staff of 450 people, far removed from the actual rank-and-file union members. Besides that, like the rest of the new mega-SEIU locals created under Stern, the sheer size of Rosselli’s UHW local, with its 150,000 members throughout the state of California, functioned as a built-in impediment for ordinary rank-and-filers to play any role in their union, not to speak of mounting an effective challenge and opposition to the officials’ policy, if they deemed it necessary.

The workers are faced with employers who are more and more emboldened by the crisis and the growing unemployment, who use that as the means to batter down workers, stripping them of whatever gains the working class had won in the past. The main issue for workers inside and outside the SEIU is to be able to find a way to mobilize and organize to protect their own interests.

That would be the starting point for the policy of someone who is working for a real reform in the unions.

Page 8

The Race to Be “Competitive” Is a Race to the Bottom

Feb 23, 2009

In December, Toyota leaked an internal report. It proposed that Toyota should align hourly wages at each of its U.S. plants more closely with prevailing manufacturing wages in the state where each plant exists – rather than “tying itself closely to the U.S. auto industry or other competitors.”

In order to avoid unionization, Toyota, like Honda and Nissan, had historically pegged wages in this country close to GM, Ford and Chrysler wages, although the so-called “transplants” paid out lower benefits.

But now, it’s aiming at the median manufacturing wage in Southern states where the companies are located: Kentucky, $12.65 an hour, for example, or Alabama, $10.80.

UAW leaders and the U.S. government say that the Detroit companies need to bring their wages and benefits down to be “competitive” with Toyota or Honda. But if Toyota and Honda are already cutting their wages, then what?

When workers compete with each other, it’s a race to the bottom, and the only ones to win are the bosses.

Auto Concessions:
Aimed at the Whole Working Class

Feb 23, 2009

The UAW leadership has started to leak information about the concessions it just negotiated with the three Detroit auto companies.

When they bring out the deal for ratification, the UAW leadership will claim that wages aren’t being cut.

Not true! This miserable deal eliminates two yearly bonuses and cost-of-living protection – that’s a wage cut – and it comes on top of the 2007 contract that already froze workers’ wages for four years. Cutting the two bonuses means cutting seven% of a whole year’s income. Cutting COLA means inflation will steal our paychecks.

This deal will let the companies eliminate work rules – under the pretext of making the companies “competitive” with the transplants. That’s nothing but B.S. The fact is, the companies want to run every one of their plants into the ground – running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no limits.

This scummy deal will let the companies eliminate overtime payments for work over eight hours a day, paying it only after 40 hours a week. Almost certainly, someone who hasn’t worked on an assembly line for years, if ever, will claim that’s not so bad.

Wrong! It opens the door for companies to introduce more of those horrible schedules they have already been “experimenting” with – like working 12 hours a day for three days in a row, followed by 12 hours a day, four days in a row on the next rotation. By eliminating overtime payment for work after eight hours, they are opening the door to killer work schedules. Literally “killer” schedules, because people will die from working these hours.

The companies also want to eliminate protections for laid-off workers. The information that has come out so far makes it seem like it’s only a few small reductions in Supplemental Unemployment benefits (SUB). Not true. Behind those reductions lurks the real problem: The companies have not put enough money into the SUB fund. And without money, all benefits will dry up.

This is especially important because the union leadership has obviously agreed to let the companies ignore their 2007 promises not to close any more plants for four years. GM openly speaks of closing 10 more plants over the next few years, laying off 47,000 more workers. Workers will be out in the street without a lifeline.

The last part of the deal concerns the VEBA, the trust fund set up to pay for retiree medical benefits. The UAW leadership has already agreed – TWICE before, and now they are about to agree again – to let the companies “defer” putting money into the VEBA.

Only 16 months ago, pushing the 2007 concession contract, the UAW leadership claimed that the VEBA would cover retiree medical care for 80 years!

Forget 80 years. The VEBA may not be good for 80 weeks! Don’t retire thinking you’ll have medical coverage for life – not unless you’re planning on dying soon!

This is what has been leaked to the press about the concessions so far. What else there is, no one knows. But workers know from sad experience that the promises made by top UAW leaders are nothing but smoke. Contract after contract has been sold with the promise they would save jobs.

Save jobs? Ever since the UAW leadership promised that the 2005 and 2007 contracts would “save jobs,” the three Detroit companies have done nothing but cut jobs – almost 150,000 so far.

Concessions have never saved jobs. They only pushed down the workers’ standard of living, year after year.

Our Future Is at Stake

This latest attack on auto workers is aimed at the whole working class.

For years, the auto workers were the front line troops of the working class. In the decades during which the working class moved forward, auto workers were often at the head of those fights, the standard bearers of the working class, pulling others forward with them.

The auto workers’ fights helped to establish the so-called “middle class” standard of living not only for themselves, but for millions of other workers who joined the auto workers in fighting for a decent standard of living.

It’s not an accident that the whole Congress and both Administrations – Bush and Obama – have lined up in demanding that auto workers give up concessions. If the politicians can make the auto workers cave in, it will be easier for every company to increase its profits off the workers’ sweat and blood.

If auto workers give up today without a fight, that will open the floodgates for the bosses to push down the whole working class, much further and much faster than anything seen before.

Auto workers have shown before the strength that is in their numbers. It’s important they try to find the way today to gather that strength. And it’s important that other workers join them. We are in this together.

Search This Site