The Spark

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

The devil in the GM contract:
Sell out your children, your parents and yourselves

Oct 8, 2007

“While the Devil will be in the detail, our first reaction is that GM captured a much broader set of concessions than we previously anticipated.” That’s what an analyst for JP Morgan, the big Wall Street bank, said about the auto contract.

The Devil IS in the detail – and here’s the detail.

New workers on “certain” jobs will be hired in with a wage that is less than half what current workers make, and they will never catch up. Which jobs? Anything from material handling to machining to sub-assembly to inspection to truck driver to the infamous “others” – to be specified later. These new workers will never get a pension, never get medical care at retirement, never get full medical coverage. How many low-wage jobs? Apparently at least 20,000 out of 70,000.

Other workers will be hired in as “long-term” temporaries, making a little more money, with very few benefits, liable to be fired at will. How many? There are no limitations on the number of temps GM can use.

Finally, still other jobs will be outsourced to companies paying still lower wages. Despite public pledges made about “no outsourcing,” “job security,” and “no plant closings,” there are lists of jobs to be outsourced and plants to be closed – buried away deep in the part of the agreement most workers never see, many of them skilled trades jobs.

This is the shape of things to come in auto, and not just auto, but every other industry in the country. Workers are being asked to sell out their children, leaving them no jobs except ones paying only half as much money.

Sell out your children? That’s not all. Sell out your parents too, since this contract – with its so-called VEBA – rips retiree medical care to shreds. Despite promises given to retirees that they would have the same level of medical care “for life,” the new contract specifies that the trustees of the plan can raise premiums for retirees, decrease coverage, and/or require active workers to contribute more to the plan – any time after January 1, 2012.

And the plan was short-funded, getting, as the UAW itself admitted, only 58% of the money needed to continue medical coverage at its current level. And 58% as much money means only 58% as much medical care.

Sell out your kids, sell out your elders – and sell out yourselves. Because this contract has provisions to drive current workers out. The somewhat easier jobs that older workers once took to get off the line are the ones to be outsourced or paid at half wages – every single one of them. Workers who are laid off can be forced, after a while, to move anywhere in the whole country to keep their jobs. There’s a new discipline system for attendance set up for one purpose: to fire workers.

This – with many more such “details” – is what GM workers are being asked to ratify.

Will they do it? Despite all the company propaganda in the media, there certainly aren’t a lot of workers fooled into thinking it’s a good deal. In the plants, there’s heavy unease – and not just at GM, but at Ford and Chrysler.

The question now is whether that unease gets expressed. In a massive company that spreads across the country, it may be difficult for workers to let each other know what they think and what they are ready to do. Difficult, but not impossible.

In fact, there is a simple way for workers who oppose this contract to let others know: Vote NO! Turn out, vote and verify that the votes are counted accurately.

Voting won’t be enough to stop this drive for concessions, which spreads across all industries, aimed at every worker. But voting NO can let other workers know they aren’t alone. That can be the beginning of a backlash by the workers – by GM workers, other auto workers, workers at many other companies.

The auto contract is a warning about what Big Business is planning, the next attacks on the whole working class. The attacks won’t stop until workers make them stop. And for that to happen, someone has to take the first step. Why not GM workers? Why not Chrysler workers? Why not Ford?