Keep auto plants open!
Use bailout funds to save workers’ jobs
Published Jun 10, 2009 3:24 PM
More than a million and a half workers in the United States have lost their
jobs since last December. Some 345,000 lost their jobs in May. Unemployment is
at 9.4 percent and headed up to more than 10 percent.
Well over 25 million workers are out of work or underemployed. Long-term
unemployment is at a record.
Nevertheless, Washington has given General Motors and Chrysler $17 billion as a
reward for shutting down 22 plants, tearing up union contracts and closing
3,000 dealerships. And the government has promised billions more to the auto
These cruel measures will sharply aggravate the unemployment crisis across the
country and bring further hardship to those still working.
They must be stopped.
Companies must not be paid by the government to shut down factories or impose
no-strike pledges, wage freezes, compulsory arbitration, loss of break time,
reduced overtime and supplementary unemployment benefits pay, two-tier systems
that lower wages, reduced retiree benefits, and so on.
These billions in government money should be used instead to keep workers on
the job and provide them a decent living.
Well over 100,000 autoworkers, mechanics, salespeople and office personnel who
work directly for GM, Chrysler and the auto dealers will lose their jobs.
The ripple effect will cost 10 times that many jobs outside the auto industry.
Workers who produce auto parts, steel and other metals, rubber, glass, paint,
microchips and computers, machine tools and robots will lose their jobs, along
with drivers who haul the cars and service workers in the communities that
surround the plants and dealerships.
Communities that have given the auto companies tax breaks and built
infrastructure for them will lose important tax revenue. They will be forced to
cut their budgets, make further layoffs and reduce services.
The auto bosses are aiming a hammer blow at workers and communities all across
the country. And Washington is paying them to do it!
Instead of allowing the government to hand $175 billion to insurance giant AIG
to pay off its gambling debts and trillions to the banks to clean up their
balance sheets, unions and communities should demand that this money be used to
keep the plants open, reopen those already closed down, and hire back those
Instead of a government TARP fund for bankers, we need a JOBS fund for
It’s done in Europe
This is not an outrageous idea. In Europe, where the unions have been stronger
and the bosses weaker than in the United States, the labor movement has been
able to push governments to slow down layoffs and plant closings and subsidize
In Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and other countries, the governments have
been forced to lend companies money for the specific purpose of keeping plants
open and saving jobs, not shutting them down. In the last five years, despite
declines in auto sales worldwide, European auto workers have been able to
maintain their job level at about 2.3 million. Over the same period in the
U.S., auto jobs have declined from 1.1 million to 780,000. (New York Times, May
U.S. autoworkers and all the unions and communities affected by this latest
round of attacks should demand that a good piece of the trillion dollars going
to the auto companies and the banks be turned over to the unions, in alliance
with the communities, so that the workers can keep the operation going.
This money should not go to the present owners but to the rightful owners, the
workers, who created all the wealth of the companies. Owners and high-paid
officials are not needed to run the companies. That is a complete myth. Their
specialty is making a profit off the backs of the workers. The present economic
crisis dictates that profits must be subordinated to the workers’
The unions can put together their own management teams. They can come from the
ranks of the workers and from the thousands of managers, accountants and other
white-collar workers thrown out of their jobs. They can be rehired by the
unions with government money and given the task of management under the control
of the workers and in collaboration with representative bodies from the
There is much talk about creating a green economy and improving mass
transportation. The country desperately needs mass transportation and
environmentally friendly technology. The auto bosses, the oil companies and the
industrialists have been fighting against it for years.
The workers can stop the Big Three from destroying perfectly good factories
that could be used to create high-speed and other railroad cars, buses and
subways. Under workers’ control a vast changeover of the industry could
take place. Engineers, designers and planners familiar with the transportation
and auto industry could be hired by the unions. Reconstruction plans could be
forged in collaboration with state and local governments throughout the
Such an arrangement would also put an end to the scapegoating of Mexican,
Chinese and other workers outside the U.S. who need jobs just as much as U.S.
workers do. After all, it is GM, Chrysler and Ford that are squeezing workers
and laying them off, not workers abroad. With government funding, no jobs would
have to be sacrificed.
Organize from below
The question is how to get there. A first step is for the rank-and-file to get
organized from down below to overturn these latest contracts. Even though
workers voted to approve them, they are not legally binding because they were
signed under duress.
No court of law is obliged to recognize any agreement, written or verbal, made
under duress. What else can it be called when unions and workers are put under
pressure by the companies, the Treasury Department, the White House and the
banks to sign their futures away or face liquidation of the company, with the
loss of all their jobs? When unemployment is going through the roof, it is a
choice between slow death or sudden death.
The whole process turns collective bargaining into a farce. It is a violation
of the National Labor Relations Act to force workers to bargain with a gun to
their head. The only “bargaining” was over how much blood the
companies were going to take. The companies have no right to make such
extortionate demands and the union leaders had no right to participate in this
farce and give legal cover for a corporate attack on the very union and workers
they are supposed to represent.
This latest surrender has been sold on the basis that profit is inviolable and
workers’ rights can be chucked out the window; that the workers’
fate has to be tied to “market conditions”; that the right to shut
down and lay off workers comes before the right of workers to a job.
The argument goes that GM and Chrysler must be “lean” in order to
be “competitive” enough to make profits. And being
“lean” means plant shutdowns, layoffs and concessions. The workers
are made responsible and must sacrifice everything for the profitability of the
companies that are exploiting them.
This is the traditional scheme that subordinates labor to capital. It must be
turned on its head. The rights of workers must come before the rights of
Staying within the narrow framework of the traditional capital-labor
relationship has led down the path of disaster for the workers and the unions.
The stated aim of GM, Ford and Chrysler is to reduce the condition of unionized
auto workers to that of non-union auto workers. The competitiveness argument
leads to nothing less than the ultimate liquidation of the unions as an
effective representative of the workers.
The task is to take back the unions for the rank-and-file and turn them into
fighting organizations that truly represents the interests of the workers.
Although it is a mighty task, it can and must be done. Workers’ futures
and the futures of their children depend upon it.
The unions have thousands of potential leaders. There are union reps at the
shop-floor level who have fought the companies on a daily basis and do not want
to see the union go down. There are local officials who have wanted to fight
back but have been restrained and handcuffed by the higher-ups. They should not
be made to sit idly by and see their locals destroyed. There are rank-and-file
workers and officials with experience in the class struggle who have fought
bitter strikes and can be called upon.
UAW workers have shown their initiative over history. Time and again they have
gone into battle, even before the great Flint sit-down strike of 1937 that won
the battle for industrial unionism.
The time has come to demand that the government turn over the money it has been
giving the companies to shut down plants and instead give it to the workers, in
alliance with the communities, to keep plants open. The time has come to put
workers’ rights, community rights and the right to a job above the rights
of capital. The Republic Windows and Doors workers of UE Local 1110 in Chicago
set a heroic example of putting workers’ rights before the bosses’
rights when they occupied the plant to get benefits owed them.
Autoworkers are in a unique position to start the fightback against the crisis.
Auto and its support industries are central to the economy and are located
across the country.
This may seem utopian. But at one time it was illegal just to organize a union.
It was illegal for African-Americans in the South to enter a
“white-only” facility. These barriers were burst by organized
struggle from down below.
Now is the time to reach out to all the unions and communities affected by this
attack and build a class-wide, anti-racist, counter-offensive against the
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