The Spark

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

Auto bosses intensify their assault

Feb 13, 2006

The auto industry has begun 2006 by intensifying its assault on the workers. With all the calculated ruthlessness of a military campaign, the wealthy interests are coordinating their attacks, attempting to “unlock” for themselves the “value” that workers hold in jobs, wages, pensions, and health care.

Ford Motor Company announced its plan, deceptively named the “Way Forward,” by declaring that it would close 14 plants and cut 30,000 workers jobs by 2012. William Clay Ford Jr. did not seem the least embarrassed to be laying out this plan at the same moment Ford Motor registered two billion dollars’ profit for 2005, with cash reserves of 37 billion.

General Motors was more careful to arrange its books to show a “loss” of 8.6 billion dollars for 2005. GM then went into “crisis mode,” installing on its board Kirk Kerkorian’s partner Jerome York, and declaring measures such as a cut in its annual dividend from $2 to $1, reduction of salaries of board members and some executives, and (more to the point) freezing salaried workers’ pensions, and cutting back their health-care coverage.

GM’s motivation for these public-relations maneuvers was not lost on folks like the business reporters for such media as the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and the New York Times. They said quite clearly that GM’s actions were calculated to give it more credibility when it demands greater concessions from members of the United Auto Workers, now, and in the 2007 contract negotiations.

The president of the UAW, Ron Gettelfinger, hastened to say that his membership had given up quite enough and he intended to give no more. While that was the right thing to say, Gettelfinger has a history of saying one thing – and doing the opposite. Earlier, he had said that the union would not reopen the contract to give concessions on health care; then he re-opened the contract, without workers’ consent, and gave concessions. In the 2003 negotiations, Gettelfinger said there would be “no cost shifting” on workers’ healthcare; in the final contract, there was quite a lot of cost shifting. Today, Gettelfinger may say the workers have given up quite enough, but at the same time, the UAW is negotiating concessions it expects the Delphi workers to accept.

What “end game” do the billionaires have in mind, those who are pulling the strings? The short answer is, “As much as they can get.” Of course they are careful to reveal only what they want revealed.

What if the UAW did hire the investment banking firm of Lazard to “examine” the books of GM, Ford, and Chrysler, to back up the companies’ pretense of financial trouble? How can workers believe the word of an investment bank? A bank that stands to profit not at all if it should take the workers’ side – but stands to make a good deal of profit on the bosses’ side!

Workers aren’t fooled by that. Jerome York himself said that GM’s CEO, Rick Wagoner, has done a marvelous job “warehousing cash.” In the same speech (to an Automotive News conference in Detroit) York outlined the steps GM needed to take, to appear to be in crisis, so that the workers would more easily accept concessions.

Today the auto honchos are concentrating their fire against the workers at GM’s Delphi plants. A strange “bankruptcy” – “well planned, well structured and well financed,” according to CEO Steve Miller – in which only the workers are supposed to accept significant losses. Miller has had lots of experience in orchestrating this sort of “bankruptcy,” originally at Chrysler, then at Federal-Mogul, then at Bethlehem Steel, and on the board of “bankrupt” United Airlines.

But workers at Delphi have created problems for Mr. Miller. Many have become vocal and active in organizing resistance. Delphi is very much a test case. How much can the bosses steal for their profits? How much can the workers preserve of their livelihoods? The outcome will shape the future course of this war that the auto bosses, and the financiers behind them, have organized against the entire workforce.

It’s for that reason that the entire working class has an interest to support the Delphi workers’ struggle. One of the best ways to do this is to let it be known, in every workplace, that if the bosses are thinking about bringing demands for concessions – those demands will be dead on arrival.