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Workers Vanguard No. 1164

1 November 2019

Labor Needs a Class-Struggle Leadership

UAW Holds Off GM Bosses, But Strikers Sold Short

After staying out solid for more than 40 days, United Auto Workers (UAW) members last week ratified a contract with General Motors by a margin of 57 to 43 percent. The four-year contract wasn’t a victory, but it wasn’t a defeat either. Many workers are embittered, believing, as one worker told us, “We could’ve won so much more.” But UAW members can walk back into their plants knowing that they held the line against the vicious auto giant. The strikers, through their organization and discipline, gave a taste of the unique social power of labor, bringing production to a halt and inflicting nearly $3 billion in losses on the company. But they were crippled by a union misleadership committed to abiding by the rules of the bosses and their state and politicians.

GM, which is sitting on some $35 billion in profits over the last three years, wanted to squeeze more out of the workers, including by saddling them with higher health care costs. The attacks on health care were beaten back; in fact, this was the first contract in many years where the UAW made no major givebacks.

Above all, strikers wanted to immediately bring in the temporary workers as full employees and to put an end to the two-tier system, which was introduced with the 2007 contract like “a cancer into the union,” as one striker put it. A popular slogan on the picket lines was: “Everyone Tier One!” While the contract cuts from eight to four years the time for Tier Two workers to reach Tier One, it leaves the second tier intact for new hires. Meanwhile, GM parts and warehouse workers remain grossly underpaid. As for temp workers, who together with lower-tier workers make up some 40 percent of the workforce—they are shafted.

While some temps will be brought in as regular employees, the new contract requires that temps work three continuous years to reach Tier Two (reduced to two years in 2021). As numerous workers pointed out, the “continuous” provision gives GM the option to lay off temp workers for 31 days or more, which would reset the clock and keep the hated category of “perma-temps.” Meanwhile, part-time temps got nothing. Several strikers told Workers Vanguard that the UAW should have fought to bring back the old system, in which workers were made full employees after 90 days of probation. By agreeing to GM’s demands to keep the temp system, the union leadership gave the bosses the nod to hire many thousands more as temps. While performing the same work as regular employees, these workers receive paltry benefits, virtually no job protection and make meager wages, now frozen at $16.67 per hour for new hires, slightly above the proposed $15 per hour national minimum wage.

The contract also codifies plant closures in Lordstown, Ohio; Warren, Michigan; and outside Baltimore, Maryland. Thousands will be unemployed or forced to move or commute hundreds of miles, and others now worry that they’ll be next. While GM has “promised” to keep open the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, the auto bosses always strive to shut down what is no longer profitable. The previous contract stipulated that Lordstown was to have a product line until 2023, but it was shuttered earlier this year. The bosses will seek to violate a contract when it suits their interests. For their part, the unions must never give up the right to strike. Down with the no-strike clause!

With the strike over, the UAW has now turned to negotiations with Ford. It is vital for workers in the auto industry and beyond to draw the lessons of the class battle with GM, the longest company-wide auto strike in the U.S. since the early 1970s. Doubtless, Ford and Fiat Chrysler workers have noticed that the only way the UAW was able to hold back the GM bosses was by striking. Still laboring under an extended contract, these workers themselves must prepare to mobilize in strike action.

There was no shortage of determination on the part of the striking GM workers. The fact that 43 percent voted “no” gives a measure of the workers’ resolve to continue the strike, even as the union tops threatened to abandon them by stopping GM negotiations if the “no” vote carried. Older white male strikers repeatedly told us they wanted to stay out in defense of the temp workers, many of whom are women, black and other minorities, recognizing that the division of the workforce into temps and lower tiers is corrosive to the union and its fighting capacity. This solidarity shows that class struggle can begin to break down the racial and other divisions promoted by the capitalists to keep the wage slaves divided.

At least 10 percent of the workforce didn’t vote at all, and many who voted in favor did so despite having strong objections to the contract, but they worried that they could not get anything better under the current union leadership. They had good reason to worry. GM’s handsome ratification bonus of $11,000 for full employees and $4,500 for temps had the quality of a bribe; as one striker put it, “When it’s so big, you know they want to screw us big.”

Those Who Labor Must Rule

If there is one lesson to be drawn from the GM strike, it is the need for a class-struggle leadership of labor, one based on the understanding that the capitalist bosses and the workers share no common interests. Such a leadership would have mobilized all workers at the Big Three in a common front against the automakers. Against the capitalists’ courts, injunctions and cops, it would have built mass picket lines, drawing in allies from working-class, black and Latino communities. A fighting union leadership would have given it organization and direction.

Instead, the workers are saddled with pro-capitalist union tops whose strategy is not hard class struggle, but pushes illusions in false “friends of labor” like Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party. Sanders and other capitalist politicians may express support for this or that strike, but they represent the capitalist order, which is based on profit derived through the exploitation of labor. Where this strategy gets you was revealed a decade ago when the UAW tops worked with their “friends” in the Obama administration to bail out the auto bosses by taking it out of the hides of the workers, who were forced into “sacrifices” from which the union has yet to recover. For his part, Sanders supported the bailout at the time.

In this GM strike, the UAW tops worked overtime to restrain the fighting spirit of the workers. They made a mockery of the old union principle of “no contract, no work” and “one out, all out,” including by keeping Ford and Fiat Chrysler workers on the job despite their contract expiring on the same day as GM. They kept the picket lines small and let GM move 70 days’ worth of inventory from the plants and storage lots to the dealerships. This left militant workers who tried to defend their picket lines vulnerable to arrest by the cops, the thugs of the capitalist state, which exists to defend the rule and profits of the bosses. Now, at least three Flint workers have been fired for alleged threats of “violence” during the strike. The union must fight for their immediate rehiring. No reprisals!

There is a lot of justified bitterness at the UAW leadership, currently led by Gary Jones. Amid the government’s ongoing corruption investigation of UAW officials, which has resulted in nearly a dozen arrests, several angry workers expressed an attitude of “lock ’em up” after learning the contract had passed. A couple told us that they might stop paying their dues. No! When the capitalist government intervenes into labor, it is not to clean up financial chicanery but to weaken the unions. UAW members should demand that the Feds get their hands off the union and should pay their dues. Labor must clean its own house!

The union tops’ real corruption is political. Their defeatist approach directly flows from their support to the capitalist system and its agencies and representatives. They see the bosses as the workers’ prospective partners. They blame job losses not on American capitalists but on foreign workers, all the while peddling the lie that U.S. capitalist profitability will somehow “trickle down” and benefit workers in the U.S.

The great black abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote, “If there is no struggle there is no progress,” adding, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” With workers having been ground down by a decades-long one-sided class war, there has been an uptick in strikes in the last two years, beginning with the 2018 West Virginia school strike. As GM workers geared up to walk out, UAW-organized janitors at GM plants went on strike, and the UAW also struck Mack Trucks this month (both have since returned to work); seven unions jointly shut down parts of the Asarco copper mines in Arizona and Texas; and teachers and school staff walked out in Chicago.

The labor movement needs a leadership forged in opposition to the pro-capitalist, pro-Democratic Party politics of the UAW and other union misleaders. The struggle for a union leadership worthy of the name cannot be separated from the need to build a workers party that fights for a workers government. Such a party would not be a reformist organization like the British Labour Party or other European social-democratic parties, which merely seek to administer and reform the capitalist system. Rather, its aim would be to further the class struggle, to mobilize workers in the U.S. in solidarity with their class brothers and sisters abroad, to champion the fight for black rights, women’s equality and for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. The purpose of such a party is not just to get a bigger piece of the pie, but the whole damn pie—a socialist revolution that expropriates the capitalist class and establishes a society where those who labor rule, where production is not for the profit of the tiny class of capitalist parasites but to serve the needs of all.

Only this perspective can provide an answer to the hemorrhaging of jobs. Capitalists will always look to minimize labor costs, including through the use of technology and by moving production to where labor is cheapest. The “answer” of the UAW and other union tops is to promote chauvinist protectionism—a program supported particularly by the Democrats—by calling to shut down plants in Mexico and to move that production to the U.S. This pits U.S. workers against their class brothers and sisters in other countries, playing right into the hands of the employers. The union tops have promoted protectionist poison for decades. The result? The decimation of the union movement and the proliferation of non-union jobs throughout the U.S.

Toyota, Volkswagen and other foreign-owned corporations have opened plants in this country, especially in the South. These non-union plants are flooded with temps, a preview of the Big Three’s vision for their own plants. On top of that, tens of thousands of workers toil in non-union parts plants and warehouses throughout the U.S. What is long overdue is a concerted struggle by the UAW to organize these workers. This requires a concerted fight against the bosses’ divide-and-rule strategy. Above all, it is necessary to combat black oppression, which has long been wielded by the capitalist rulers to weaken labor as a whole and obscure the class line between capitalist and worker.

The growing disappearance of decent-paying union jobs and the growth of perma-temp and low-paying work has hit black people hardest. The poverty rate in Detroit, which is nearly 80 percent black, is 35 percent, three times the national average, and for children it stands at more than 50 percent. At one time the capital of the UAW and a center of working-class black America, areas of Detroit resemble New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—both disasters the products of racist America’s capitalist order.

Capitalism is anarchic and irrational, as exemplified by the boom-bust cycle that leaves workers at the mercy of the market. To stem the devastation of America’s working people, it is essential to fight for good, quality jobs: this means calling for an end to layoffs by shortening the workweek at no loss in pay and a sliding scale of wages to keep up with the cost of living. By necessity, the struggle for such demands raises the question: which class shall rule? It is out of the inevitable class battles that capitalist contradictions produce and through the intervention of Marxists into these and other struggles that a revolutionary multiracial workers party can be built, one committed to a society with a new ruling class—the workers.


Workers Vanguard No. 1164

WV 1164

1 November 2019


Labor Needs a Class-Struggle Leadership

UAW Holds Off GM Bosses, But Strikers Sold Short


Free All Imprisoned Catalan Independentistes Now!

Independence for Catalonia! For a Workers Republic!


Down With Democrats’ War on Public Education!

Chicago Teachers: Fight to Win!

For a Workers Party!


U.S. Out of the Near East!

Syria: No to YPG Alliance with U.S. Imperialism, Enemy of Kurdish National Liberation!


Hong Kong Is Part of China



Letters Policy


Break the Chains of Capitalist Exploitation!

(Quote of the Week)


70th Anniversary of Chinese Revolution

Defend China! Down With Reactionary Hong Kong Protests!

For Workers Political Revolution!

Part Two