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Time to fight back

DaimlerChrysler zaps 26,000 jobs

By Martha Grevatt

The writer has worked at the Twinsburg, Ohio stamping plant of the DaimlerChrysler corporation for 13 years and is an active member of UAW Local 122.

Jan. 29 should have been like any other "blue Monday" in the life of an auto worker. For DaimlerChrysler workers in North and South America it was anything but ordinary.

On that day management informed the work force that it plans to cut 26,000 jobs--20 percent of the work force of the former Chrysler Corp.--by the end of February.

While DaimlerChrysler's was the biggest layoff, it was only one of many throughout the U.S. economy. Seven steel companies, including Cleveland-based LTV steel have filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, and LTV nearly shut down all operations in December.

The slowdown is not limited to the industrial sector. Amazon.com announced 1,300 layoffs on Jan. 30.

DaimlerChrysler Management immediately tried to minimize worker response by promising early retirement buyouts to reduce the number of layoffs. But the bosses stated unequivocally that the cuts are "absolutely necessary" and that permanent layoffs would begin Feb. 28.

DaimlerChrysler plans to close six plants. The company says it will eliminate an entire work shift at seven more.

These layoffs and plant closings will have the deepest impact on oppressed workers of color worldwide. Of the six plant closings, three will be in Mexico, one in Argentina, and one in Brazil.

These workers will be left penniless--with no unemployment benefits, no pension, no lump-sum buyouts, nothing to show for their years of super exploitation.

The sixth, Mound Road Engine, is just outside the predominantly African American city of Detroit, which has suffered deeply as a result of previous auto plant closings.

All the U.S. layoffs will disproportionately hit workers of color and women. They are among the workers with lower seniority. And they are underrepresented in the less vulnerable skilled-trades positions.

The impact of these job reductions on currently employed workers will be lessened by the Supplementary Unemployment Benefits that the United Auto Workers negotiated decades ago. After 42 weeks of layoff, workers must be either called back or placed in a "job bank" where they receive 40 hours pay while doing "nontraditional" work.

However, workers with less than three years seniority are not eligible for the job bank. Workers with less than one year of seniority do not receive SUB.

And funding for both the job bank and SUB could run out before the contract expires in 2003.

Daimler-Chrysler promised no layoffs

At the time of the merger between Chrysler and Daimler-Benz, workers were promised that there would be no job cuts.

The Detroit-based Job Is a Right Campaign pointed out in a leaflet issued after this latest announcement: "Two years ago, Daimler-Benz, AG, bought out Chrysler Corporation in the biggest industrial merger ever. In order to get U.S. government approval for this buyout from the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities Exchange Commission, and to mute opposition from the UAW and the public, Daimler-Benz promised that this would be a merger of equals.

"DaimlerChrysler Chief Executive Officer Schremp now says that this talk of a merger of equals was simply a public-relations ploy to get U.S. government approval for the buyout of Chrysler.

"Chrysler built up a $9 billion reserve for future product development off the backs of its workers through its lean production techniques. Now Daimler has taken this fund to acquire a controlling interest in Mitsubishi, buy Detroit Diesel, start a sizable joint venture with Caterpillar, buy into more commercial truck ventures, and make numerous other purchases in the last two years."

Yet the bosses have the nerve to cry poverty when it comes to paying workers' wages.

There is no reason to assume that these already drastic cuts will not be followed by another wave of cuts down the road. The entire auto industry is heading into a recession, as are the steel industry and other sectors of the economy. These immediate effects of capitalist overproduction are coming in just the earliest stages of a worldwide economic slowdown.

Now, not later, is the time for the auto unions in both North and South America to launch a struggle to defend their right to their jobs. If there is less work to perform, whether it is due to automation or capitalist overproduction, let there be a shorter work week with no cut in pay.

From Canada to Argentina, workers need a united campaign for a moratorium on layoffs and plant closings. If the bosses won't keep the plants open, then let the workers take over and run them themselves.

DaimlerChrysler workers would do well to follow the example of General Motors workers across the ocean. 40,000 GM workers throughout Europe simultaneously laid down their tools Jan. 25 in solidarity with workers whose plants were scheduled to be closed.

From the AJRC leaflet: "Only the DaimlerChrysler workers can protect their own jobs and livelihoods! With a recession looming, launching a struggle to protect the jobs of the Chrysler workers can set the tone for the coming battles against the plant and office closings and layoffs which will be affecting millions of workers in the next period."

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