“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Oct 30, 2006
The following is a text of a forum given at the October Spark public meeting in Detroit.
Over the past 10 months, promises that were made to Ford retirees have been ripped up. Retirees are now forced to pay premiums, co-pays and deductibles for their health care and are left to figure how to afford their retirement. Active Ford workers have lost wage and cost-of-living increases that they were counting on. They will be losing at least $2,000 per year. Local union contracts are being changed to get rid of the better jobs and make the remaining workers work harder than ever. The company is re-organizing production to put more work on some workers, so the company can more easily close other plants.
In the midst of this, Ford and many UAW leaders are running a scare campaign designed to get Ford workers to accept buy-outs and give up their jobs. In most cases, the amount of money in the buy-outs does not come close to making up what the workers will lose by giving up their jobs. The bosses want to scare the Ford workers into taking buy-outs, so they can bring in thousands of lower-wage workers to replace them. In other words, Ford expects that the next generation of auto workers, our children and grandchildren, will work for a lot less money and have a much lower standard of living than we have had.
What is happening today at Ford is repeating exactly what has happened at GM and Delphi over the past year. And if the auto companies have their way, the same scenario will be played out at Chrysler in the coming year.
The media says that the UAW leadership is doing the best it can do under difficult circumstances. Some union leaders tell workers that the companies are really hurting today. They say we have no choice but to help out the bosses in order to save our jobs.
We beg to differ!
First of all, we are being told a lie when UAW leaders tell us that the bosses are hurting. Just look at Ford, for example. If you believed the headlines, you would think that the company is about to go broke and that the Ford family is about to be standing in the welfare line. But Ford’s own financial report admitted that the company had more than 40 billion dollars in cash and marketable securities as of June 30, 2006. Ford made 55 billion dollars in profit over the last 20 years. Even counting years where they declared a loss, Ford still averaged a profit of 2.67 billion dollars a year since 1986. Where did all those profits go? Into the pockets and the bank accounts of the Ford family and the other big stockholders. But most outrageously, Ford has the nerve to cry poor and then, right in front of our face, they hire a new CEO and pay him somewhere around 100 million dollars, just for his first year!
Ford’s claims of poverty are almost word for word what GM was saying last year in order to convince workers to take concessions and buy-outs. And now that the buy-outs are almost done at GM, suddenly GM says that “Oh, our profits aren’t looking that bad.” And now we see Chrysler, after years of big profits, and after the Chrysler workers made it clear that they would not give up the same concessions as Ford and GM, suddenly Chrysler decides they are losing money, too.
What a charade they are putting on.
What is happening to the auto workers today is part of a wider attack on the whole working class. First, it was the steel workers and then the airline workers who went through the scam where the bankruptcy laws were used to tear up union contracts, get rid of the pension plans and drive down wages. Companies like IBM are getting rid of their pension plans, and companies like Wal-Mart are replacing full-time workers with part-time workers.
At each company where we work, the bosses try to convince us to give back our wages and benefits by claiming poverty and lack of profits. What is amazing is this – if all these corporations are really hurting and doing so badly today, then why are the people who own the corporations, who get their wealth from owning these corporations, why are these capitalists actually richer than ever?
Whether we work at Ford, or GM, or Chrysler, or Blue Cross, or Exxon, or Ameritech or McDonald’s we are all working for the same wealthy class of people. These corporations are not owned by one person. The wealthy person who owns millions of shares of GM might also own part of Dow Chemical and Chase Bank and Boeing, etc.
The facts show that the rich in this country have never been richer. The disparity between the rich and the rest of us has never been greater.
In 1967, the CEO for a major corporation was paid, on average, 75 times more than an average worker in his corporation. Today, a CEO makes 411 times more than an average worker. In 1967, the richest one% of the U.S. population got 10% of all the income. Today, the richest one% gets 20% of all income. A few weeks ago, Forbes magazine had their annual Forbes 400 list. This is a list of the 400 richest Americans. For the first time ever, every person on the Forbes 400 list was worth at least one billion dollars, and there were more billionaires who didn’t even make the list.
The rich today are richer than ever. Their cries of poverty and claims of bankruptcy are outrageous lies. The wealthy people in this country, the Forbes 400 and others – they make their money, they accumulate their wealth, by owning the very companies that they tell us are hurting. So if these companies are really hurting, where are the people who own them getting all this money from? They are not getting it by robbing banks, they are getting it by robbing us.
It is outrageous for anyone to try to tell us that the capitalists are hurting today.
But behind this one lie there is another, more devious lie that we are being told – that the workers have to become partners with the bosses of whatever company we are working for; that the workers must sacrifice so that the company will do better; and that if the company does better, the workers will benefit.
If the workers are partners with the bosses, then why are the bosses doing so well today, while the workers are doing so badly?
The workers and the bosses are not partners! In fact, the exact opposite is true. The way the capitalist system functions, the bosses make their profits by exploiting our labor. They increase their profits by trying to get rid of some workers and making the rest of the workers work harder and harder. And they increase their profits by paying us less – lower wages, fewer benefits, smaller pensions. The better off the capitalists and their companies are, the worse off the workers are. What is happening today shows that the idea of the bosses and workers being partners is nothing but a lie, and a trick to keep us from defending ourselves.
The history of the union movement itself shows that this partnership is a lie. The major unions themselves were not built by workers who were in a partnership with their enemies, but by fights the workers made against them.
The history of the UAW itself shows the same thing. In the past, auto workers made some gains and improved their lives, not by being partners with the companies, not by helping the bosses, but rather by helping themselves by deciding to fight against the auto bosses. Of all the basic benefits that auto workers have had until recently – regular wage increases, cost-of-living increases, pensions, 30 and Out, paid health care, vacations, SUB pay – none of these were just given to the auto workers by the companies. The workers had to fight for them. Chrysler workers struck for 104 days in 1950. GM workers struck for 67 days in 1970. Ford workers struck for eight weeks in 1967 and for four weeks in 1976. Because the auto workers were willing to strike, there were other times when the auto companies gave the auto workers small gains to keep them from striking.
If the bosses were truly partners with the workers, then the auto workers would not have had to strike for 56 days, and 67 days and 104 days, in order to get something basic like decent wages and benefits. Just like today, the auto bosses back then could easily afford to give things like yearly raises, pensions and health care. And yet the workers had to make hard sacrifices and strike for weeks to get these things. The bosses have never treated the workers as partners. They only treat us as enemies.
We need to return the favor. Our past history shows that workers can only improve their lives when they decide to fight.
But for the workers who agree with this, where do we start? When it seems like no workers are fighting back today, what can we do?
The first thing we can do is to start with the other workers around us, at work, in our neighborhood, in our families. If we understand the situation that workers face today, then we must say the truth to the other workers around us and keep saying it. And for those people who say to us that workers won’t fight back, we have to insist what the consequences will be if we don’t fight back.
Next, wherever we work, we have to take every opportunity to organize any kind of fight, at whatever level, when workers are ready to speak up or fight back.
Many people say that other workers are apathetic and not ready to do anything.
Of course, they say this applies to other people, not themselves. But more people are ready to do something today than we realize.
At Ford, the bosses have come with concessions twice in less than a year, once on the national contract and again on a local contract. At some plants, workers organized against these concessions and voted down the concessions. The concessions were reported to be passed because workers in other plants voted in favor. Workers in the other Ford plants who voted “Yes” were not any different than the workers who voted “No.” The difference was that workers were more organized in a few plants. In fact, the vote on the national Ford contract was probably a “No” vote nationwide, but workers were not yet organized enough to make sure the votes were counted right.
What conclusion can we draw? A lot of workers don’t like what is going on today, but we have to get better organized, and have more links with each other. We are in a situation today, much like workers were at times in the past, where some workers need to take the first steps. We need to be ready for the time when many workers will be ready to make the fight that is needed.
As workers, we produce the wealth for the capitalists. And this gives us the power we have as workers. We can stop producing their wealth. We can use this power to stop the concessions and to fight for a decent life for our families. We can learn to do what earlier generations of workers learned to do. Stand up for ourselves and against our enemies.