Auto industry plans 100,000 layoffs
Why can’t workers own their jobs?
Published Apr 11, 2006 10:24 PM
Last year, while touting the “ownership
society,” President Bush went on the “Today” show and uttered
a classic Bushism: “Ownin’ stuff is good.”
Delphi workers picket CEO Miller.
WW photo: Dave Sole
“stuff” Bush referred to is out of reach for the working class, most
of us would agree that it is good to own some things. It is good if you can own
food, clothing, furniture, and some basic appliances. It is good if you can own
your home outright and not have to worry about eviction or foreclosure. It is
good if you can even own the means to send your kid to college.
workers, losing a job can mean losing everything you think you own. Should
n’t workers be able to own their jobs?
This question is not
abstract—it is immedi ate and urgent. Earlier this year General Motors
announced plans to eliminate 35,000 hourly positions. Ford followed by saying it
would cut 30,000. Thousands more non-unionized salaried workers are being let go
already. Just days after asking the bankruptcy courts to scrap its union
contracts, Delphi, the former GM parts division, last week stated it would close
21 of 29 plants, laying off 23,000 union workers.
100,000 jobs! Indirectly, many more jobs will be lost worldwide. Goodyear Tire,
for example, announced job cuts and is closing a plant in England. GM just
announced that it is eliminating the midnight shift at the Lordstown, Ohio,
complex. How will the Lordstown schools continue to pay their teachers? Consider
ing that these auto workers have families, it is not hard to believe that these
closings and job losses will affect a million lives.
What if there was a
way for workers to block these inhuman cuts — what if workers could
exercise their property rights to their jobs and tell the bosses to keep their
It’s not as far-fetched as it seems. The concept that
“a job is a right” has been up held legally for decades. The
Employment Act of 1946 made “maximum production and employment” a
national goal, echoed by President Truman, who stated then that “all of
the policies of the federal government must be geared to [that]
Also passed in 1946, the UN Charter on Human Rights
declares “everyone has the right to work...and to protection against
unemployment.” The Full Employment Act of 1978, while weaker, still
upholds “the policy and responsibility of the federal government” to
create “conditions which promote useful employment
Why isn’t the government fulfilling its
obligation, under U.S. and international law, to go after these corporate
scofflaws who threaten a million human beings with economic ruin?
took a struggle then
The legal argument that jobs are workers’
property goes back to 1937 when Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins stated that
right. She was defending the right of sit-down strikers to occupy
Perkins’ actions cannot be understood outside of their
The famous Flint sit-down strike lasted 44 days and
ended Feb. 11, 1937, with tre mendous gains for the United Auto Work ers. There
were 476 additional sit-down actions recorded that year, involving
half-a-million workers. In the period leading up to the Flint strike there was a
series of GM strikes in 35 cities in 14 states over job security at a time when
50 percent of the GM workforce had been laid off.
“moments of dual sovereignty, with unions challenging corporations for
control,” according to legal scholar James Gray Pope, writing in the
Columbia Law Review. It was the sit-down movement, asserts Pope, that prompted a
conservative, anti-labor Supreme Court to uphold the Wagner Act, a law that gave
workers the right to organize. Pope’s conclusions are striking, given the
propensity of most similar experts to isolate legal history from history
Perkins’ declaration that workers have a property right to
their jobs, and that they were defending that right by seizing the means of
production, should be seen in that context. Perkins was merely putting in legal
terms what the exploited workers had already accomplished — by taking over
the plants they had temporarily established workers’ control and put the
question of ownership up for discussion.
And it will take
Currently, the automakers’ contracts with the UAW
still include a moratorium on plant closings during the life of the agreement.
This came about after a grass-roots mobilization called the Job Is a Right
Campaign raised that demand in response to the first big wave of plant closings
at GM in 1987. Exactly 50 years after the glorious sit-downs, workers were again
mobilized to defend their jobs as property rights.
Layoffs and concessions
can and must be fought. Delphi cannot be allowed to use the bankruptcy courts to
wipe out the majority of its workforce and dismantle the hard-won gains for
those remaining. The struggle has begun, with Soldiers of Solidarity leading
work-to-rule actions, workers holding spontaneous on-the-job protests, even the
UAW leadership talking strike and some Flint workers talking about repeating
As Workers World Party’s founding chairperson Sam Marcy
wrote in 1989 during the Eastern Airlines strike, when CEO Frank Lorenzo was
using bankruptcy to bust the airline unions, “Cut through the rigmarole
with mass action!”
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