Monday, March 19, 2012

Corporate blackmail and violence drives wages down further

Lining up for $12 an hour jobs in Muncie: WSJ
During the latter half of the 1990's when I was in active in my Union and also part of the negotiating team in 1997, the Team Concept was confronting us with a vengeance.  We had to "compete" if we were to survive. In the public sector we were told we had to compete with the "outside".  We had to show that we could undercut our brothers and sisters in the private sector.  The term for us was "competitive bidding" we had to win the bidding war, show "our" bosses we could produce more for less. I have written numerous times of the disastrous consequences of such a philosophy; it is totally anti-Union and impossible to build the solidarity and movement necessary to drive back the capitalist offensive and embark on an offensive of our own.

We built Unions to protect us from competition not facilitate it.  The  refusal of the Labor officialdom to reject the market and capitalism's stranglehold on the economic and political life of society is leading us down the road to ruin.  The Wall Street Journal has an article in last weekend's edition that reveals with stunning clarity their vision of the future and their insistence that the US working class be put on rations so US capitalists can win the battle for market share and profits.

The Journal's article focuses on Indiana and the state's efforts at luring business and investment.  The 1% through their control of the means of production and the state use various levels of coercion and outright violence to force workers to accept their terms.  Corporations as the "rightful" owners of production, blackmail entire communities , turning them against each other demanding subsidies, lower taxes and other deals in order to attract capital and jobs. If our communities refuse, they take capital abroad an exploit workers in other countries, preferably dictatorships free of trade Union influence and limited worker rights.

"Our goal in Indiana is really pretty simple: It is to help companies improve profitability....Our challenge as a state is to stand apart from our Midwestern colleagues, Dan Hasler. Indiana's commerce secretary tells the Wall Street Journal.  And it appears to be working, Caterpillar is hiring at its plant in Muncie that builds train locomotives.  Jobs start at $12 an hour plus some benefits but no Unions.  Those $28 an hour Union jobs are gone along with the Union that won them. 

This Indiana politician's viewpoint "corresponds with Caterpillar's agenda.", the WSJ adds. This comes as no surprise as both Democrats and Republicans are parties representing the 1%.  The Democrat's stand in the face of the Wisconsin events didn't include opposing the attacks on workers' wages and benefits, just the right to negotiate them. Muncie is benefiting from Caterpillar's closing of its plant in London Ontario after Unionized workers refused a 50% wage cut.

The destruction of these jobs in Ontario has forced Brad Duguid, London's minister for economic development (improving profitability at workers' expense) and city politicians to accept that finding ways to attract employers, "Is something that we are very diligently engaged in.....One of our challenges will be competing with low-paid jurisdictions around the world" he tells the Journal.  "By some measures..." the Journal responds, "... that now includes Indiana.
Workers occupy factory in Chicago

It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that this facilitates a race to the bottom. It's quite clear that not only London Ont., but other US states, governed as they are by politicians representing the interests of the 1%, will be scrambling to undercut Indiana's poverty rich environment.  The decimation of US living standards has gotten us to the point where even Fiat, the Italian automaker threatened to move a plant to the US if workers refused concessions.  And in the epoch of global capitalism we are forced to compete with wages and conditions in Vietnam or China.

In the pages of the corporate media, workers accepting these steps backward are described as having a "willingness" to work for less. As one worker described it, "I'm able to adapt to that" (a 50% cut in pay). Workers in the rust belt have "Lowered their expectations and become more flexible" the WSJ adds. Yes we have; through coercion, violence and intimidation on the one hand and the refusal of the heads of organized Labor to fight back on the other. Harley Davison told Unionized workers that it would move production from its New York, Kansas City and Milwaukee plants if concessions were not agreed to.  HD need the concessions to make the company "more competitive." Like a broken record, no?  "..workers felt little choice other than to accept Harley's conditions" says Tony Wilson, the president of the Machinist Union representing workers in the Kansas plant.  We can be sure that the Union leadership offered no alternative either so the next step is to "adapt".

Workers occupy Visteon factory in London UK
My father was a hard man, he spent almost 4 years as a prisoner of war in Japan working for Mitsubishi.  We couldn't waste food in our house, it had to be eaten or you went without. "You'll eat dog shit if your hungry enough" he once said. So I know we can adapt.  But we have more power and ability to not adapt than a prisoner of war although they got their own back in many ways which is a tale for another time. We can fight back.  We have the power, the numbers.  We can stop production as thousands of people did in Oakland CA when Occupy Oakland organized the shutting down of the docks for 24 hours.  This terrified the bosses and is one of the reasons the state has responded so violently to the OWS movement.  This movement has changed the landscape, has shifted the debate.  It has shown that with numbers and organization we can bloody the 1%'s nose, put them on the defense.  We can violate their laws if there is enough of us.

This is how we built Unions and how we have come this far.  In 1936-37 workers occupied their workplaces including the 44-day sit down/occupation of the GM plant in Flint Michigan.  This should be our 4th of July.  We didn't wring concessions from the most brutal ruling class on the planet by obeying laws.  After the rise of Industrial unionism in the 1930's the black people of the south rose up and challenged the brutal apartheid system that enslaved them.  This is our history. 

We must reject the idea that we have to compete with workers in other states, countries or anywhere on this globe. It is clear from the details here that capitalism is global.  We fight global capitalism with global unionism.  We don't undercut workers in Toronto, Milan, Shanghai or anywhere else in order to help bosses in their rapacious quest for surplus value.  The alternative to them moving production is workers control, is taking production and the capital necessary for it out of their hands; after all, it is our collective product.  We deny them the right to decimate our human community and nature. Another aspect of this is that it drives capitalism deeper in to crisis as it increases the tendency to overproduction/overcapacity as workers are unable to buy back the products we make. And the sale of the commodity is necessary to realize the profit contained in it.

Once again, the leaders of organized Labor in the US who have considerable resources at their command are using those resources to elect a politician of the 1% as president of the USA. Another setback for all workers.

The alternative to competing with each other for who can work the cheapest is joining with workers in our communities, nation and throughout the world in determining what we produce and under what conditions.  A democratic socialist plan of production in harmony with nature rather than in conflict with it, is the answer to a better future.

A break with the treacherous Democrats and building a mass workers party in the US is a step that is necessary for us to go down that road.

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