The Spark

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

GM Picks a Dogfight with Chrysler

Nov 25, 2019

General Motors (GM) has filed charges against Fiat Chrysler (FCA). The company charges that top Chrysler executives participated in racketeering; that they bribed certain United Automobile Workers (UAW) officials to lower labor costs for Chrysler during contract negotiations between 2009 and 2015, and to disregard the pattern agreement arrangements.

Mainly, GM execs claim that this allowed Chrysler to hire more temporaries and second tier workers at lower wages, with fewer rights and a lesser health plan for the majority of its workforce. The Chrysler contract allowed for work design systems to increase output per worker, systems that were not allowed at GM or Ford. The end result, GM claims, was a contract that cost $8.00 per hour less for Chrysler’s labor than for GM’s labor.

Clearly, GM saw an opportunity. They were able to base their suit on facts established in plea deals and convictions of Chrysler executives coming out of the federal probe into corruption.

This lawsuit, which has sent shock waves through the auto market and beyond, may signal the end of an era.

For decades, the auto giants have appeared content to coexist, to allow each other to be profitable, each in its own orbit; content to contest only behind the scenes for increased market share and profits.

But in this period of contracting markets and the financial shadows of recent bank collapses, GM appears to be adopting a more aggressive stance.

Chrysler has moved ahead of GM in its ability to wring concessions from its workers. Because it is able to run some plants at maximum capacity around the clock, it needs fewer plants. An example is Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit. It was running 47 of 52 Sundays last year.

Chrysler has fewer permanent workers; temporary workers make up 13% of the hourly manufacturing workforce, compared to 7% of all employees at GM, and compared to 6% at Ford.

The carving up of hourly workers into tiers or levels, with workers coming in at less than half the previous wages, has reached 60% at Chrysler. There are fewer of these workers at Ford and GM. And at Chrysler there is no path to the top wages that permanent workers get. Nor can these workers get a first tier health plan or other benefits.

Make no mistake. If GM officials are raising these issues now, it is not to better the conditions of Chrysler workers. GM officials may enjoy the prospect of a strike where Chrysler loses money, but in the end, they want to drive down the labor costs of all workers, including their own, by using the same methods Chrysler has been using.

Remember, GM was willing to provoke a strike over these same issues. GM executives may have decided to come for concessions a different way—maybe later on, maybe directly as a result of this lawsuit.

Let the bosses dogfight over their profit margins and their labor costs. Their focus is the wealth being transferred into the bank accounts of the rich and infamous.

For us, cost of labor means OUR wages, OUR benefits: the food we put on our table, the vehicle we drive, the health care we receive, a roof over our heads and if it’s harder or easier to live. It means more or less exploitation on the job; how long our hours, how short the breaks, how bad the work.

So, if Chrysler workers decide to fight for more, it is a fight most workers could agree to. If Chrysler workers follow the example GM workers set, who would be surprised? It can be the next step in the fight we all need to make.

Workers don’t belong to any corporation or capitalist; we are a part of the largest, most powerful of classes, the working class.

A fight of auto workers is the fight of all workers. We should take up the GM workers’ fight. Any gain can only be, in the end, a protection for us all.