Takeaways from the GM strike

Oct. 2019 GM strike (Bryan Woolston:Reuters)By JIM FARRELL

GM is profitable. Despite the high cost of the strike—$2.86 billion for a 40-day strike—GM still reported a net profit for the 3rd quarter of 2019. GM projects a savings of $4.5 billion by permanently closing three plants and a parts depot. Mary Barra, GM’s chairman and chief executive, was paid $22.58 million in 2016—281 times that of the average GM worker.

The contract is bad news for temps and retirees. The two-tier nature of the workforce is still in place, creating potential divisions in the union. Temps, about 7 percent of the workforce, are not given a clear path to permanent or “seniority” status. Temps may work three years to gain seniority status, but any layoff of 30 days or more interrupts that accrual of time and they have to start from zero upon returning to work.

While seniority status workers get an $11,000 bonus for signing the contract, temps only get $4500. Workers still have an eight-year “progression” from the lowest pay rate to the highest rate of $32.32/hr. Newly-hired temps will get no pay raises. Temps still get no pension, 401K, retiree health care, or profit sharing. There are no pension increases for retirees and no COLA for workers.

The UAW bureaucracy is in crisis. The contract was ratified by a vote of 23,389 to 17,501—hardly an overwhelming endorsement by the ranks. In Spring Hill, Tenn., UAW bureaucrats called the cops on members protesting for a no vote outside of the union hall. The UAW bureaucracy has a track record of corruption, class collaboration through Labor-Management Cooperation schemes, outsourcing, concessions, and sellouts.

Ford workers, who are next in line for contract negotiations, can expect similar demands for concessions and givebacks. Three union organizing drives have failed in the South over the past five years. You can’t just blame anti-union employers and right-to-work laws for this. Workers are smart enough to see that the UAW has not fought for the members.

UAW officials face indictments and prison time for corruption. Former union president Dennis Williams took money from a strike and defense fund to build a lakeside vacation cabin. Other UAW tops took money for personal use from training funds. Fiat-Chrysler executives gave millions to UAW officials to influence contract negotiations. So far, nine union officials have been convicted on a variety of corruption charges.

Region 5 director Vance Pearson was recently indicted for embezzling union money, wire fraud, and money laundering. In August, union president Gary Jones’s home was raided by the FBI, who seized $30,000 in cash. It is, however, noteworthy that the government went after the UAW right before a contract fight.

Militancy, solidarity, and unity pay off. The red state teacher strikes last year and the GM strike show the potential for workers’ struggles. Support from the public and other unions showed that the spirit of class solidarity is alive. During the GM strike, Teamsters refused to cross UAW picket lines—just as they are refusing to cross lines during the Chicago teachers’ strike today. During the 40-day GM strike, community supporters turned out with money, solidarity, and food. Trade unionists from other unions walked picket lines side by side with UAW members.

This isn’t just about GM but the way capitalism has attacked the lives and working conditions of workers. Working people in the U.S. and around the world have faced cutbacks and austerity measures. Workers have been faced with a one-sided class war aimed at reducing our living standards and putting more wealth in the pockets of the 1 percent.

Under capitalism, life is more precarious and less secure. Workers deserve health care, the right to retire without fear, living wages, and safe workplaces. These sorts of gains can only be won through the independent struggles and unity of the working class.

Building a class-struggle leadership and class-struggle unions is a necessary step. We can’t afford to keep union leaders around who continually sell us out and run strikes half-heartedly. Striking to win at GM required the type of leadership that would bring Ford and Fiat-Chrysler workers out on strike as well. This means that corrupt union bureaucrats have to be replaced with a leadership that will fight in the interests of working people without sweetheart deals with the bosses. In short, we need a class-struggle union leadership. Such a leadership can’t be built overnight and will require years of hard work in the unions to achieve.

The alternative to plant closings is not protectionism and economic nationalism. Plant closings aren’t the fault of autoworkers in Mexico, Canada, Korea, or Japan. The world economy cannot sustain car production at the levels it does. Markets create crises of overproduction, and cars themselves are unsustainable products. Even electric cars are environmentally destructive because of the elements mined for battery production.

Conversion to a planned economy and the reconstruction of society along socialist lines is an urgent task. Facing the looming climate disaster will necessitate re-engineering factories to produce for a rapid conversion to sustainable energy and production to meet human needs. This means cutting the work week with no loss in pay, reorganizing work on a democratic basis, and guaranteeing jobs, education, health care, housing, and a secure retirement to all.

Photo: Brian Woolston / Reuters

 

 

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