The Spark

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

UAW:
Workers’ fight could be big this year

Jun 18, 2007

The pro-business press and media have closed ranks to send a dire warning to every auto worker at GM, Ford and Chrysler: accept concessions or lose every job. They say these companies can’t compete with foreign car makers who build cars in the U.S., the so-called “transplants.”

The usual “anonymous executive” told the Wall Street Journal: “We need to eliminate ... like 80% of the gap ... by the end of the contract, or doing business in the United States in unsustainable.”

And what explains this alleged “gap” in labor costs between the “Big 3” and the transplants?

The “gap” is nothing but a big scare story – based on an enormous lie.

There is no “gap” between the Detroit auto makers and the Asian transplants for current wages and benefits. The transplants pay their workers UAW scale, trying to keep the union out. The amount of money that Toyota or Honda sets aside for a current worker’s retirement is almost exactly the same as that for a worker at Chrysler, Ford or GM. Last year, in fact, a Honda executive said in an interview that if the American companies were doing as they should, they would have no problem.

If there is a gap, it’s only because U.S. companies did not set aside the funds they were obligated to deposit into pension and benefit insurance accounts for today’s retirees during all those years the retirees were working. Thirty years, 40 years or even more!

Today, either the companies are lying about not having the money – or else they stole it.

Thousands of executives over the years racked up how many billions of dollars put together? The wealthy who own directly and indirectly more than 90% of all stock waltzed off with hundreds of billions of dollars through dividends, extra dividends, stock splits, stock buy-backs, among other maneuvers. The banks made money hand over fist in interest payments.

If there is no money today for pensions and medical care, the Big 3 took it.

Plenty of workers don’t like this situation and they say so. In every factory and at every retirees’ gathering, workers talk about these things and say, “It doesn’t make any sense.”

We have seen signs of workers who want to resist. GM’s fraudulent spin-off of Delphi and its phony “bankruptcy” was resisted in a vigorous if minority campaign by Delphi workers. The contract-breaking cuts to GM and Ford retiree healthcare stimulated more resistance. After the GM vote passed in a surprise attack, the Ford vote “passed” by less than 100 votes nationally, and the shop-floor resistance was strong enough that the UAW leaders did not risk a vote at Chrysler at all.

In fact, it’s workers’ resistance that has pushed the companies to take their scare tactics to a new level, including the sale-of-Chrysler soap opera. Workers in growing numbers are beginning to call the corporations’ bluff.

If workers can continue to express their anger and continue to reject corporate propaganda, this September’s contract could upset auto companies’ applecart in a big way. And this could easily spread to other companies where workers face the same concessions drive.

It would be about time! Workers have been swindled out of a lot, and the bosses can be made to pay it back.