It always amazes me when people who present themselves as progressives go off on rants damning the UAW (United Auto Workers) for their own misfortune characterizing them as reactionary and uneducated, and unworthy of the support of educated "progressives." Earlier today there was a comment in a diary on the strike asking whether UAW should be supported because of the companies its members work for are not building more hybrids. A statement released tonight shows that this strike isn't about wages or even healthcare. It's about job security, and in the end American national security.
UAW officials said the 73,000 UAW members who work at about 80 U.S. facilities for the nation's largest automaker didn't strike Monday over what many thought would trip up the talks: A plan to shift the retiree health care burden from the company to the union. They said they also didn't strike over wages.
They said union members walked out because they want GM to promise that future cars and trucks such as the replacement for the Chevrolet Cobalt small car or the still-on-the-drawing board Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car will be built at U.S. plants, preserving union jobs.
The UAW was willing to give GM a VEBA, and they weren't expecting a wage increase. All that Gettlefinger and the negotiating team wanted in return from GM was a guarantee that GM will not shift production destined for the American market to Mexico. That's to say that all the UAW is saying is that they think that cars sold in America should be built in America. And that the shifting of the auto industry to more environmentally friendly products should not lead to the shafting of American workers. This is an entirely reasonable request, and frankly anything less from GM is economic treason pure and simple. What good are jet fighters and aircraft carriers, if the items we need to keep them running are made by states hostile to the most fundamental democratic principles?
And why is it that as much as the media like to talk about the inevitability of globalization, corporate executives (like the bastards at Delphi) get million dollar bonuses?
Why is it that speaking about the class soldarity of America's economic elites is verboten, but even a whisper of solidarity among the men and women who make this country run brings the cries of class warfare?
Why is it that at the same time that we claim to send our sons and daughter to die in the godforsaken desert for democracy, that we are told that the demands of the market justify dictatorship in the workplace?
Why is it that working men and women are supposed to pay the price, while the elites who harbor the Anglo disease get the prize?
When is enough enough, and does the basic demands of human dignity require that working men and women say no?
"It's about investment in new products and its about economic issues that affect our membership," said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger at a press conference at union headquarters in Detroit. Gettelfinger said talks would resume immediately, but after nearly 10 days of intense negotiations he did not sound optimistic about the prospects for a quick settlement. "It was going to be General Motors' way at the expense of the workers." Gettelfinger said. "The company walked right up to the deadline like they really didn't care." He added, "You can only be pushed so far. There comes a point where you have to draw the line."
So did the media get the point? Not a chance in hell.
So why did the UAW bother to go on strike in the first place? For one thing, it puts a little additional pressure on GM, which must now deal with shutting down factories and curtailing production. Two, it signals that the UAW leadership is serious about getting the best contract terms it can negotiate.
But perhaps the most important reason is that it sends a signal to the union membership that its leaders are working hard on their behalf, and will squeeze GM as much as they can. The UAW is a democratic institution in that the members elect their leaders and they vote for those who can do the most for them. The leaders, for their part, are not anxious to return to the rank and file.
So to demonstrate toughness to their own members, they let them go out on strike. The weather is still pleasant in Michigan this time of year, and another opportunity for some hunting and fishing is always welcome.
These efforts to make grown men and women appear like children playing hookey are tiresome and part and parcel of the efforts by the media to present the working class as underserving of both basic human respect a wage sufficient to leave them live with human dignity.
The men and women of the UAW rise up to demand to be treated with dignity, and what do the media say in response?
Let them eat cake.
But the last laugh is on GM, because the UAW can hold out longer than GM.
GM can afford to play hardball for a while. Analysts say the company has $32.8 billion in cash, and plenty of inventory on dealer lots, so it can weather a strike for several weeks without too much pain. It had 950,000 cars and trucks in inventory, or about 65 days’ supply.
But the UAW can hold out much longer if it has to. Though smaller and weaker than it used to be, the union still has close to $1 billion in its strike fund--a hoard that could last up to a year, analysts say.
GM has $32.8 billion in cash on hand, and a burn rate of $4.6 billion a month, meaning that they can hold out just over 7 months. The UAW has about $950 million on hand and a burn rate of $63.4 million a month, meaning that they can hold out for about 15 months, nearly twice as long as GM. Further, every dollar that GM burns is one that can't be used to fund the VEBA that they need in order to achieve labor cost parity with Japanese competitors. The media seems to think that GM can break the union at will, but they seem to miss that for the UAW killing GM may be the price that has to be paid to provide their members job security. The GM brand isn't going to die, and if it's forced into dire economic straights a sale to private equity is possible. Meaning that a new set of managers focused on creating long term value instead of maximizing stock prices can be brought in. Like just happened at Chrysler.
But that's not the story that the media want's to tell. Because the class solidarity of the people who own the media prevents it. They still think that the union is going to bend over in short order. I think that they're dead wrong, and this is only the beginning. Globally, working men and women have been asked to surrender their dignity to the rapacious monster that the market becomes when not socially constrained. This is not our fight alone. In Britain, the Brown government faces serious resistance from public sector trade unions to wage freezes, with media raising the specter of another winter of discontent. And in France, President Sarkozy's turn towards neoliberalism has prompted backlash from the railworkers and other unions.
The media has chosen to ignore it, but there's serious labor unrest either underway or in threat in most advanced capitalist economies. And the wisodm and viability of the neoliberal economic model is under threat in a way not seen since the 1970's. We live in a brief period in which the collapse of the economic ideas of the Right is opening the door for a more human world in which the market is not allowed to destroy both man and nature for profit. The question is whether confronted with opportunity, we will move forward.