Week In Review October 25

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Oct 252015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

‘Partners’ Win Second Try
The first Tentative Agreement between the UAW leadership and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was shot down by the ranks–by a 2-1 margin. It was the first defeat of a Big Three national TA in a generation. But while this venting of disappointment was widespread it was not very organized or focused. Though an indicated first step, rejection alone is not a solution. An alternative program needs to be advanced.

Former dissidents, such as those in New Directions and the Auto Caravan, who once had influence in some Big Three Locals could have played a role in shaping a policy attractive to the naysayers. But those oppositionists are now mostly retired—some migrating to sunnier new locations. The fragmented rejectionist majority could not pull together a viable alternative on the fly through social media.

At least months of advance preparation on the shop floor around clear objectives is required. That is the perspective encouraged by the leadership of more adversarial unions like the Chicago Teachers Union and National Nurses United. But in the top-down structure of the UAW such initiatives have to come from below.

In this absence of a unified opposition, the Administration Caucus bureaucracy that has ruled the UAW without interruption since the days of Walter Reuther was able to recover from a stinging defeat. After retaining—at members expense—a prominent public relations firm they were able to work with their company “partners” to quickly craft a new deal. It was a grab bag of putative additional raises for some, spread out over eight years, offset by new immediate concessions to management. Little, if any, new money was on the table.

Not seeing credible options, the package was accepted as the best that can be done. The swing in the second vote was as dramatic as the previous thumbs-down. Seventy-seven percent of production workers, 72 percent of skilled trades, and 87 percent of salaried workers voted in favor of the second TA.

Now UAW officials turn to General Motors–who just reported record Third Quarter profits. Larry, my Detroit Chrysler retiree friend who has become our honorary Big Three correspondent, sent along an article from Automotive News that opens,

“The UAW’s new contract with Fiat Chrysler will set the pattern for how first General Motors and then Ford Motor Co. fix the divisive two-tier wage system at their factories, said sources familiar with the negotiations. The UAW has no plans to resuscitate Tier 2 hiring caps at GM or Ford, aiming instead for the approach taken at FCA US that guarantees lower-paid Tier 2 workers an eight-year ladder of predetermined annual raises until they reach full wages of $30 an hour, the sources said.”

A few weeks ago, 7,000 UAW workers at Ford’s Claycomo plant in suburban Kansas City came within a few hours of going on strike–nominally over stalled negotiations about local conditions, but likely also a warning shot across the bow in coming national bargaining. The plant is a principal source of the new F-150 pickup which has been the company’s most profitable product. The local agreement was satisfactorily concluded JIT–just in time.

This reminded me of a bigger unexpected rebellion of Ford workers six years ago. Unlike the other two Detroit companies Ford did not go the bankruptcy route. That meant they didn’t get all the advantages of the draconian take-backs imposed on GM and Chrysler workers by the Obama White House. Ford and the then UAW president Ron Gettelfinger, agreed that was unfair and submitted an urgent contract reopener with give-backs to keep Ford competitive in the spirit of pattern bargaining. They thought it would be a piece of pie.

But alas for the “partners,” the ranks rejected it big time. Claycomo’s 92 percent No was edged out by negative 93 at Dearborn Truck. Even Gettelfinger’s home local in Louisville—where he had made a personal appeal—mustered 86 percent for rejection.

I’m not predicting a similar revolt now at Ford or GM. But another Larry, better known by his nickname Yogi, once offered the unassailable wisdom, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”

Theocratic State Attacks Women’s Health and Privacy
No, I’m not talking about ISIL or Saudi Arabia. The reference is to Christian, not Islamic extremists. The state they control is Texas. They utilize state power in a holy crusade against what they preach is mortal sin—birth control. Considering themselves righteous, they don’t shrink from engaging in criminal conspiracies and violations of the US Constitution. Their kindred souls in Kansas have resorted to bombings of clinics and murder of a doctor inside a church they don’t respect.

Citing video doctored by well financed crooks who fraudulently set up a dummy corporation just to gain camera access to Planned Parenthood officials, Texas inquisitors have not only moved to cut off Medicaid funding to the group providing a wide range of health services for low income women; they are also ordering the clinics to surrender confidential patient medical records–including their names, addresses, phone numbers, and Social Security numbers.

The Texas Inquisition knows full well Planned Parenthood has broken no secular laws and maintains the highest standards of outpatient medicine. Several states have investigated the bogus claims of the video fraudsters and dismissed them. The Texas attacks are calculated to harass and intimidate those doing what is–in their fiery eyes–the work of the Devil.

The dedicated staff and volunteers of Planned Parenthood will stand their ground. But many poor women will now be reluctant to use what is often the only affordable health care available in their area. I don’t know much about sins but in my book what the state of Texas is doing is a despicable crime that should be exposed, denounced and fought by every decent person of any or no faith.

Disastrous Loss In Canada
I’m not gloating about the victory of the Kansas City Royals over the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series. The two best teams were well matched and provided exciting baseball. I have nothing but admiration for manager John Gibbons and his talented players.

But the parliamentary elections held last Monday north of the border are a different kettle of fish. In the 2011 elections the NDP—Canada’s version of a labor party—under the leadership of the late Jack Layton won a stunning second place finish to become the Official Opposition in the House of Commons. The boss Liberals—roughly equivalent to US Democrats–were reduced to a minor third party. Polls at the beginning of the 11 week election campaign this year showed the NDP—now led by Tom Mulcair—leading the pack.

But the front runner ran a lackluster campaign that led the Socialist Caucus in his party to advance the slogan Vote NDP With No Illusions. The Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, son of a popular Francophone former Prime Minister, pledged big government spending programs to stop Canada’s slide in to recession–while Mulcair promised balanced budgets. Trudeau also skillfully tapped antiwar sentiment by declaring he would withdraw from joint participation with the US in the war against ISIL. When the votes were counted, the Liberals won a gain of 150 seats giving them a majority to govern alone. The once favored NDP lost 59 seats plunging them back to third place.

There are, of course, many similarities between this disastrous loss and the debacle suffered by the British Labor Party in elections in that country last Spring. The British defeat sounded Taps for the funeral of Tony Blair’s right-wing “New Labor.” The British party is beginning to return to its working class roots under emerging socialist and trade union leadership. It’s too early to tell how the ranks and supporting unions will react in the NDP.

That’s all for this week.
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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Week In Review October 17

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Oct 172015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Decision Soon
This Tuesday, the day after Canadians elect a new Parliament, UAW members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will begin voting on a new, “improved” second Tentative Agreement. The outcomes of both contests are far from certain.

This Chrysler vote will now be handled differently. Locals voted on the first TA over a span of several days and unofficial tallies were immediately circulated through the Internet. Early strong opposition undoubtedly encouraged many who had been resigned to a done deal to vote No. This time, perhaps at the suggestion of the public relations firm hired by the union to try to get it right for them on the second try, voting will be compressed in to two days and results will not be made available til Thursday afternoon at earliest, maybe as late as Friday.

Now that workers and journalists have had a chance to thoroughly read the 400+ pages of the latest deal–and found some surprises–the PR lads and lasses have to hustle to earn their keep.

When I did a brief stint at a Chrysler plant in suburban St Louis in 1968 there was a sizable pool of “extra workers,” familiar with nearly all tasks in a department, who covered absences as well as relieving individual assemblers during our four breaks. The line never stopped except at lunch and quitting time. Of course, a lot of things have changed since back in the day. That plant is closed, Plymouth is deceased, and I’m pretty sure the spot-welding job in the Body Shop that I did for a few months is now performed at other sites by robots.

Full-time adequate staffing has also been eroded since the introduction of Temp workers to cover peaks of short-term absences and individual vacation days on Mondays, Fridays, Weekends. The Temps currently start at 17 dollars an hour and can earn up to 22. They have truncated health benefits, pay union dues and are first in line for regular entry level openings.

Once given an inch, the bosses always try to take a kilometer. Not included in the highlight summary of the TA provided to the ranks is a substantial new concession to the company—allowing management to use Temps everyday, with the potential of increasing Temp share of all work hours from four to eight percent. This would get Chrysler close to nonunion Toyota.

After the rejection of the first TA both union and management warned there wasn’t any more money available for improvements. Clearly union bargainers granted Chrysler the ability to double Temp usage to help offset the cost of ballyhooed raises for Tier 2 workers.

But that’s not all they gave away. Under the latest TA, new Temp workers would start at less than 16 and top out at 19.28 an hour. (The national average wage of private sector production workers is currently 21.08.) They also lose profit sharing that they would have received in the rejected first TA. And the doubling of Temp share of work means these workers will have a longer wait for regular Tier 2 openings. There is similar chiseling on wage rates for some MOPAR and Axle workers. These give-backs pay Fiat Chrysler today for promised gains for some workers eight years down the road.

Traditionally the agreement at the targeted Big Three company sets the pattern for the other two. This time many were surprised that Chrysler was picked rather than General Motors or Ford—each much bigger with deeper pockets. Defying logic as well as past practice, UAW president Dennis Williams has said he expects richer settlements from these two. But it’s hard to imagine the Detroit rivals of Chrysler not also demanding offsets robbing some Peter to pay another Paul–to keep them “competitive.”

Commenting on the union official’s motives, Art Wheaton, described as a labor expert at Cornell University’s Worker Institute, told the Detroit News,

“They had to do whatever they could do for the current workforce to get it ratified. If they reject it the second time, I have no idea what they’re going to do because then the bargaining committee has zero credibility.”

Despite confusing pronouns, there is a grain of truth to this expert pronouncement–but Dennis Williams deserves no sympathy card for his tough choices. His salary and pension are secure no matter what. It is his continuation of “partnership” with the boss that forces the ranks of the union to make still tougher choices yet—and live with the consequences. It is a fresh reenactment of the parable of lions being led by asses.

A key historical turning point in the movement that led to the launching of the CIO United Auto Workers was the 1934 Toledo Auto-Lite strike. It took place at a time of mass unemployment—some seventy percent in Toledo. Class lines were quickly and indelibly drawn and the whole city chose sides. Instead of scabbing, most jobless workers followed the lead of the socialist-led Lucas County Unemployed League and thousands stood with the union in defiance of court injunctions and even a mobilization of the National Guard. Two strikers were killed, dozens injured, many arrested before victory was achieved.

The Toledo unemployed made such sacrifices because they saw the union as a broader social movement that benefited the working class as a whole. The Toledo example was a precursor to the later solidarity generated by the Flint sit-downs and other battles that transformed the auto industry from low wage sweatshops to what became the once most rewarding jobs in manufacturing.

As we again see revealed in the current Chrysler bargaining, the polar opposite class collaborationist perspective of the ruling Administration Caucus has instead undermined the most basic solidarity even within the ranks of the UAW. They betray not only the union’s proud heritage but also present dues-payers. Whether their personal intentions are good or bad they have paved the road to at least industrial purgatory.

It will take more than prayers of others to escape to a better destination. It begins with the UAW ranks asserting democratic control of their union. And in all industries, it will require the broader working class majority reclaiming our stolen class identity and reviving class struggle strategy and tactics on the job, in the community—and in the political arena.

Will Chrysler workers deliver a vote of no confidence in their bargaining team by rejecting the second try? Or will they conclude they are not presently in a position to force their officials to start fresh and carry out an effective fight for a decent, no give-back contract? We’ll know the difficult decision of the lions next week.

And in the Long Run
I closed out the last WIR, “Today auto workers are properly focused on wages, benefits, and working conditions for the next four years. But it’s also high time to start seriously addressing the challenges facing an industry based on consumption of fossil fuel that is changing our climate and threatening the future of civilization. I’ll soon return to the topic of how auto fits in to the fight for both class and climate justice.”

I wasn’t planning to comment again so soon—and I won’t say much now. But I want to call your attention to three important articles from this past week that deserve study—and hopefully action.

First is a perceptive article by Lars Henriksson, a Swedish auto unionist, Can Autoworkers Save the Climate?. Sweden is a small country that makes a lot of quality cars and trucks and the industry is just as important, perhaps more so, there than in North America. It has in fact at times had American owners and is dependent on substantial sales in the US and Canadian markets. The Great Recession here generated similar mainstream political divisions in both countries—Romney’s let the market decide if a domestic industry should die versus the Obama position of government imposed restructuring to return it to slimmed down health. Henriksson chooses “none of the above,” instead advocating total conversion of the present auto industry to projects addressing the climate crisis.

Second is an important article in Common Dreams about a collaborative effort between the Labor Network for Sustainability and 350.org, Renewables Can Create Jobs and Heal the Planet: Report.

Finally, is the PDF version of the full sixteen page report mentioned above.

Reading this material can provide a good starting point for future discussions about Class & Climate Justice.

Less Carbohydrates, More Hydrocarbons
A lot of news stories reporting that Social Security recipients will not get an annual raise in 2016 said it was only the third freeze in forty years. That’s true enough. But in fact it’s the third time in six years—all on President Obama’s watch—that the Golden Agers have been left behind.

The chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers thinks this is a good thing because it indicates a “sharp decline in energy prices that is putting more money in families’ pockets.” The next time my stomach starts growling around lunch time maybe I’ll just go for a nice long drive.

In full disclosure, I admit I am one of the sixty-million “takers” on Social Security. Since I used a modest lump sum pension payment from the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to pay off all my debts, like about half of retirees my sole source of regular income is my monthly allotment from SS. If my much younger, hard working, self-employed spouse was not still earning a decent income we’d be sharing poverty.

For now, I avoid a hefty projected increase in Medicare Part B premiums that the 30 percent of Medicare covered retirees who have public sector pensions in lieu of Social Security must pay as things presently stand. Current law only prohibits Part B increases for those who have their premiums deducted from SS payments if that would mean a reduction in benefits.

It could get worse. The Republican majority in Congress is demanding further cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as a price for again authorizing a raise in the Federal debt ceiling. In the past, the President—now a Lame Duck–has proposed a bipartisan Grand Bargain as political cover for such reductions. You never know—maybe this time the GOP will take yes for an answer.

That’s all for this week.
Subscription options for the WIR include:
RSS Google Groups Yahoo Groups

You can follow Bill Onasch on Google+

Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member