The Spark

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

GM workers face con artists

Jul 18, 2005

After five years of profitability, General Motors (GM) lost money in this year's first quarter. GM immediately began a media campaign against its hourly workers, claiming that the company was having big problems, and workers should start paying more for their health care.

Someone representing the workers' interests would have laughed this gambit off the court. Auto is always a cyclical industry. Companies prepare for these cycles far ahead of time, and in fact, GM was sitting on at least 55 billion dollars in ready cash when it made its ridiculous demand.

GM has NOT been too worried about money. Over the past five years it has seen fit to give one man, CEO Rick Wagoner, more than 57 million dollars compensation! And then they dare attack the health care of workers whose labor provides every penny of corporate gain?

But instead of giving this proposal the public horse laugh and ridicule that it deserved, the United Auto Workers (UAW) leadership promised to study the situation ... and look at GM's books.

Simply by agreeing to study the situation, the UAW gave undeserved credibility to GM's claims. And to look at the books – well, which books? Does anyone imagine that GM will voluntarily provide its actual accounts to the union? No more than they would provide their actual accounts to the IRS!

No, whatever books the UAW will "study" are books already arranged to GM's liking. Everyone knows this. So, why go through the charade – unless as a way to reinforce GM's position? Unless the union leadership is trying to soften up the workers for some sort of concessions – after the usual "careful study," of course.

Workers have too often seen this sort of con game. President Gettelfinger declared in the last contract negotiations that there would be "no cost shifting" on health care. The workers later discovered that the contract included extra costs – co-pays, deductibles, and restricted services – shifted onto them.

In an interview, Gettelfinger indeed noted (and understated) GM's huge cash reserves. He also revealed another card. He said, "Let's just assume for a moment that we do make a determination that there's something to be done. Certainly, we're not going to be the only ones." It's a sign that the same old con is in play. Workers are being set up for yet more concessions – if GM thinks they can swing it.

GM is measuring how the rank and file respond. On this measurement will depend how far they play out the game – or even whether they abandon it entirely. Is their con game going over well enough, one more time? Or isn't it? How much trouble is GM looking at?

The outcome depends on how forcefully the rank and file lets it be known that they are sick and tired of being conned, in games they always lose. It depends on how clearly and forcefully the workers find a way to say, "NO MORE CONCESSIONS! NO WAY!"