Workers Vanguard No. 926
5 December 2008
Union Tops Bare Unions Throat--Democrats, Republicans Wield Knife
Bosses Declare War on UAW Workers
We Need a Planned Socialist Economy!
The car has long been the symbol of the “good life” in America. The Big Three auto producers—General Motors, Ford and Chrysler—have been pillars of American capitalism. In the 1950s, the president of GM was quoted as saying, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” GM is still the second largest auto producer on the face of the planet. But today it has become the symbol of the decimation of manufacturing industry in the U.S., driven into ruin by the greedy and incompetent capitalist rulers’ drive for profit. With the global economy tanking and car sales plummeting, the Big Three auto bosses went to Congress last month begging for another $25 billion bailout. At their side was Ron Gettelfinger, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW).
The UAW, forged in the heroic 1936-37 Flint sit-down strike that was central to the class battles that built industrial unions in this country, was once the symbol of union power in the U.S. Now it symbolizes the devastation of the unions that has been wrought by the class-collaborationist policies of the trade-union bureaucracy, based on the lie of a “partnership” of labor with its capitalist class exploiters and their parties, particularly the phony “friend of labor” Democrats.
In his testimony before Congress, Gettelfinger bragged that the 2007 UAW contract “slashed wages for new hires by 50% [down to $14 per hour!]. Furthermore, new hires will not be covered by the traditional retiree health care and defined benefit pension plans.” The 2007 contract gave up nearly $10 billion in wages and benefits to the bosses—in addition to giving up $30 billion in retiree medical benefits. Forsaking his members for the sake of making “our companies competitive,” Gettelfinger boasted that “the gap in labor costs” between the Big Three and the non-union “foreign transplant operations will be largely or completely eliminated by the end of the contracts.” These are the bitter fruits of the labor tops’ poisonous “America First” protectionism: they rail against the “outsourcing” of jobs abroad while not lifting a finger to organize the mass of unorganized auto workers in “foreign transplant operations” largely in the American South.
An estimated three million jobs are tied to Big Three auto production, which directly involves coal, steel, rubber, rail and trucking. With the economy in a freefall, home foreclosures taking place at a rate not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s and 1.2 million jobs lost this year alone, many are pinning their hopes on the illusion that the coming to power of Democratic Party president Barack Obama will turn things around in favor of the working class. The trade-union tops poured a whopping $450 million into the 2008 elections, portraying Obama, as Gettelfinger did in an op-ed piece in the Detroit News online (9 July), as “ready to stand up and fight for our jobs.”
It is precisely such delusions, peddled by the venal sellouts that head the unions, that have sapped the fighting strength of organized labor by shackling it to the parties of the capitalist class enemy. Obama’s policies are and will be determined by the interests of the capitalist class that he was elected to serve, as Commander-in-Chief of U.S. capitalist imperialism. Obama himself made that clear immediately upon winning, declaring the need for “sacrifice” in the interests of “national unity”—i.e., the working class and oppressed are to pay in order to restore the profitability of American capitalism. Congressional Democratic Party leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid told the auto bosses and the UAW to come up with a “viable” plan to restructure the American auto industry as a condition for a bailout. In short, that means restoring profits through eliminating more jobs and ratcheting up the rate of exploitation.
No Bailout of the Auto Bosses!
As Marxists whose aim is to build the revolutionary party that can lead the working class in struggle to sweep away the capitalist system of wage slavery, we are opposed to the bailout of the auto bosses. A government bailout will be purchased through the further destruction of the jobs and livelihoods of working people.
For their part, all wings of the ruling class smell the blood of the UAW. Many bourgeois politicians, like former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, argue that the government should “let Detroit go bankrupt” as a more cost-effective means of gutting the union. Indeed, Chapter 11 bankruptcy has long been a union-busting tool, particularly in the airline industry, allowing the bosses to rip up their contracts with the unions. Others, who worry that bankruptcy would rapidly lead to the total collapse of the auto industry, particularly GM, argue for using the threat of bankruptcy as a sword of Damocles over the head of the UAW to wring out even greater concessions as a condition for a bailout.
An op-ed piece in the New York Times (16 November) by retired Army general and former NATO commander Wesley Clark, titled, “What’s Good for G.M. Is Good for the Army,” argued for a bailout package for the Big Three as a “national security imperative.” Clark is representative of that wing of the U.S. bourgeoisie which understands that to maintain and project its military power abroad, the U.S. needs, as he put it, “a strong industrial base.” In fact, the main armament for the well-known M-1 Abrams tank was designed in Germany.
A New York Times (1 December) article notes that as part of presenting a “viable” bailout, the auto companies “may ask to delay the billions of dollars they planned to contribute to a health care fund” for the workers. New York Times (22 November) business columnist Joe Nocera put it baldly: “It is critical for General Motors to be able to break its contracts with both its unions and its dealers. It needs to dramatically reduce its legacy benefits, perhaps even eliminating health care benefits for union retirees. It needs to close plants. It needs to pay its workers what Toyota workers are paid in the United States—and not a penny more.” For his part, Gettelfinger has already declared, “We’re prepared to go back to the bargaining table.”
As a positive example for his plan to gut the UAW, Nocera points to the 1979 bailout of Chrysler, where the UAW bureaucrats shoved concessions down the workers’ throats with the threat that if they did not swallow them they would lose their jobs. Chrysler stayed open, increasing its profitability, while tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs, and those who didn’t were relentlessly driven to increase productivity. For his services, UAW head Doug Fraser got a seat on Chrysler’s board of directors. Over some 25 years, GM, Ford and Chrysler have axed more than 700,000 jobs in the U.S., reducing UAW membership from 1.6 million to 500,000, of whom only 150,000 work for the Big Three.
In our article on the Chrysler bailout, “No Government Handout for Bosses! Whatever Chrysler’s Worth—Give It to the Workers!” (WV No. 238, 17 August 1979), we wrote:
“The only way workers can hope to salvage this situation of sunk companies is to seize them. Not piracy but mutiny. What then? Either Chrysler is broke or it isn’t. If it is broke then the workers ought to democratically elect a board to liquidate Chrysler. But not a cent to the Wall Street shareholders of Chrysler! Let the stocks, bonds and bank debts go down the tubes. All the money from the sale of assets should go to the Chrysler workforce including the foreign workers.”
As we argued, this proposal would have provided more to the workforce than any government bailout scheme and represented a radical attack on capitalist property rights, pointing to the need for a revolutionary struggle for a workers government to expropriate the capitalist exploiters and direct the wealth of this country toward satisfying the needs of those whose labor produces it, not the profits of a few.
Today, it is not a single company that is facing bankruptcy. The current crisis in auto is part of a global financial meltdown. Auto sales in the U.S. have plummeted from 16 million last year to an annualized rate of 10.2 million cars. Across the globe, German, Japanese and other carmakers are scaling back. An article in Spiegel online (25 November) was headlined, “German Auto Industry Facing the Abyss.” Layoffs and plant closings are threatened in France, Germany and Britain. Workers in Third World countries like Mexico, with a significant auto industry comprised of U.S. and other foreign-owned factories, will be hit especially hard.
In this context, we do not propose a workers’ auction of the auto industry, which would be tantamount to calling to auction off the entire domestic capitalist economy. The current burgeoning economic meltdown highlights the destructive irrationality that is inherent to the capitalist system. To solve this problem, what is desperately necessary is to arm the working class with a program of class struggle against the industrial magnates and financiers who have looted the economy, a program directed to the understanding that the workers’ interests lie in the destruction of this decaying system and its replacement with a rationally planned, socialist economy on an international scale.
A “Workers’ Bailout”?
In an article titled “A Bailout for the Auto Industry?” (Socialist Worker online, 10 November), the International Socialist Organization (ISO) opines: “The issue is—or should become—what kind of auto industry bailout will take place.... Call the intervention what it is—nationalization. Throw out the management and use their compensation for investment—and put workers’ committees in control of production.” As a measure of its touching faith in the beneficence of the capitalist state, the ISO feigns “outrage” that “the government should finance Corporate America’s elimination of any more jobs” and proposes that “the Obama government should insist on a moratorium on layoffs and guarantees of job security.” Such reformist pipe dreams are a repudiation of the most elementary Marxist understanding that the capitalist state—its cops, courts, military and chief executive—exists to defend capitalist rule and profit against the working class, furthering its exploitation and violently repressing its struggles, not to provide for the workers’ well-being.
For its part, Workers World Party demands: “It’s past time for the UAW to call for workers’ control. If there is to be a bailout, let it be for us, the workers.” In the absence of the working class mobilized in a revolutionary battle against capitalist class rule, the call for “workers control”—which is dual power at the point of production during a revolutionary crisis—simply amounts to the workers “managing” their own continued exploitation under the continuing rule of the anarchic and irrational capitalist marketplace. Moreover, the idea that the sellouts who head the UAW, who have sacrificed their members on the altar of maintaining the competitive edge and profitability of American capitalism, are going to call for “workers control” is about as likely as pigs flying.
The Transitional Program, written in 1938 during the Great Depression by Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, addressed questions that are vital to the proletariat today. Trotsky put forward a series of demands addressed to the economic catastrophe facing the working class and “unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.” In the face of mass unemployment, Trotsky called for a shorter workweek at no loss in pay to spread the available work, for a massive program of public works and for wages to rise with prices to guard against the ravages of inflation. To unmask the exploitation, robbery and fraud of the capitalist owners and the swindles of the banks, he argued that the workers should demand that the capitalists open their books “to reveal to all members of society that unconscionable squandering of human labor which is the result of capitalist anarchy and the naked pursuit of profits.” Raising the call for the expropriation of branches of industry vital for national existence, or the most parasitic of the capitalist rulers, Trotsky underlined that such a demand must necessarily be linked to the fight for the seizure of power by the working class, as against the Stalinist and social-democratic misleaders for whom the call for nationalization was merely a prescription for bailing out capitalist enterprises.
In opposition to the capitalists and their reformist agents, Trotsky argued:
“If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. ‘Realizability’ or ‘unrealizability’ is in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle. By means of this struggle, no matter what its immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.”
No to Chauvinist Protectionism! Organize the Unorganized!
There is no simple trade-union solution to the situation that currently confronts the UAW—the crisis underlines the bankruptcy of capitalism. But there are demands that can and should be fought for to preserve and strengthen the fighting capacity of the working class and its allies. An elementary one is the fight to organize the rest of the auto industry in this country. Beginning in the 1980s, many plants, including those owned by foreign capitalists, were set up in the “open shop” South, where historically racist Klan terror has served as an auxiliary to the forces of the state to keep unions out. Any fight to organize the “right to work” South thus poses the centrality of the fight for black rights for labor’s cause. This question is all the more important for the UAW. Over 20 years ago, one in four black workers was a union member, concentrated in industrial unions like auto. As the “last hired, first fired,” these workers caught the brunt of the mass layoffs in auto which reduced labor/black Detroit, once known as the Motor City, to a dying urban wasteland.
The deindustrialization of America, beginning some three decades ago, has hit the black population disproportionately hard. Official unemployment for blacks is 11.4 percent, but according to some economists the actual jobless rate for all black people of working age is an astounding 42 percent. In some black and Latino neighborhoods in the Detroit metropolitan area, one out of every 20 households has been or is in the process of being foreclosed. As an article in the South African Johannesburg Sunday Times (26 October) put it, “Motown is now surely home to the world’s most skilled army of homeless people.” At the same time, black workers are at the core of many unions in this country and thus can potentially provide a living link to, and a class-struggle outlet for, the anger of the dispossessed in the inner cities.
Similarly, immigrant workers, large numbers of whom now labor in the South, provide a vital bridge to the working class in Mexico and other Third World countries, many of whom currently toil in the factories of American auto bosses that have been shipped “offshore.” In the face of the current economic crisis, immigrant workers in the U.S. are particularly vulnerable, as the immigration raids on plants in the South and elsewhere have driven home with a cold and calculating cruelty. Already, there have been massive layoffs in the heavily immigrant construction industry. In the fight to bring these workers into the unions, labor must demand: No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
While the auto bosses, the government and their media mouthpieces call for axing the health care and pension benefits of auto workers in order to salvage the profitability of the Big Three, the labor movement would find many allies if it were to take up the fight for socialized medicine—the expropriation of the parasitic health care and drug companies, who are an immediate threat to the well-being of just about everyone in this country. A fight to demand that the government extend unemployment benefits and guarantee the pensions of all workers, not leaving them dependent on the underfunded Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, would also garner many allies.
But the fight for such demands directly poses the question of the need for a political fight to oust the present sellout union tops and replace them with a class-struggle leadership. These “labor lieutenants of the capitalist class” see the world through the same lens as their “own” bourgeoisie and its government. Thus, like Gettelfinger, they seek to protect American industry against “foreign competition,” arguing that the bosses would then no longer be “forced” to extract givebacks in wages and benefits from the workers they employ. While decrying “cheap labor” abroad, the UAW has done precious little to take on the question of cheap labor here in this country, which abounds in non-union shops. Instead, Gettelfinger promises that UAW wages and benefits will soon be on a par with foreign-owned plants in the “open shop” South.
Pro-capitalist and nationally delimited in outlook, the labor bureaucracy views the “outsourcing” of jobs as nothing but an attack on the labor movement and U.S. industry. But from the standpoint of working-class internationalism, the growth in the ranks of the proletariat in the Third World means the growth of international allies of the U.S. working class. This can be concretely seen in the car plants of Mexico, which are integral to auto production in North America. This fact poses the possibility of and necessity for joint labor action between U.S. and Mexican auto workers.
The economic slowdown in the U.S. has been accompanied by increasing calls for chauvinist protectionism by both Democratic politicians and the trade-union bureaucracy, with China being a particular target. In pushing trade protectionism against China, the labor tops combine anti-Communism with flag-waving national chauvinism. During the Cold War era, the AFL-CIO bureaucracy was among the most rabid supporters of American imperialism against the Soviet Union. Today, these labor misleaders are directing their virulent hostility toward the People’s Republic of China in the name of “workers’ rights.”
China is not a capitalist but a workers state, albeit one that was bureaucratically deformed from its inception. The fact that capitalist rule was overthrown in China by the 1949 Revolution, leading to the building of a collectivized economy, represents a historic gain for the working class internationally. Despite inroads of “market reforms,” the core of China’s economy remains collectivized. The aim of the U.S. and other imperialists is to destroy the Chinese workers state and restore bourgeois rule in order to turn the Chinese mainland into one gigantic sweatshop for the generation of capitalist profits. The international working class must stand for the unconditional military defense of China against imperialist attack from without and counterrevolution from within. At the same time, we call for proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic and nationalist Stalinist bureaucrats and to establish a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.
For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
In his 1940 article “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay,” Trotsky wrote: “The trade unions of our time can either serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capitalism for the subordination and disciplining of workers and for obstructing the revolution, or, on the contrary, the trade unions can become the instruments of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.” Two possible roads lie before the working class. There is the bureaucracy’s acquiescence to what is possible and “practical” under capitalism, which has led to disaster. Or there is the revolutionary strategy proposed by us Marxists. In the course of sharp class struggles and through patient education on the nature of capitalist society, the working class will become imbued with the consciousness of its own historic interests as a class fighting for itself and for all the oppressed.
Such consciousness requires a political expression. That means a class-struggle workers party, whose purpose is not only to improve the present conditions of the working class but to do away with the entire system of capitalist wage slavery.