May 4, 2009
For months, the biggest guns in the country – Presidents Bush and Obama – threatened auto workers that their companies would be pushed into bankruptcy if the workers didn’t agree to gut their own wages and benefits, and especially to stab their elders, the retirees, in the back.
Finally, April 28, Chrysler workers surrendered. April 29, the Obama administration forced Chrysler into bankruptcy anyway, spouting platitudes about “hope for the future.”
The whole tangled ball of yarn began to unravel. Only two hours after declaring bankruptcy, Chrysler announced it was closing all its plants so it could carry out the bankruptcy more “efficiently” – perhaps it would take 30 days, perhaps 60 days. Bankruptcy lawyers quietly laughed.
An hour later came more blows to production and jobs. Chrysler announced that eight of its plants would not be in the “new Chrysler.” 6500 more workers would lose their jobs.
Even before Chrysler closed its plants, some of them had to stop production – suppliers, worried about getting paid, stopped supplying them. Other suppliers began to shut down. For many, it was the final chapter. They don’t have the funding to last 60 days.
GM had already announced that it was about to close 13 assembly plants for nine weeks or more. Obviously that can only mean it’s closing its parts plants also.
More suppliers shut down. American Axle, which provides axles to both GM and Chrysler, “furloughed” its work force.
Auto shuts down, and then what? What happens to steel – or to rubber, plastics, copper, other metals, electronics, wood products, textiles....
When factories shut down, stores and restaurants, already running on fumes, have no customers. Even hospitals close.
Why? Why would this government – which has already spent or committed 12.2 trillion dollars to the financial system – force the auto companies into bankruptcy over a measly few billion dollars and risk unleashing a worse depression?
Unbelievable as it may seem, you better believe it. The Obama administration forced the bankruptcy to enable Chrysler, and after it GM, to get rid of what the companies call, “dead wood” – and behind them every other company.
First of all, Chrysler and GM want to dump their obligations to their retirees, all those workers whose labor ground out hundreds of billions of dollars the auto companies turned in profits.
They want to forget about paying all those taxes they owe to cities and states and school districts. Forget about their obligation to clean up environmental hazards or compensate for asbestos damage, forget about suits filed by women or minorities whose civil rights have been violated, forget about suits filed by workers who have been injured.
They want to get rid of half their dealerships – and Obama’s Auto Task Force obligingly demanded it! When thousands of dealers shut, many tens of thousand of workers lose their jobs. Cities and towns lose a big part of their tax base.
As for all those bonds – yes, the auto companies want to dump them. And the U.S. Treasury has already enabled them to do it – by bailing out the big banks that held most of the bonds. As for the rest of the bondholders – the little people and the pension funds – tough luck!
But above all, this “new Chrysler” and this “new GM,” through sheer brutality, in the midst of a depression, are trying to force workers to live at a standard of living and to work under conditions their grandparents would not have accepted.
It’s a social catastrophe. But it will make Chrysler and GM more “efficient,” more “competitive” – and more profitable for the big stockholders.
If they get away with it, every other company in the country will try to follow. When auto goes from $29 an hour to $14, those making $14 will be lucky to get minimum wage.
But Chrysler has shown us all where the corporations intend to take the whole working class. And not a one of us has any reason to follow.
On April 29, Chrysler workers signed a contract at the point of a gun, their “yes” extorted from them. But it’s only a piece of paper. It can be torn up just as easily as the companies tore up every contract they ever signed, every promise they ever made.
Tear up these contracts – yes, workers should – and tear up this system that puts profit before the needs of the human beings who create all the products and services that society needs.