Monday, March 16, 2015

UAW President Williams Offers Nothing New

LtoR Williams Biden and Hoffa photo op
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The UAW leadership, one of the staunchest pro business groups inside the trade union movement, will be negotiating a new contract for thousands of Chrysler workers this summer.  The dismal record of this group has brought wages as low as $14 an hour for workers once earning $28. What Business Week calls a “caste system” a two tier wage rate in auto, was introduced in 2007 with the UAW leadership’s blessing in order to help the auto bosses’ and their investors out.  There are some 50,000 workers earning the higher tier 1 pay at Chrysler and another 30,000 on the tier 2 scale earning about half as much.  These tiers, as divisive and destructive as they are, have been implemented throughout unionized workplaces with the full support of the trade union hierarchy who don’t have to worker under the contracts they impose on their members.

Look at the disgusting choices that are forced on workers by the bosses with the leadership’s blessing, Business Week describes one worker who had the option of staying in her part time job at a factory earning $28 an hour or taking a full-time position at the same plant earning $14.  Fearing the part time might not last she opted for the full time position and 50% cut in pay.   But by taking the full-time position she now became a “new hire” and was on the tier two list.

The heads of organized labor do this all the time at contract time.  They don’t fight for gains for the present workforce but really save the best screwing for the new hires, after all, new hires are not there yet and can’t vote on a contract that ensures they will do the same work as the folks next to them for half the pay and fewer benefits. 

UAW president, Dennis Williams sounds much like his predecessor Bob King, in fact, they all pretty much sound the same as they all have the same strategy---help the boss make profits and hope things get better.  Williams has a go at talking tough telling the media, “I often listen to companies talking about being competitive. The only thing they talk about in public is doing it on the backs of workers.”

Wow! Some militant talk from the UAW president. But what is he proposing for the upcoming talks?  According to the media, Williams is pretty adamant, he wants pay raises for both tiers.   That’s it? Of course, why should I be surprised?  It wouldn’t enter Williams’ head to suggest that the tiers be abolished, that the lower tier is brought up to the higher, that wage increases, benefits, a shorter workweek and hiring be on the table. The government nationalized the auto industry after the Great recession hit in order to help the bosses out, we should demand that auto should be taken in to public ownership and production should be shifted to the building of mass transit.

The class collaborationist policies of the trade union leadership have set US workers back 100 years. Even a serious journal of the 1% like BusinessWeek thinks so. “Punch the numbers in to a US Bureau of Labor Statistics Calculator that adjusts for inflation and you’ll find Henry Ford paid about the same in 1914.”, BW writes.

The average wage in the auto industry has declined 21% since 2003. The Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor MI claims the autoworkers have raised productivity to record levels.  As I wrote in an earlier commentary, productivity is made on the backs of workers as fewer of us do more for less.  It is measured in output per hour by the numbers crunchers for the auto investors but in sweat and blood, tired mucscles, worn out sinews and added stress for the worker. 

One Chrysler worker on tier 2 tells BW that her and her two children were forced to move in with her sister after losing both her car and her home.  Imagine having your pay cut in half. You go to the store, the prices are the same if not higher. Taking the kids out now eats up 50% more of your disposable income than before so you don’t do it. In fact, you don’t have a disposable income. This is the working poor working for a giant global corporation. Three generations of families gave their lives to this industry that helped make the US economy the global leader it has been.  The situation is so dire now, even Caterpillar closed its plant in Toronto Canada and moved to the US Mid-West where wages are 50% lower.

The autoworkers were the benchmark for entry in to what we call the “middle class” here in the US. This term is used in order undermine any idea workers might have that there is actually a working class in this country, only rich poor and middle.  With the full support of the UAW leadership the bosses have driven wages to pre 1930’s levels; the next victims are public sector workers like this writer. We are too expensive and why should the bosses not be so aggressive, they do not fear us. The union leadership has shown that they will not present any serious obstacle to the rapacious quest for profits on the part of the auto industry investors and the ranks of the union have not yet presented a serious threat top their concessionary plans. There was some years ago a rejection of a leadership promoted contract by workers at a Chrysler plant in Kokomo Ind. but the usually moribund and incompetent leadership will mobilize its full time apparatus when its comfortable relationship with bosses based on labor peace is threatened. (See Rank and File Rebellion at Kokomo a FFWP publication)

Naturally, the tier system has worked very well for the bosses.  The tension is high on the job some say and why should it not be as workers do the same work earning different rates of pay and benefits. “Class warfare hasn’t broken out on the factory floor”, the Chrysler worker tells BW but it should.  There is no doubt it is a difficult and daunting task fighting a combined force of the employers and our own leaders but it is what we are faced with and in some ways have always been faced with it.  We have no alternative if we want to stop the complete hemorrhaging of our living standards that took decades to win.  The worker quoted here is only partially right because class warfare is at its height on the factory floor and in every aspect of production and our work lives. The bosses wage class warfare every minute of every day.

It is the most frustrating thing to witness events that are occurring as I write.  The ILWU has been in contract negotiations and apparently there is a tentative agreement.  As this was taking place, the USW (steelworkers) union struck refineries but ensured that operations and profits would not be harmed by striking only 9 out of around 65 plants.  There was no attempt to unite these forces and neither will there be on the part of the present leadership of organized labor.  They are wed to the bosses intellectually and in the way they see the world. They fear nothing more than a victory because profits are sacrosanct and the market is god.

We saw the same thing a couple of years ago when the transit union struck the light rail service here in the SF Bay Area.  Numerous public sector unions with contracts up could legally strike but there was no effort to unite us all in a struggle against the bosses in general, just the opposite as bus drivers in the same union were told to work across the light rail picket lines. The economy of this area could have been brought to a standstill. The community could have been brought in to the struggle and the inconvenience of the strike made bearable as demands and proposals for all sorts of improvements in conditions were brought to the table and fought for. Imagine how seniors would have reacted had a simple demand like free transportation for seniors been on the table.

We already know the outcome of the upcoming UAW negotiations, the bosses will get the better deal just as they will in the USSW strike and the ILWU deal.  We only have to listen to what they say or more importantly what they don’t. A movement from below could change this but there is no indication of this so far.

Warren Buffet was right when he said that there is a class war and his side is winning it. He has help from the heads of organized labor in his class war.  The reality is yet another group we should all be afraid of ISIS, who we are told are threatening our way of life, don’t come close when it comes to undermining our way of life.  Our main enemy is domestic.  The same folks who are driving down wages and conditions here would make a deal with these ISIS folks in a minute if their profits were guaranteed. 

We need to remember that.

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