Last week, one of the 1%'s bankruptcy Judges gave the Hostess bosses permission to liquidate the company and sell off its parts. Along with ridding themselves of fixed stock, the coupon clippers that own it are also ridding themselves of any obligation to that other side of the capital expenditure in the labor process, some 18,000 workers.
The bosses have many ways of violating contractual agreements with workers, violence, starvation, the military (always a dodgy option), the police, and their courts which is more favorable. Being in bankruptcy is another way the coupon clippers can relieve themselves of these obligations. They do this even when the company is not broke like Delphi, the auto parts manufacturer that was once part of GM.
Not a week ago, the general line was that the Hostess simply wasn't a viable business, "Nobody wants to have anything to do with these old plants or these union or these contracts", said Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn. They blamed the Union for running the business down of course which is only true in the sense that US workers are too expensive on the global market with rights in the workplace the bosses can do without. Bangladesh offers a more lucrative environment for profit taking. The real issue though is the contracts, that the workers are Unionized. Despite years of defeats, and elimination of Union power on the job thanks to a cooperative, employer friendly leadership, the bosses would much rather have no Union at all; and why not go for it, they feel very confident after years of concessionary contracts.
Rayburn also commented last week that the only hope for a buyer would be if a, "..liquidated Hostess would be free of its collective bargaining agreements.". The judge has opened that door for them and suddenly, "Hostess is an attractive target, with its nationwide distribution of Twinkies, Ho Ho's and Ding Dongs." (Who on earth dreams up these names?). We should make no bones about it; the name of the game here is close down the show and open up non Union. It is part of the ongoing war to drive US workers wages and conditions closer to those in Vietnam and India.
The front runner for scooping up the remnants of Hostess Corp is Flowers' Foods a company with a healthy 90% of its employees non-Union. "Flowers is unlikely to rehire Hostess employees as union workers.......and isn't interested in assuming labor contracts" the Wall Street Journal reports. Despite the Union officialdom claiming there are "good" unionized employers and "bad" non Union ones, the only reason we have Unions at all is because workers fought heroic battles for the right to organize against the most violent opposition from the bosses. We have Unions because we fought and died for them.
Is this the end of the Hostess struggle? It would seem so. Back in the eighties during the Eastern Airlines strike, the boss shut the company down and the Labor officials called it a victory. For the boss, a man named Lorenzo, it's simply shifting capital around, for workers it's a greater loss. The thought of taking over the company doesn't enter the heads of the strategists atop organized Labor.
The attacks we have been facing for decades have definitely heated up since the bailout. On the other hand there have been some powerful responses to the assault of capital; the student movement of a couple of years ago, some big strikes like Verizon and the Southern California grocery strike that was lost entirely due to the UFCW leadership's capitulation to the employers. We also saw 100,000 on the streets of Madison Wisconsin that was successfully channeled in to an electoral campaign for the Democratic Party. With the Team Concept as their primary policy and no alternative to the market, mobilizing the potential power of organized Labor and the millions of non-Union workers and our communities in to an offensive of our own can only lead to chaos as far as the Union officialdom is concerned. The capitalists must be the job creators, profit is sacrosanct and workers' can't control our workplaces or society.
There's no escaping the fact that the bosses are becoming more aggressive and emboldened. But we will see further challenges to this offensive as the class struggle heats up. Too much confidence is a dangerous thing and there's no doubt the US bourgeois will make some serious blunders up ahead.
It would also be a mistake for us to forget our history and the explosive nature of the US working class. After the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 and by 1931 the United Mine Workers, one of the few industrial unions shrunk from 400,000 to 60,000 members and the AFL membership was declining by 7000 members a week until by 1933 it was down to a little over 2 million. We all know what happened then. Three general strikes followed in 1934 and then the great factory occupations and growth of industrial unionism culminating in the 44-day Flint sit down and the rise of the CIO.
I am not saying that the situation is exactly the same as at that time there were numerous left and radical forces withing the working class. Socialists led the general strike in Minneapolis, the Communists in San Francisco and the followers of AJ Muste and the unemployed organizations the Toledo general strike, all in 1934. But it would be a mistake, one that liberals make to readily, to write off the US working class. Even without the huge workforce in the service industries, the docks, the airlines, communication and heavy industry are still Unionized and the organized sector will be convulsed and radicalised by a generalized movement against the bosses offensive.
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