[Marxism] Obama: worker friendly?

Louis Proyect 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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