Thursday, March 7, 2013

Chrysler attack on dissident is about who controls the workplace

by Richard Mellor

The suspension of Chrysler worker Alex Wassell who helped organize a protest against a new Alternative Work Schedule (AWL) being introduced at various plants raises the vital question of the Labor process and who controls it.  The changes in scheduling at Chrysler are not new.  The bosses’ rapacious quest for profits means they are always trying to figure out how to “squeeze” more production from fewer workers.  Naturally, as part of the management team, UAW leaders support the changes.

The work schedule at Chrysler is referred to as the
“3-2-120” schedule.  Alex Wassell, the Michigan Chrysler worker suspended explains it:
The “3-2-120” schedule means three crews, two shifts, and 120 total hours. Essentially it’s a cheaper way for the company to get 120 hours of production each week, compared to having two shifts each work 60 hours (with 20 hours of that paid at time-and-a-half) or scheduling three back-to-back eight-hour shifts working 40 hours.
In the 3-2-120, the A crew works 10 hours on day shift Monday through Thursday, say 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The B crew works 10 hours evening shift Wednesday through Saturday, 6 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. The C crew works 10 hours evening shift Monday and Tuesday and 10 hours day shift Friday and Saturday.” *

The struggle for the eight-hour day that gave rise to the birth of May Day after the eight-hour day movement in I886 is a thing of the past. It exists in name only as workers are forced to work longer hours (often in three different workplaces) just to keep their heads above water. Ten and even twelve hour days without overtime pay are becoming the norm as workers do whatever they can to get what they perceive is “more” time away from the workplace.

I am a retired public sector worker and similar, though less drastic changes were made in our workplace (after auto, were next) .  We were offered a work schedule that allowed workers a day off every two weeks.  But in order to do this, the bosses crammed 80 hours in to nine days as opposed to 80 hours in to ten. They did this by having you work four nine-hour days and one eight hour day the first week for a total of 44 hours.  The next week you worked four nine-hour days for a total of 36 hours with one day off (usually a Monday or Friday) and a two-week total of 80. 

Myself and other activists waged a war against this schedule particularly as it violated the eight-hour day by not paying overtime.  In California, overtime pay kicked in after an eight-hour day not a forty-hour week. Where I worked, if you worked two hours at the end of your regular 8 hour shift, you got time and a half and a $16 meal voucher as you missed dinner. We got a meal voucher every four hours after that. So the bosses were getting a good deal out of it. Not only that, with these new schedules, the bosses want you to use the “extra” time off they give you for taking care of family emergencies and Dr’s appointments so it was a way of getting workers not to use our sick leave benefits.

But we couldn’t stop most of our members from supporting it. And just like the UAW leadership with regards to split shifts and 10-hour days, the Union hierarchy supports these measures as it absolves them from fighting for the real alternative, a shorter workweek with no loss in pay. In the absence of a fight back, workers exhaust themselves working these long shifts so they can get what they feel is a bit more free time with their families and accept increased exploitation in exchange.  These conditions even if voted formally in to a contract are agreements made under coercion like all agreements between oppressors and the oppressed.

There is no doubt that workers agreed with our analysis and liked the alternatives we put forward, sometimes 32 for 40 and other times 5 six hour days and no loss in pay.  During our 1996 contract negotiations of which I was a part, we made increased jobs a prominent demand as well as the reduction of hours. We didn’t simply demand it; we campaigned in our local community and at other employers’ worksites for it through a solidarity committee we formed. We made our contract struggle a community issue.

But with the Union officialdom’s refusal to mobilize the power of Labor to drive back this offensive and offer an alternative, workers will take the easy way out.  We are like electricity, we take the path of least resistance, and faced with a formidable opponent, a combination of the bosses and our own leaders, changing the situation appears a daunting task.  But fight we must, the boss won’t let up.

I also opposed “flex time” which can be implemented by employers who serve the public or where your work takes place outside the reporting area.  This comes in different forms but it normally means that you could report to the workplace when you liked to get your order or schedule and take off.  If they never saw you again that day it was fine as long as you got your assigned quota.  This is not good as it separates workers, keeps us from talking with each other about our conditions, our similarities etc.  Our goal must be to control the workplace not escape from it.

Another aspect of our opposition to the new schedule was that overtime is not a good thing.  While I agree with Brother Wassell and his dissident group’s call for a defense of the eight-hour day, we must defend it by waging a struggle for the 6-hour day with no loss in pay. The bosses generally prefer overtime as opposed to hiring more workers as they don’t have to pay benefits, it’s a good deal for them and a bad one for us.  The other side of overtime is that some folks earn enough overtime to provide an unemployed worker with a job.  This can and has been used against us time and time again. The UAW officials in this case claim they support Chrysler’s health destroying schedule because it creates jobs.  They care about jobs for one reason only, new hires can earn half the pay of their older workmates as long as they pay dues, bring more revenue in to the Union.  The Labor leadership, as I say so often, see the Unions as employment agencies with them as the CEO’s.

There is something else.  Why is there a need for 24-hour production in an auto plant?  Leaving aside the damages to ones health that working split shifts, ten-hour days and other creations of the bosses’ imagination brings, twenty-four hour production does not exist for the benefit of workers or society.  It exists in order to increase profits.  

The UAW officials have, like the entire leadership of organized Labor has when faced with these circumstances, offered alternatives to the UAW bosses’ schedule, a tweaking of the shifts to lessen the pain.  It’s always, lessen the pain; never eliminate the cause of it. They have no world-view independent of the bosses. Wedded to the Team Concept and worshipers of the market, they have no alternative and do what they can to accommodate the employer with agreements that they never have to work under.

Rank and File workers are also trapped at times by our own consciousness which is also affected by the lack of any significant social movement in society that combats the ideology of the capitalists; what the British historian Christopher Hill called the “Stop in the mind”. Workers at some plants are arguing that more production can be achieved by going to a three-shift 24-hour operation with no loss in overtime pay.

The first thing we must do in this struggle with the bosses is overcome our own belief that their view of the world and the way they organize production as owners of the means of producing the necessities of life, is flawed. The auto is a wasteful and environmentally destructive means of mass transport. 

We must demand that production be shifted to mass transit as opposed to auto production.

In the 1984 platform to the Democratic National Convention, the AFL-CIO argued for the reduction of working hours. Those days have passed. The Labor leadership finds no room to maneuver in the face of the capitalist offensive and cooperates openly with the bosses in their rapacious quest for surplus value and the devastation this causes to human life and the environment. 

In short, we must reject the bosses’ view of the world and their definition of what is “realistic”. What is realistic for all workers in the US and throughout the world is security, a healthy fruitful and productive life----we are inherently productive and collective creatures.  Without production there is no life, but the organization of the Labor process represented by these examples is not for the production of social need, it’s for profit; it is to fill the bank accounts of a tiny minority in society.

In the immediate battles we defend the eight-hour day, we defend overtime when we are forced to work beyond it, but we must set hour sights higher at the same time.

For 6 hour a 5-day workweek with no loss pay.

For massive social investment in mass transit production, to be paid for by taxes on the rich and an end to all Washington’s predatory wars and occupations.

Jobs for all with Union rates and benefits

Equal pay for equal work---eliminate the tier structure

For a global auto-workers Union to combat global capital.

We have to build opposition caucuses in our Unions that are armed with a program that takes us forward and opposes the concessionary policies of the present leadership and replace those leaders that don't change.  We must build a movement within organized Labor and among the unorganized that can drive back this offensive of capital with an offensive of our own. 

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