by Bill Onasch
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.
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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.
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