The Spark

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

2007 Auto Contracts:
Solidarity is more than just a word

Oct 22, 2007

Over the past 35 years the wealth in this country has been redistributed so much in favor of the capitalist class that this infinitely tiny, excessively wealthy minority now holds as big a share of the country’s wealth as it did in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s. And the working class has, in relationship to that capitalist class, as small a share of the wealth its labor produces as it did in the 1930s.

Facing a working class that kept some level of organization, these modern capitalists took 35 years to do what their predecessors accomplished in six years during the Great Depression. But they did it. They did it gradually, and they are not done.

Today, the so-called Big 3 auto companies are trying to go after one of the most organized sections of the working class, the auto workers. Up until now, auto workers have been nickled and dimed to death with one concession here, another there. But until now, the companies have hesitated, afraid to make an all-out frontal assault.

With the 2007 contracts, this has changed. The auto companies have declared their readiness to take on the auto workers once and for all, demanding that workers give back every important protection they had won for themselves in fights over the years. Protections for themselves, for those workers still to be hired and for those already retired.

No one is spared. The auto companies want to unload retiree health care benefits into a VEBA fund, which the auto companies are pretending to finance by stuffing a lot of worthless paper in it, in the form of promissory notes, stocks and bonds. Cerberus is even putting stock into the VEBA fund, even though it is impossible to put a value on that stock, since Cerberus is not a publicly traded company with shares bought and sold on the stock market. Wall Street financial companies have been literally salivating over the prospect of earning big fees and commissions running the VEBA funds. The only fly in their ointment is that they aren’t sure there is enough real money in the VEBA funds to make it worth their while – that is how much worthless paper these funds are stuffed with.

For active and future workers, there is a permanent system of two-tier wages and benefits, with wages of new workers cut – as GM just bragged to Wall Street – down to one third of what the auto companies had been paying. Of course, this new two-tier wage structure is an attack on the current workers too, since it makes it impossible for workers with higher seniority to ever get off the line and onto somewhat easier jobs, that is, unless they are ready to take a pay cut of 50%, and work jobs that will carry no guaranteed pensions, and minimal health care benefits. And those are just the bigger, most well-known parts of the attack. Buried in the contract language are a whole host of other takeaways.

It is an attack on everyone at once, the workers, their parents and their kids, a truly massive attack with truly far-reaching consequences for all workers throughout the economy.

It would be the end of solidarity in the auto plants. As one worker said, who posted his views on the Soldiers of Solidarity website, “If we don’t vote to protect the wages of new hires now, why would they vote to protect us in the future?”

And it would also be the beginning of a new, much more rapid downward spiral for everyone else. If the capitalists can pull auto workers wages down, they will quickly move to bring down everyone else even more.

This kind of sweeping attack shows how arrogant the Big 3 auto companies have become.

In return, auto workers showed what they thought of this – first with their NO votes at GM, which were much greater than in any other contract ratification, and now at Chrysler where the NO vote has been so strong and overwhelming, the UAW International was reportedly considering suspending the vote and going on to Ford.

We will see whether this NO vote is some kind of turning point for the workers, whether the arrogance of the bosses finally provokes the workers to enter onto a new road of struggle in order to repulse the bosses’ concession drive.

But one thing is sure: The bosses are coming for the workers. With the housing crisis, the big financial companies are literally taking the homes from millions of people. In the plants and workplaces the bosses are trying to turn the clock back a century, by imposing 50% wage cuts along with tearing up all their promises and guarantees to retirees.

Whether the bosses get away with this depends on whether enough workers have decided to say NO. And say it again. And again. To mobilize. To begin to use their forces to defend their own interests.