The Spark

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

Auto Workers Face No-Strike Trap

Aug 1, 2011

The UAW (United Auto Workers) contract with the Detroit 3 automakers expires on September 14. The companies demand that workers continue to sacrifice.

Detroit 3 workers have had no base-pay raises since 2004. Even UAW president Bob King admits that concessions since 2007 have cost workers between $7000 and $30,000 in wages. In fact, it’s more than that. But this gives some idea. Other ongoing sacrifices include briefer breaks, loss of rights on the job, punishing attendance and transfer rules, the vicious “two-tier” wage scale, and the VEBA, which threatens to destroy the promise once made to retirees for medical coverage.

But a Chrysler spokesperson said, regarding raises, “It won’t happen. Not here.” GM’s CEO, Dan Akerman, echoed, “The world ... does not tolerate uncompetitive cost structures.” Evidently his own multi-million-dollar world is exempt from this rule!

And what did the union leaders say, those who are charged with defending the workers’ interests? UAW president Bob King said, “It doesn’t do our members any good if we raise fixed costs.” As if the costs of workers’ groceries and gas never go up!

In fact, there is so little difference between the official statements of the union and the companies, that the message to the workforce is crystal clear: “Too bad for you, this time.”

If they are so arrogant to dismiss workers’ needs so casually, it’s because of the no-strike arbitration clause. This trap was forced on GM and Chrysler workers by the government in 2009 with the support of UAW officials.

Under the no-strike rule, if GM or Fiat don’t get everything they want, they will say, no, we’ll take it to arbitration. They know that the arbitrators are not workers, but lawyers and professionals bound by rules that tip far toward corporate interests.

The UAW top leadership, for its part, can and will tell workers to vote yes on whatever wretched contract comes out – “or else it will go to arbitration and that will be even worse.” After pulling this trickery at GM and Chrysler, the UAW will try to convince Ford workers, “We have to follow the pattern,” even though Ford workers are not under the arbitration clause and do retain the right to strike.

Arbitration/no strike was designed to make workers feel powerless.

But the workforce is not powerless and the higher-ups know it. Why did GM give workers a $4000 bonus in March? Why did Ford give $5000? And why did Chrysler give a $750 bonus – even though such bonuses went above and beyond the contracts? Because managers wanted to calm workers down, before corporate profits and the executive salaries and bonuses were announced. They were trying to buy their way out of trouble.

In fact, the arbitration/no strike clause is only a piece of paper. It has power only if the workers accept it. The workers – with their collective, coordinated power over production – can tear it up.