The Spark

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

Electric Vehicles Bring Familiar Issues

Jun 7, 2021

On May 18, President Joe Biden spent 5 hours touring the Ford Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford got publicity for their new electric truck. Biden got publicity for his infrastructure plans. Auto workers got vague promises resembling “Hope and Change.”

Biden said, “The future of the auto industry is electric.... We’re at an inflection point in history.” But auto workers today carry the weight of other “inflection points.” The downsizing of the industry in the early 1980s. The spin-offs of parts plants into separate low-wage companies like Delphi, Visteon, ACH, and Acustar. The outsourcing of parts production once again to even lower-wage companies. The “quick rinse” bankruptcies of 2008.

Each of those “inflection points,” said to “save” and “re-invent” the auto industry, were used to take enormous concessions from the workforce. Pension benefits for new hires disappeared. Wages froze. New two-tier (now 8-tier) wages were imposed on new hires. Workloads on each worker doubled or tripled. Mandatory overtime expanded. Absence penalties tightened, and tightened again. Use of temp workers exploded. Jobs were outsourced to ever-lower-paid tiers of suppliers.

At all of those inflection points, workers were told that they had to accept concessions to save the companies. But the companies didn’t disappear. Only the workers’ gains, hard-won over decades, disappeared.

Biden spoke of making the future electric-vehicle jobs “good paying union jobs with benefits—jobs that will sustain and grow the middle class.” The electric truck plant he visited will have 300–500 workers. If there is a transition to electric vehicles, the auto companies are planning job losses in engine and transmission plants of tens of thousands of jobs, while the battery plants that would replace them will only be a few thousand—and they will be second-tier, lower-paid suppliers, if nothing changes. Not exactly “jobs that will sustain and grow the middle class.”

When the drum-roll is over, if and when there is a conversion to electric, workers will have familiar problems to face. The constant lowering of wages and benefits, the punishing mandatory overtime, years of temporary status, outsourcing, you name it. And worst of all, the expected reduction of the workforce. Capitalism has long since instituted a policy of permanent unemployment for a section of the workforce, in order to force competition for jobs and lowering of wages.

Workers can build vehicles and anything else we need. If we want the future to work for us—electric vehicles, hydrogen, whatever—we will have to get rid of capitalism, share the work out, and share in the benefits of advanced technology.

Sound hard? No harder than the future they have designed for us!