Mar 31, 2008
Since February 26, more than 3600 workers have been striking American Axle at factories in Hamtramck, Detroit and Three Rivers, Michigan, as well as in two plants in suburbs of Buffalo, New York.
Their picket lines have been circling the plants for five weeks now, refusing American Axle demands that they turn themselves into beggars. The company wants a wage cut of almost 50%, as well as elimination of health care and defined benefit pensions for future retirees
What else could the company do, complained CEO Richard Dauch, trotting out that rickety old warhorse of an excuse: “American Axle has no choice if it is to compete!”
No choice? Try to pass that one off on workers who just heard Axle’s announcement that Dauch made over ten million dollars in salary and stock options last year.
Of course a company like Axle has a choice. And they deliberately choose to reduce and reduce again the workers’ standard of living. They choose to increase their profits by increasing the exploitation of the work force.
This is not a question of one greedy company or one arrogant chief executive – even if he is a weasel. This is part of the mad drive of every big corporation in the country, pushing and shoving each other to see who can take the biggest concessions.
When General Motors, Chrysler and Ford got away with pushing through severe concessions last fall, cutting the wages of new hires by nearly 50%, eliminating their pensions, and severely reducing medical coverage, it was only a matter of time before some other company in the auto industry would step forward to demand those same cuts for everyone – long-time workers as well as new hires.
Those contracts – which barely passed, and then only because top UAW leaders maneuvered them through with threats, lies and moral bludgeoning – were an encouragement to every other company to up the ante.
American Axle – and how many others – rushed to up it.
Axle, of course, does not stand alone. General Motors is right there standing behind it, giving it a helping hand. GM shut down production at 30 of its plants, without even blinking an eye.
Why should it? It had built up inventory, giving it time to live through a strike that everyone knew was coming. At the beginning of March, for example, GM had a 129-day supply of Silverado pick-ups – one of its big money makers. Enough trucks to keep sales rolling in for more than four months.
GM knows that as this strike goes, so goes its own hopes for still greater concessions.
There’s a battle going on, which goes way beyond the workers at one plant or one company or one industry. There is a struggle to see whether workers throughout this country can keep the standard of living they and their parents once fought for.
American Axle is not the only one with allies. The strikers have them too – with the potential to change this situation radically. Regularly coming out to the Hamtramck picket lines have been workers from all over Southeastern Michigan. Last week-end workers were there from the State of Michigan offices, the city of Detroit, Ford plants, Chrysler plants, Blue Cross, and especially from GM plants. More than one GM worker said, “We should have done what you’re doing, we never should have given up, don’t you give up.”
Allies, yes, but more than allies. Fellow workers with their own very big reasons to put up a fight. The workers at GM, Ford and Chrysler know they made a mistake. Others know that they will soon face the same demands. Why wait? Why not join forces together?
We have the same problems, the same kind of greedy bosses. We have the same reason to fight. When we stand up together, we are stronger. It’s that simple.