The Spark

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

Workers at Jeep plants vote to outsource themselves

Jan 5, 2004

Workers at Chrysler’s Toledo Ohio Jeep complex voted on a new contract two days before Christmas. There were a number of sacrifices demanded of the workers, but the biggest change involved a proposal to let the company contract out all the work in the complex’s new paint and chassis departments to other companies – which will carry on operations in buildings to be put up by Chrysler in the same complex. One of the consequences is that the older Jeep plant that continues to do some preparatory work for the new Jeep plant.

In exchange, workers at the complex, including 800 currently laid off, were supposed to be guaranteed either a buy-out or a job. BUT – and this is the very big BUT – not only will this agreement not bring any new jobs, there will be fewer jobs still. And the jobs that laid off workers will get to bid on will be at the supplier companies that will take over in the body and paint shops. Others could be in a separate plant to be built in a “supplier park” nearby that could, among other things, construct a complete chassis off the same platforms that will go through the line at the current Jeep plant. Wages for the outsourced jobs are yet to be determined, but it’s obvious they will be set lower than those in the current assembly plant. Currently, production wages run between $10 and $15 an hour at most supplier plants, with some as high as $17..

The Toledo Blade commented, “Such supplier work on the site of a Big Three auto assembly complex is unheard of in the United States.”

No longer – as this contract spells out. Once one of the Big Three has broken down the barrier to this kind of subcontracting, the other two won’t be far behind.

We can already hear GM and Ford salivating at this assault on wages. Having outsourced the vast majority of parts work to other, lower-wage companies, the auto industry is now looking to push wages in the assembly plants down.

It’s obvious that the current leaders of the union will not organize a resistance to this push to transform the whole industry into a low wage bastion. They were the ones who made the biggest push for this contract, arguing that it was the only way to protect the workers who were already laid off and those to be laid off. It was the union that raised the specter of the plant closing if the contract weren’t ratified. They were the ones who argued that Jeep needed to be able to turn a “sufficient” profit.

These companies are among the very biggest in the world – and some of the most profitable. A union that looks first to see how best to guarantee good profits to the companies can’t defend the interests of the workers.

A union representing the workers would demand that those profits be used to guarantee a job for every worker at very good wages. Instead of talking about reducing workers’ wages, it would be talking about reducing profits and multibillion dollar bonuses to executives.

The workers can have such a union, but they are going to have to build it themselves, just as they are going to have to start the fight for jobs and higher wages.