With the announcement of record breaking losses ($38.7 billion for 2007), automaker GM is doing what any other self-respecting corporation does in the global economy — get rid of more jobs and find new sources of cheap labor. After unloading 30,000 plus jobs in 2006 with special attrition/buyout packages then, this time the newly negotiated union contract provides a new opportunity to slash wages. This is what an analyst said after passage of the recent agreement: “We suspect that GM will be back before too long with an agreement of an attrition program geared to induce current non-core workers to retire so they can be replaced with new tier two at about one third the costs.”(Credit Suisse auto analyst Chris Ceraso, in a note to investors back in October 2007).
The analyst was right. GM has rolled out massive attrition packages with hopes to unload thousands of workers and bring in new hires at $14 per hour (versus $28 per hour) a la Delphi. This same new worker will not receive a pension or retiree Healthcare (something we won in 1949). Using the carrot (beefy supplemental packages) and the stick (make life so miserable on the factory floor that you can’t wait to get out of there) is all part of doing business to ensure profitability.
Gregg Shotwell, a labor activist, describes the mood in his newsletter Live Bait and Ammo #103 since the contracts passed:
“Workers are stressed. Pressure is relentless. Management adds tasks to jobs already overloaded, speeds up the line, raises rates, runs rampant over work rules, violates seniority rights, disregards production standards, harasses, intimidates, and disciplines. When members call out the union and demand a grievance, more often than not, the rep says “They can do that. You’re lucky to have a job.”
The urgency with which GM is moving older workers out along with transferring retiree Health care into a risky trust fund (VEBA) has created a profound sense of insecurity, fear, and powerlessness among autoworkers. More and more, there is the realization that the middle class dream we once realized is slipping away and cannot be saved at the bargaining table.
In the meantime, Detroit’s Wayne County leads the nation in home mortgage foreclosures. In recent weeks, thousands of homeowners have attended workshops, hoping to stave off the disaster. Said one woman attending the event: “I don’t want to lose my house. I don’t want to live on the streets….I don’t want to live with six people in a two bedroom house with my mother.” Certainly, the lion’s share of the mortgage crisis in Michigan is tied directly and indirectly to the loss of jobs in the automobile industry. Yet, the labor movement seems to have forgotten the Unemployment Councils of the 30’s, who moved evicted families back into their homes.
Those union leaders who believe that the needs of capital must be met first before wages and benefits can be secured for the workers will continue to go to the bargaining table and come back empty handed. Some of us are waking up to the realities that we must take up these battles on our own and are joining such efforts as fighting for universal health care, moratoriums on foreclosures, abolition of two tier and more.
More on these efforts next time.