Wednesday, September 16, 2015

UAW leadership and Chrysler Make a Deal. Tiers will go, Eventually!

Chrysler's Marchionne and UAW Williams. One Happy Family
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Two days after the contract expired, UAW leaders have reached a tentative agreement with Chrysler bosses that throws out the two tier wage system according to the media.

As I commented earlier, the lower tiered workers hired after 2007 earn significantly less than those hired before.  This concession was agreed to by the UAW hierarchy in order to help the bosses out.  Hourly pay for workers hired after 2007 is capped at $19.28 an hour but the new agreement ends this apparently.

But any of us used to the results of these secret negotiations between partners in crime, the bosses and the union hierarchy, are not fooled by the vague language and comments passed on to the press. What we have learned is that workers somewhere will be paying for any concessions the auto bosses make in individual contracts, either as direct employees or as consumers. 

Despite the decline in union membership to less than 7% of the workforce, the potential power of organized labor is still there. The ability to stop the US economy from functioning is still present.  It is important to recognize that reports on events like contract talks between major unions and crucial industries are generally in the business section of newspapers like today’s Wall Street Journal for example. The bosses’ are well aware of and fear the potential power of organized workers and rely on their friends in the leadership and in the Democratic Party to keep that power in check. It’s not rocket science to figure out that the Journals of the 1% in the US are extremely concerned when contract negotiations in these major industries take place; they pay attention and so should we.

Conscious workers, those that pay attention to such details, do not miss the words between the lines. “Chrysler, UAW Pact to End Wage Tiers” the headline reads in the Wall Street Journals report on the talks.  Yet another victory for the brilliant negotiators leading the charge for the men and women that pay the dues.

But wait, “The new structure will eventually phase out the two classes of wages over time…” Christina Rogers and Jeff Bennett write in today’s Journal. “eventually” just slipped in there it seems.

The lower tier will be brought closer to the higher paid workers after a “number of years” but, the precise time frame and dollar amount couldn’t be learned.”, the authors tell us. Couldn’t be learned? That’s an interesting expression. I guess it means that the parties involved, the negotiators for Fiat and their teammates from the UAW won’t tell us. Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne and UAW president Dennis Williams,  “…..declined to disclose specific wage details.” at last night’s press conference in Detroit.  If workers made significant gains one would think the union leadership would be broadcasting it to the world; would use it as an organizing tool. But they are only one part of the labor management family and silence is best.  Perhaps the workers have won more jobs for our youth, increased leisure time through a shorter workweek, increased wages, more union control on the shop floor and the union leadership doesn’t want to boast.

No, they do not want to raise expectations and fear a victory more than death. A victory would inspire millions after years of declining wages and living conditions. And where would it lead? Workers would be demanding all sorts of changes and improvements after getting a sense of our latent power. A movement within the organized working class would inspire millions have terrifying repercussion throughout society.

The union/management team at the table has worked very hard putting this package together. They’ve been negotiating all day and all night the bosses’ media reports. We’ve all seen it on TV, tired looking union negotiators (the concession caucus is how some of my UAW brothers and sisters have referred to their leaders in the past) coming out to announce a deal, sleeves rolled up, drooping eyes, coffee in hand.  Boy these guys fought so hard. 

We never get the details till it’s time to vote and as in most cases, negotiations are held in secret and both sides agree to say nothing during the whole process. This “gentlemen’s agreement” is designed to muzzle the union side so no organizing, agitation or appealing to the ranks is allowed during the talks. It’s what neutrality agreements are for. The boss is never neutral and neither should we be. As things stand, these meetings are, after all, a meeting between two sides that have nothing but the deepest respect for each other. This whole scenario is orchestrated to convince the dues payer, the folks that pay the leadership‘s salaries, that the power lies in glib chatter and smart lawyer talk at the table.

Reality is that it is two sides getting together to create a work environment that is best for the auto bosses and investors in the industry. We can be sure that these important people are well aware of the details in this deal, they designed them.

Negotiators on both sides have,  “crafted a very careful process by which the [tier-wage] system will go away.” Marchionne announces,  and I’m sure UAW president Williams feels very proud of himself, his job’s finished at Chrysler unless a revolt from below throws a spanner in the works.

So at some point, eventually, in the future, over time, later on, on the horizon, the lower tier will be brought closer to the present pay for those hired before 2007. Mind you, the veterans have received no wage increase for ten years. As I pointed out in my previous post on these talks, the union leadership never calls for the books to be opened. They never talk of all the profit that has gone in to the pockets of those that invested in this industry, the now deceased Kirk Kerkorian who liked to build Casinos, Lee Iacocca and the many other coupon clippers who sent their kids to Harvard and Cambridge and bought that home in the Hamptons on the auto workers’ dime. And, unlike Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the British Labor Party who has called for the re-nationalization of rail transportation and important utilities, you know, crucial social services for any so-called civilized society, they don’t even dare mention the N word (Nationalization).

The bosses have no problem with nationalization though although they use a different term. After their rotten system was dragged back from the abyss and rescued by public funds post 2008, numerous industries were nationalized, but their media called it “conservatorship.”

The automotive industry, including dealerships accounts for approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.  Motor vehicles and parts manufacturers directly employed 786,000 people at the end of 2012. This is why the UAW union leadership and their cooperation is so important. Despite all the talk of the declining influence of industrial workers in the US and the export of jobs. Despite the continued decline in union membership and the non-union plants in the US South, this industry and the jobs dependent on it is crucial to US capitalism.When we consider that the steelworkers are also in dispute and earlier this year they had a strike at refineries that was designed not to disrupt profits, shutting down only nine out of 65 plants.

It also means the auto-workers and their organization must be a passive, willing partner in profit taking and why the leadership is courted the way it is.  The ranks must be kept down and any movement form below that threatens this relationship must be crushed.  We all want a peaceful existence and more often than not, like electricity will seek the line of least resistance but an open and militant struggle against the leadership in the UAW and all unions cannot be by-passed.  The market friendly union hierarchy is not all powerful. It is the absence of a serious militant rank and file opposition that gives this appearance. They are like rotten apples on a tree, seemingly safe until a strong wind comes along. That strong wind has been a long time coming in the US labor movement but come it must and come it will.

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