[Marxism] Obama: worker friendly?
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 7 11:34:36 MDT 2009
Chicago Factory Sit-In: A Symbol of What's Wrong and What's Needed
Posted December 9, 2008 | 06:20 AM (EST)
by Peter Dreier
Since Friday, 240 members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine
Workers of America (UE), a small but feisty union that has always been
in the progressive wing of the labor movement, have displayed uncommon
courage. They have illegally occupied their Chicago factory after their
employer abruptly told them that it was shutting down the plant.
Equally impressive, President-elect Barack Obama, by quickly endorsing
the workers' protest, showed the kind of bold leadership that
progressives have been hoping for, but didn't expect to see so soon.
Indeed, Obama's statement puts him ahead of Franklin Roosevelt, who
didn't embrace worried workers' escalating demands until after his
inauguration in March 1933, when a quarter of the workforce was unemployed.
"When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are
asking for their benefits and payments they have earned," Obama said
during a press briefing on Sunday, " I think they are absolutely right.
What's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this
With that statement, Obama used his bully pulpit to endorse the workers'
protest and to put pressure on the Bank of America and Republic to forge
a solution. Representatives of the company, BofA, and the union have
been meeting at the bank's office in downtown Chicago. Congressman Luis
Gutierrez has been moderating the talks.
The symbolism of the workers' take-over also adds credence to Obama's
call for a major government-funded infrastructure program that will
stimulate several million jobs -- almost all of them in the private
sector -- and help jump-start the ailing economy.
Obama’s Auto Task Force Preparing Worst Cuts in Decades
By David May in the U.S.
Tuesday, 07 April 2009
Obama’s Auto Task Force Preparing Worst Cuts in Decades. Photo by
donbuciak on Flickr.As President Barack Obama visits Europe following
the G-20 summit in London, projecting the “new face of U.S. politics,”
in the U.S. itself, this image is already starting to crumble under the
harsh reality of the economic crisis. For example, Obama is no longer
addressing auto workers in terms of “Change” but rather, with the cold
vocabulary of Wall Street: Viability, Profitability and Liability. And
these words are not hollow. The administration’s recent restructuring
plan is backed up with factory closings, mass layoffs, wage and benefit
cuts and possibly the closing of entire companies. Despite being elected
with the enthusiastic backing of the unions, less than three months
after coming to power, Obama has already launched the worst attack on
the key and heavily-unionized auto industry in decades.
Long-teetering on the edge of bankruptcy due to mismanagement, the “Big
Three” U.S. automakers GM, Ford and Chrysler have all seen their profits
collapse due to the economic crisis and a steep fall in car sales. GM
alone has lost $82 billion in the last four years and its value on the
stock market has fallen to its lowest level since 1934. Despite
remaining one of the better-paid sectors of the U.S. working class, over
this same period auto workers have seen their wage and benefit levels
consistently erode while dozens of plants have been closed and hundreds
of thousands of jobs eliminated In December, GM and Chrysler, the
largest and third largest U.S. car makers, both announced that they were
facing bankruptcy in 2009 and asked the Federal government for emergency
financial help in order to keep the companies running. Under the TARP
program, the then-Bush administration gave the auto companies a $17.4
billion loan package, which was followed by additional loans in February
which brought the total to $39 billion of public funds loaned to GM and
In December, GM and Chrysler management, along with representatives of
the workers’ union, the UAW, were brought to Congress for public
hearings to negotiate the terms for the rescue package. However, from
the beginning the Democratic Party majority made it clear that their
intention was to give the loans only on condition that GM and Chrysler
showed “fiscal responsibility” and would “do all that is necessary” to
make profits once again to repay the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve
Bank. GM and Chrysler management were also given a deadline to complete
restructuring plans to make the companies profitable.
President Obama personally demanded more concessions from the union. As
he put it: “We think we can have a successful U.S. auto industry. But
it’s got to be one that’s realistically designed to weather this storm
and to emerge – at the other end – much more lean, mean and competitive
than it currently is.” In addition, the President announced that he
would create an auto industry task force – headed by Treasury Secretary
Timothy Geithner – which would administer the loans and also would in
effect take on some aspects of managing the industry while leaving the
management structure of the companies in place. The companies have been
put into a form of government administration, they have not been
nationalized, and are most certainly not under democratic public control.
The GM and Chrysler management plans called for clawing to profitability
entirely at the workers’ expense: eliminating 50,000 jobs at both
companies, with GM closing 14 North American plants by 2012 and
eliminating the Saturn and Pontiac brands altogether, in addition to
further cuts in wages, pensions and health benefits. However, after
reviewing the plans, the President’s auto task force rejected them on
March 30th and announced its own plan. It also forced the firing of GM’s
CEO, Rick Wagoner and called for the removal of a majority of the
company’s board of directors. Seeing Wagoner go undoubtedly pleased many
auto workers. Wagoner oversaw years of wage, job and benefit cuts and
piecemeal plant closings at GM, all the while earning a multi-million
dollar salary and giving himself a 64 percent raise in 2007. He
represented GM management, which has seven levels, each of which has
received big pay increases for several years in a row, while workers
were told it was their compensation and “privileges” which were ruining
the company. However, the firing of just a few members of management
(why not all of them?) can only amount to a public show that “something
is being done.” Obama was elected based on his populist “pro-labor”
image, and firing the CEO of a major company reinforces that image while
leaving the management structure itself untouched. But the details of
the new plan are more than enough to erase any doubts as to whose
interests are being looked after.
The task force’s plan, called the “Obama Administration New Path to
Viability for GM and Chrysler” actually outlines even deeper cuts than
the auto bosses’ pushed for. While being short of concrete figures, the
path outlined for the companies is a “supervised bankruptcy” for
Chrysler and even deeper job cuts and more plant closings at GM. Both
companies’ plans were called insufficient to cut “long-term liabilities”
– that is, workers' pensions, health care costs and wages. The new plan
gives the companies the ultimatum that these costs must be cut quickly
and completely, and that “Their best chance of success may well require
utilizing the bankruptcy code in a quick and surgical way.”
The task force has given Chrysler a 30-day deadline to either merge with
Italian auto maker Fiat or declare bankruptcy. This same report also
praised Fiat for its own recent cuts – never mind the effects this has
on Italian workers and their communities! It has given GM 60 days to
agree to the new plan, which means it must approve a re-negotiated
contract with the UAW. The UAW leadership and GM have already agreed on
a new contract that gives the company more than $1 billion in cuts,
although this still has to be ratified – or rejected – by a vote of the
union’s members. If the companies cannot meet these deadlines, Obama’s
task force will cut off all public funding, meaning total bankruptcy.
The companies are being steered toward the bankruptcy courts because
once there, the UAW’s contracts (and all other legal contracts) become
void. If this is allowed to happen, it will mean that the bosses,
through the courts, can dictate wages, benefits, rights and even union
representation itself to auto workers. Far from “helping workers through
the recession,” which was his stated aim when announcing the task
force’s plan, Obama’s plan is to use the economic crisis to break the
backbone of the UAW, one of the strongest unions in the U.S. The example
of factory occupations by U.S. auto workers in the 1930s and the
Canadian auto workers at the Aradco parts plant just two weeks ago is
sure to give U.S. auto workers plenty of food for thought!
The treatment given to the auto industry is in stark contrast to that
given to the big banks and insurance companies. Over this same period,
under the same TARP program which has been used to “aid” the auto
industry, the huge insurer AIG was given $40 billion in public money
without any conditions or ultimatums. This huge amount of the public’s
funds, mostly paid by working class taxpayers, was given without even
token firings of inept managers – instead, AIG management used these
funds to give themselves multi-million dollar severance packages and
weekend spa getaways in Las Vegas!
The economic policies of Obama, despite the “friend of labor” image he
projects, are aimed at maintaining American capitalism and to place the
burden for this on the working class’ shoulders. The huge sums of money
that have been handed over to the big banks are all debts, which fall on
the tax payers to repay not just today but literally for decades to
come. These debts will be paid for through tremendous cuts in public
education, health and all other public services and will result in a
qualitative decline in living standards for generations to come. This is
the cold reality of capitalism, which is why many workers and youth in
the U.S. today are not just beginning to question whether Obama can
deliver fundamental change, but they are also questioning the system
that he defends.
No to cuts, concessions, closures and layoffs!
Nationalize the auto industry under democratic workers' control!
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