Wednesday, November 28, 2018

UAW Leadership Passive in the Face of Massive Layoffs

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

President Trump believes he can command markets like King Canute thought he could the tides. But General Motors has again exposed the inability of any politician to arrest the changes in technology and consumer tastes roiling the auto industry. 

The quote above is the WSJ editorial board’s response to the US Predator in Chief, Donald Trump’s tweet after GM’s management announced that it will close plants and layoff workers. We’re “Very disappointed with General Motors and their CEO, Mary Barra….We are now looking at cutting all @GM subsidies, including for electric cars.”, Trump wrote.. The subsidy in question is the $7500 income tax credit that GM and Tesla receive making electric cars more affordable. That subsidy has already expired for Tesla and is about to expire at GM in the coming months. It’s just Trump spouting off again.

Trump’s phony disappointment and threats are not taken seriously by the GM management or its investors who, “….cheered by bidding up GM’s stock.”  Like the GM CEO, Trump understands market reality and they know it. Trump’s comments are part of his strategy to convince his supporters and anyone else that will fall for it, that he is the renegade they are looking for and is above markets and supports jobs. He is well aware that a company in a capitalist economy cannot function in this way.  As for bringing jobs back onshore, the Wall Street Journal editorial points out today, “GM has little choice but to make cars in China. All the more so after Beijing raised tariffs on U.S.-made cars to 40% from 15% in retaliation for Mr. Trump’s tariffs.”  GM claims the tariffs could increase costs by as much as $700 million this year.

This is a lesson that should remind us that both free trade and protectionism are capitalist solutions to capitalist (so-called free market) crisis and neither benefit workers domestically or internationally. And it’s important to recall that, thanks to the United Auto Workers (UAW) top leadership and their friendly relationship with the auto-bosses, the last two contracts that they recommended contained provisions that made it much easier for GM to lay workers off. Why wouldn’t the bosses take advantage of that? Trump has also been good to the auto industry by relaxing fuel economy standards helping GM’s third quarter profit jump 37%.

This reminds me that the taxpayer bailed the auto bosses out and dragged capitalism from the abyss back in 2008. They actually “nationalized” industries only they didn’t feel comfortable with the other “N” word preferring the safer “conservatorship” instead.  No problem with “big” government then, but the capitalist class had to do it. And we should not forget they also “nationalized” made the US taxpayer pay the debt of, the S&L industry back in the 1980’s and 90’s.

GM is also preparing for next years contract talks. That’s what this decision is related to as well, a Shock and Awe prelude. It is economic terrorism.

“I’m crushed and I’m foreseeing a bunch of hardship in the next couple of weeks with the rest of my co-workers” says a worker at the Lordstown plant whose father worked in it for 46 years. Plant closure Dims Hopes inn Ohio Town

“An economy doesn’t run on nostalgia”
The Wall Street Journal is right in stating the above; it’s the naked truth that we find when we read their serious jourrnals. Markets are ruthless. And as far as human needs are concerned capitalism and markets are inefficient; it cannot be regulated in to decency. “We’re right-sizing our capacity for the realities of the marketplace and the transformation that’s occurring,” says GM CEO Mary Barra. The continued decline in the living standards of US workers. The increased hardship, the pricing out of reach education, health care, and housing is all a result of the market and the rapacious quest for profits that drives the system to assault humanity and the earth. The competition for profits is what drives the system to war, and unless it is stopped, eventual nuclear war.  The US wants to spend another $1.2 trillion on nuclear upgrades-----we are going backwards. And while they would rather not venture there, they don’t make all these nuclear weapons never to use them and if they do it will end life as we know it if climate catastrophe doesn’t get us first.

The plant closings and social disruption and misery that will accompany it is not Russia’s doing or the work of Iranian Mullah’s or Jihadists we are supposed to fear so much. This is good old-fashioned apple pie US capitalism. It is inconceivable that there will not be a recession or even a deep slump before the end of 2019. GM’s and the auto industry’s capacity utilization* at 82% has been declining since its 2015. Production had already been cut by one third at Lordstown and one half at the Oshawa Ontario plant, capitalist’s don’t set production in motion for egalitarian reasons. “It’s highly likely we’re going to see more cuts,” said Jeff Schuster, an analyst at LMC Automotive.

The UAW and the Crisis of Leadership
We are deep in to a long depression as the Marxist economist Michael Roberts describes the weak upswing following the 2008 crash. And as capacity utilization declines further, homes will be lost, and so will jobs.  With these layoffs it is not just auto but all the industries connected to it that will be affected,

The UAW leadership has bent over backwards to accommodate the auto industry investors helping to render a harmless shell an industrial union that was one the entry in to the middle class for hundreds of thousands of US workers. Workers braved the police, Pinkerton thugs, tear gas and violence occupying their workplaces to form a union and free themselves from the terror and violence that GM inflicted on them and their families. The great 44-day Flint occupation in 1936-37 was part of that process and here we are today where this historic working class community cannot get decent water in the richest economy on earth.  Working Class History: Sit Downs, Ready to Die in a Flint Factory.

To date, the UAW leadership has stated in general terms they will “challenge” the GM decision but it’s the same old pathetic story.  There is nothing that inspires on the UAW website:

“This should be a tipping point for all of us. It’s time to tell General Motors they need to build product where they sell product.” , UAW VP Terry Dittes writes to his members and adds threateningly, “We need to tell them, we need to tell them clearly that we want our products made here because this is where you sell them. And we call on GM today just as they called on all of us over a decade ago." Message from VP Terry Dittes

What nonsense this UAW official’s comments are. It is no wonder we are in such a disastrous state. Is he telling us that GM doesn’t export anything? GM has sells and has exported cars all over the world as Ford has for decades. So it appears they took this VP’s advice and shifted plant abroad to build product where they sell product. Just ponder over this statement from a top UAW official for a while to get a sense oh how stupid it is.

If that doesn’t work, the UAW leadership has the heavy artillery waiting in the wings. I will quote this in full so the reader understands fully the intent of the UAW leadership to pull out all the stops to save the workers jobs and communities. This is also a message to GM on the UAW website from Michigan Congressman Daniel Kildee:

The American people and the federal government have supported General Motors through difficult times and the industry should have the back of American workers. In a time of huge corporate tax cuts and back-to-back years of record operating profits, General Motors should be investing in American workers, not shipping jobs overseas. Auto workers made sacrifices during the Great Recession and it is wrong to lay off thousands of American manufacturing jobs now.

I ask that General Motors reconsider its plan to close these plants and lay off thousands of American workers. America has the best workers in the world.

If US workers are the best in the world why have the Democrats participated in slashing wages and benefits and why have the heads of organized labor cooperated with it. This pathetic response from a trade union leader and his capitalist politician ally is what we have been hearing for years and its why labor’s rank and file are demoralized, have lost hope, can’t be bothered going to union meetings, and believe we cannot win. It is also a reason for the rise of Trump and why many union members in Michigan voted for him. Desperate people more often than not will make wrong decisions.

A Message to Organized Labor’s Rank and File
The response from the UAW leadership is nothing new. The power that can force GM’s hand is the UAW rank and file membership. There is no alternative but to fight to change the present leadership of the UAW and organized labor as a whole. The hardest fight of all is the internal struggle against our own leadership and to replace them but it cannot be avoided. This scenario with GM and the pathetic stance of the UAW leadership is nothing new and occurs throughout organized labor as the labor hierarchy bends over backwards to appease the bosses and their representatives in the Democratic Party.

Like the entire leadership of organized labor, the UAW bureaucracy sees no alternative to capitalism and the market so cannot in anyway see mobilizing the power of labor in the UAW and the AFL-CIO as an option.  The power that exists in the factories and workplaces of the US is frightening to them, it must be contained, rendered passive as a conscious, active membership threatens their view of the world of labor peace and their comfortable positions and perks. Unable to appeal to the power of their own members as well as workers in the community and throughout the state, the trade union leadership looks elsewhere for help. Local UAW officials in Lordstown started a campaign called Drive it Home that is a collaboration between the UAW leadership, both political parties (Republican and Democrats) and the goal is to, get this, persuade GM invest in the city. It’s a bit like a children’s story were the results of such tragic failure not so dire.

The Example of the Teachers/Educators Strikes
We are not weak, we have a leadership problem. We cannot win with the present leadership and their policies. The call for buying American is flawed as it is not simply offshoring that has cost jobs but innovation and new technology and such a stance ties us to the bosses and pits workers in different countries against one another and we can’t win without international unity and action.

The teachers and educators struggles were rank and file led and generated. They bypassed their established leadership and along with that struck in states where strikes were illegal. They included any worker in education that wanted to join. They had major victories. The UAW and the trade union movement were built along similar lines by direct action, occupations and violating the bosses’ laws.  Things will not change without a revolt from below and that’s what will move GM and the bosses and topple the present collaborators at the top.

The Wall Street Journal is right, Trump can’t move markets, but workers’ power can. It can force concessions on them but that is not enough. Workers have to own and control major industries that are a necessity of life for society. We must broaden our horizons. No contract dispute should be limited to a local’s membership but our communities, non-union and workers internationally have to be brought together. We are fighting global capitalism; the present leadership of organized labor is not fighting it at all, they are cooperating with it.

We have no other alternative but to fight.
Auto is an international industry and is heavily unionized. Linking with auto workers internationally is crucial and we can’t do that by helping or own bosses profits by driving their competitors from the market forcing them to lay off their workers and blaming us for it. International working class solidary cannot be built that way. Taking control of such an important industry as transportation we can develop new and efficient methods of transportation based on human needs and in an environmentally safe way.

As far as technological advances, the productive power of labor is incredible. But workers do not benefit from innovation and labor saving technology bosses do. We don’t own the technology, we don’t develop it although public money funds most research and development in industry is some way.  Technology in our hands is a means to increased leisure time and influence in the way work is conducted.  A 25-hour workweek is easily possible with the level of labor productivity today.

For the bosses, technology is simply a means to increase the power of capital over labor and increased exploitation and despair.

* A measure of how much production capacity a plant uses based on a 16-hour workday  

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