The Spark

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

Setting the Agenda for a Working Class Fight

May 12, 2014

The following remarks came from a public meeting in Detroit, Michigan in April 2014:

Productivity means “pressure” for most workers. The word is used in the most negative way against us every working hour of every day. Which of us hasn’t heard a supervisor or manager say, “Your productivity has to increase.” It means “you have to work harder,” that is, speed-up!

Well U.S. workers have been working harder. Harder, longer, under worse conditions and they have been producing at higher levels.

In Michigan, the leaders of the race for productivity have been the auto companies. They are the clear winners in the game. In 2013, they produced 11.1 million vehicles in the U.S. compared to 4.7 million produced here in 2009. They more than doubled the number of cars they put out.

This should be good news, right? But the fact of the matter is they produced over twice the number of vehicles with barely ANY increase in the number of workers in these same plants.

Sergio Marchionne, Fiat-Chrysler’s head executive, laid it out clearly when he said, “We will never build bricks and mortar again. I think we need to use what we’ve got and take it to the wall, run more shifts, run overtime.”

Twenty-seven North American assembly plants were closed during the recession and the first years of this so-called recovery. Despite the enormous increase in production, no plant has been reopened, none replaced. Marchionne meant what he said and he and his management group have been “taking it to the wall” successfully.

At the end of last year, 25 of the remaining 80 assembly plants either had three shifts or three crews working on a two-shift schedule. All three American auto companies have been running half their plants on these schedules.

In addition to closing plants and running killer schedules, the bosses have been paying less and getting more for it.

With the introduction of two-tier and three-tier, the bosses have been able to replace their old workforce with a new one that is much cheaper per hour and in benefit payout. Today 21 percent of all Big Three workers are second tier; the number is nearly 40 percent at Chrysler. The bosses have effectively cut the working wage in half, and in fact, more than half.

More than six years after two-tier was introduced not one second tier worker has moved up into the first tier, even though that was the original promise.

On the national level, when the U.S. economy is examined, it’s the same story. Total production of goods is as high as it was in 2008 before the collapse. But there are 1,600,000 fewer production workers putting out the work. Manufacturing production has doubled since the 1970s. But there are 40 percent fewer production workers. That’s part of why there are still almost 30 million people without jobs.

Yes, the bosses have taken the working class to the wall, making it very clear that their recovery has nothing to do with creating jobs. Workers have created more goods and services, more wealth than we ever imagined. But the workers’ share of that wealth has shrunk rapidly.

All that wealth is going to profit, that is, it is all going to the top tiny percent of the ruling class, the bourgeoisie.

The huge increases in productivity and profit could make it possible for millions of U.S. workers to have higher incomes and shorter hours if the work and resulting profits were shared around.

A working class policy would be to demand that no corporation could lay off a single worker more; that the existing work be shared among workers so that everyone could have a job. Shorter hours would not mean shorter pay: there is enough money to raise the standard of living of workers across the board and still work shorter hours. Workers could be put back to work on public services, to repair roads, fix electrical problems, fix transit problems.

In addition we would demand to index any rise in the cost of living to increases in the wage rate: simply put, if the cost of products, food and so on goes up, wages would have to automatically rise with them, immediately.

A working class policy would demand that the bosses open their books and show their money. Let the workers audit their books and we would find even more profit than they talk about.

But who will force the bosses to hire and to share the wealth? Democrats, Republicans, none of them have solutions for the working class.

For the population to have jobs and a decent standard of living, the working class is going to have to fight for it. Most workers will agree with our program: but they will also say that workers are not ready for the fight it would take to make these things happen.

We know that. But we also know that if nobody dares to hold out a different policy, to speak with a different voice, nothing will happen.

We want to start a fight to move the money in the other direction, back to our families, to our neighborhoods, to our cities. In order to do that, we need a way to have working class voices heard; voices that speak out for a working class policy, for the real interests of the workers.

Running candidates in the November elections opens up an opportunity for us to do that. We want to run a campaign to put forward candidates who run on a working class policy, promoting a working class fight.