Monday, January 30, 2012

Bosses watching CAW lockout closely as they attempt to bring Canadian wages closer to the US

Earlier this month I blogged about the Canadian workers that Caterpillar has locked out after the workers for some strange reason refused to accept Caterpillar's offer to cut their wages in half.  Caterpillar has threatened to move production to countries where wages are lower and Union presence on the job weaker if present at all, Muncie Indiana for example. In my previous blog on this issue I pointed out that. "US bosses get almost 25% more goods and services out of us than they did in 1999 with the same number of workers and as wages have declined."  “It’s as if $2.5 trillion worth of stuff---the equivalent of the entire U.S. economy circa 1958—materialized out of thin air” Business Week, a serious journal of the 1% states. US workers are looking better and better to investors thanks to the cooperation of the heads of organized Labor in making us more profitable.

The Wall Street Journal reports on this struggle in London Ontario further; it's important to them as a victory for Caterpillar in Canada will boost their confidence even more. The bosses smell victory already of course. The leadership of the CAW is doing what their counterparts in the US do, hoping an individual Union will slow but not defeat a global manufacturer's efforts to destroy the wages and working conditions of its members. Actually, as the WSJ points out, the strategy of the CAW Union officialdom is the same as their US counterparts, alleviate some of the pain with slightly less offensive cuts. The workers (under direction of the leadership) "hope Caterpillar will soften its demands soon rather than face the risk of deliveries of locomotives to customers.", the paper claims. Soften its demands?  What about removing them?  And we can't help but notice that Union officials place no demands of our own on the table in these disputes therefore accepting that the bosses' plans cannot be stopped, only tweaked a little. Cuts are inevitable.

About 32% of Canadian workers are organized compared to 12% or so in the US.  If public sector workers are excluded that number falls to 18% a drop of 3% in the last ten years.  Union leaders are worried, "We face an incredibly hostile environment both economically and politically" one Union economist tells the journal adding that if the workers accept Caterpillars wage cut it, "Would be a horrible, horrible precedent." 

The problem is that like Union leaders in the US Canadian Union officials have no real strategy to drive back this global offensive of capital.  Their only strategy is damage control, soften the blow.  Caterpillar says that its new non-Union plant in Muncie Indiana with wages from $12 to $18.50 an hour helps it compete for in the global capitalist marketplace.  The company also has plants in Brazil and Mexico.  Canadian wages at $35 an hour are just too high.

The strategists atop the Union movement argue that getting more members is the key.  The CAW is considering a merger with another Union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union in what the WSJ refers to as an "attempt to bulk up." Obviously it pays to organize and increase Union density.  But in what the WSJ describes as a "discussion paper" the CAW and Paperworkers leadership claim that unless Unions become more effective and attract more workers, "We will steadily follow the U.S. Unions into continuing decline.".  But the main reason the US Unions have been in decline is the leadership of these Unions and their concessionary strategy.  The Team Concept again that we talk of so often on this blog.  They believe that they must help the boss compete, that there is no alternative to the market and that any movement from below that threatens this strategy must be crushed. We have seen this time and time again.

The decline of US Unions and consequently our wages and working conditions is to do with the program and strategy of those at the helm not so much the percentage of workers organized.  Many US Unions have merged and it hasn't changed a thing because the merged leadership which is what it is really, a merger of bureaucracies, continues to take the same collaborationist, pro-market path. And wasn't 1877 a hostile climate or the 1930's when most industrial workers were not Unionized and the bosses like GM terrorized workers on the job and in our private lives. This climate is favorable in that our potential power and organization is much greater. The issue is to return to the strategy and tactics that built the Unions in the first place, mass direct action, workplace occupations and such, defiance of the bosses laws and the formation of a mass workers political party as an alternative to the two parties of the 1%.

It's painfully obvious that we are dealing with global capitalism when we are dealing with Caterpillar. How can the CAW defeat Caterpillar?  It cannot.  But there are global auto Unions and we have to have international solidarity to fight these companies and in the last analysis take workers control of the production of human transportation which is what we are talking about in this instance.  The CAW split from the UAW some time ago but a war against Caterpillar has to at the very least include US and Canadian workers but with the goal always of organizing in Brazil and anywhere caterpillar has plants.  We have to reject the idea that we have to help the boss compete and that they have a right to profit from our Labor.  We also have to reject the idea that only the private sector can create jobs, something that is clearly not true.

We cannot avoid and must not avoid building a united global workers' movement to drive back this global offensive of capital.  An obstacle to this is nationalism and this destructive idea that workers in one country are any better than workers in other countries; that we as American workers are "all" American along with the bosses or the Japanese workers thinking they are "one" with their bosses,  and that we have to unite with our bosses to help them compete against the foreign ones.  We have to unite the working  class globally if we want to win.  Marx was not wrong when he told us that workers of the world must unite and that we have nothing to lose but our chains.  It's good advice.

Caterpillar is correct in arguing that the wages in Canada are too high.  If we don't reject the idea that we have to compete and that the market and capitalism is the only way human production can be organized then we have to help caterpillar compete against its rivals otherwise it'll go under and our jobs will be lost.  The problem with this view is that in this age of global production, workers in the US or Canada have to be brought down closer to those of Vietnam and China, we lose anyway. They blackmail communities within nations and blackmail the workers of whole nations that unless we are prepared to live a life of poverty and Labor 12 or 14 hours a days they'll refuse to invest capital.  They turn the right to work and live in to a competition.

The only solution for us is a global working class movement that can challenge global capital.  As long as Caterpillar and other corporations can find wage Labor, in this case across the border, that costs half as much as in Canada it will seek the lowest costs and maximize profits.  The bosses don't care about nationalism when it comes to profits and only talk of "united we stand" when they need our youth to defend those profits abroad in one of their wars launched against other workers who have the same aspirations and are fighting for the same things and against the same enemies that we are--the right to a decent, productive and secure life.

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