The Spark

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

Auto Concessions:
Aimed at the Whole Working Class

Feb 23, 2009

The UAW leadership has started to leak information about the concessions it just negotiated with the three Detroit auto companies.

When they bring out the deal for ratification, the UAW leadership will claim that wages aren’t being cut.

Not true! This miserable deal eliminates two yearly bonuses and cost-of-living protection – that’s a wage cut – and it comes on top of the 2007 contract that already froze workers’ wages for four years. Cutting the two bonuses means cutting seven% of a whole year’s income. Cutting COLA means inflation will steal our paychecks.

This deal will let the companies eliminate work rules – under the pretext of making the companies “competitive” with the transplants. That’s nothing but B.S. The fact is, the companies want to run every one of their plants into the ground – running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no limits.

This scummy deal will let the companies eliminate overtime payments for work over eight hours a day, paying it only after 40 hours a week. Almost certainly, someone who hasn’t worked on an assembly line for years, if ever, will claim that’s not so bad.

Wrong! It opens the door for companies to introduce more of those horrible schedules they have already been “experimenting” with – like working 12 hours a day for three days in a row, followed by 12 hours a day, four days in a row on the next rotation. By eliminating overtime payment for work after eight hours, they are opening the door to killer work schedules. Literally “killer” schedules, because people will die from working these hours.

The companies also want to eliminate protections for laid-off workers. The information that has come out so far makes it seem like it’s only a few small reductions in Supplemental Unemployment benefits (SUB). Not true. Behind those reductions lurks the real problem: The companies have not put enough money into the SUB fund. And without money, all benefits will dry up.

This is especially important because the union leadership has obviously agreed to let the companies ignore their 2007 promises not to close any more plants for four years. GM openly speaks of closing 10 more plants over the next few years, laying off 47,000 more workers. Workers will be out in the street without a lifeline.

The last part of the deal concerns the VEBA, the trust fund set up to pay for retiree medical benefits. The UAW leadership has already agreed – TWICE before, and now they are about to agree again – to let the companies “defer” putting money into the VEBA.

Only 16 months ago, pushing the 2007 concession contract, the UAW leadership claimed that the VEBA would cover retiree medical care for 80 years!

Forget 80 years. The VEBA may not be good for 80 weeks! Don’t retire thinking you’ll have medical coverage for life – not unless you’re planning on dying soon!

This is what has been leaked to the press about the concessions so far. What else there is, no one knows. But workers know from sad experience that the promises made by top UAW leaders are nothing but smoke. Contract after contract has been sold with the promise they would save jobs.

Save jobs? Ever since the UAW leadership promised that the 2005 and 2007 contracts would “save jobs,” the three Detroit companies have done nothing but cut jobs – almost 150,000 so far.

Concessions have never saved jobs. They only pushed down the workers’ standard of living, year after year.

Our Future Is at Stake

This latest attack on auto workers is aimed at the whole working class.

For years, the auto workers were the front line troops of the working class. In the decades during which the working class moved forward, auto workers were often at the head of those fights, the standard bearers of the working class, pulling others forward with them.

The auto workers’ fights helped to establish the so-called “middle class” standard of living not only for themselves, but for millions of other workers who joined the auto workers in fighting for a decent standard of living.

It’s not an accident that the whole Congress and both Administrations – Bush and Obama – have lined up in demanding that auto workers give up concessions. If the politicians can make the auto workers cave in, it will be easier for every company to increase its profits off the workers’ sweat and blood.

If auto workers give up today without a fight, that will open the floodgates for the bosses to push down the whole working class, much further and much faster than anything seen before.

Auto workers have shown before the strength that is in their numbers. It’s important they try to find the way today to gather that strength. And it’s important that other workers join them. We are in this together.