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Alan Maki

Alan Maki
Doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

A program for real change...

What we need is a "21st Century Full Employment Act for Peace and Prosperity" which would make it a mandatory requirement that the president and Congress attain and maintain full employment.

"Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens"

- Ben Franklin

Let's talk...

Let's talk...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The General Motors/United Auto Workers settlement; job security and implications for other auto workers and the labor movement

Mr. Fletcher;

I read your article(see below) with great interest. I agree with what you say as far as you go; however, I don’t think your comments go anywhere near far enough given the present situation and gloomy economic forecast for the U.S. auto industry.

I think you miss the issue of “job security” by not addressing the problem of the Big Three having the complete monopoly over closing plants and tossing thousands of auto workers out into the streets. At this late date, there is only one way to address the issue of “job security;” this is through “Public Takeover and Ownership” of these plants.

Here in Minnesota the issue of Public Ownership is receiving considerable attention. People, including the workers at the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant slated for closure, are demanding working people have a say in the decision making process. I discussed this issue briefly with Jerry Tucker when he was in the Twin Cities for the “Working Class Studies” national conference at which he was a featured speaker on a panel, yet never in his presentation, mentioned the Ford Plant closing issue involving 2,000 jobs.

Also, you have failed to note that the SEIU has played a very divisive role in the auto industry as the Big Three have contracted out plant “house keeping;” cleaning in plant including bathrooms, eating areas, floors, etc. Many of these workers receive less than $12.00 an hour. Couple this with what is happening at the Twin Cities Ford Plant where Ford announced the Plant closing for 2008 and used this to coerce over half the UAW members to accept completely inadequate “buy-outs” which will not even pay off home mortgages for most workers let alone enable them to payoff other accumulated debts for cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, vacations, summer homes and cottages, etc. The point here is not the inadequacy of the “buy-outs,” but the fact that after Ford tricked workers into believing they were closing the plant, Ford now announces it intends to continue production for as long as another two years (long enough for new international trade agreements to be put in place to allow their foreign built Rangers to come into the U.S.?) with Ford using fewer “temporary” employees doing the same work as the former UAW members without having to pay the same wages… plus, Ford is selling the hydro dam (to a foreign energy corporation) which has powered this plant in order to cover the costs of the “buy-outs.”

Ron Gettelfinger and the local UAW leadership make great sounding statements as if they negotiated the best “buy-out” packages possible while pretending to push the state legislature to pass legislation to keep the plant and dam intact as one unit until a new buyer for the plant can be found; but, the local UAW leadership goes before state House and Senate hearings bringing along only a handful of local members and their proposed legislation that is very mild and weak can’t even make it through a MN DFL Senate dominated and controlled committee… even though this local has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars of membership dues over the years supporting DFL candidates--- even the candidate they endorsed and campaigned for refused to support the legislation--- choosing instead to support the demands of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce which is proposing the Plant be demolished and replaced with up-scale segregated housing. Obviously the Chamber of Commerce wants a downward pressure of area wages rather than the upwards pressure created by two-thousand union members receiving very good real living wages attainted through years of struggle. The workers’ struggle to attain a decent quality of life is never considered as an “investment” worth anything.

A vicious campaign of red-baiting has ensued against those supporting keeping this plant open continuing to produce Ranger pickups or a component of a green mass transit system. Ironically, at the time Henry Ford started up this plant and demanded the hydro dam on the Mississippi River be turned over to him rather than remain under the ownership and control of the U.S. Army Corps of engineers which was considering turning over the ownership and operation of this dam to the state and municipalities as a “public enterprise;” Henry Ford instigated a vicious campaign of red-baiting against the proponents of this hydro dam being a public enterprise.

I would point out that no one… not even the local UAW leadership or the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party has suggested Ford workers should be consulted regarding their views on public ownership which I have found to be running very strong in support of public ownership.

The real problem as I see it there is no organized rank and file movement which enables workers to exchange views and determine a course of action in resolving the problems you have outlined and these others you have not mentioned. Unless there is a “left” rank and file movement where issues such as public ownership can be brought forward, no matter how progressive any union leadership may be… it is darn hard to wage the required struggle against these corporations. Corporations and public officials should always be aware that union leaders are not shy about bringing along a big crowd in addressing the just demands of working people.

Jerry Tucker told me “Public Ownership might be an idea workers in the Twin Cities will respond to but it won’t fly in St. Louis.” (I am not sure I have the quote from Jerry Tucker verbatim; however, the gist of what he told me is correct; please feel free to ask him) I ask, “Why not? How does he know if he doesn’t raise the issue?” It seems too many people are afraid of a little controversy; others are just afraid to acknowledge the class struggle… which at its core involves the question of “ownership.”

Obviously, every time the question of “public ownership” is broached, red-baiting will follow… should whether or not red-baiting will ensue determine the parameters of this debate over “job security?” I don’t think so. At some point workers are going to have to demonstrate they have no fear of addressing issues simply because they will be called “communists.”

I am attaching an article for you to read from the quarterly magazine published by the Ramsey County Historical Society. I hope you will share my letter and this attachment with Jerry Tucker.

I also think the problems in the UAW go back well beyond the 1980’s to the reign of the Reuther brothers who, according to the recently released FBI and CIA files entitled “Family Jewels” were simultaneously on the FBI/CIA payroll with George Meaney; again, red-baiting is the issue. Kick the reds out of the union and you end all talk of the “ownership” question and you end up with a labor movement which sees itself in a “joint” venture of sorts with the automotive executives. Ron Gettelfinger appears quite content to maintain this debate over “job security” (and the health care issue) with in the confines of the capitalist system. Hence, no call for socialized health care and only token support for single-payer, universal health care which we all know will be a step towards socialized health care.

I assume you were looking for discussion in publishing your article on the “GM/UAW Settlement.”

By the way, as I am writing this, CBC Radio (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news has just announced that the Ford Ranger is one of the most popular pick-up trucks sold in Canada and getting more popular… sales in the U.S. market would tend to support this finding also… so, why have UAW leaders remained silent about Ford having gone into Ranger production at a new plant in Thailand? Can Twin Cities UAW members produce a Ranger class product without the involvement of Ford management and without Wall Street coupon clippers reaping the profits?

I was in Michigan during this “strike.” I talked with GM workers on picket lines in Grand Rapids and Lansing, Michigan; they thought the strike was a very sick, sad and cruel joke which they were the butt of and well understood they would come out holding the shitty end of the stick. The Gettelfinger led “nationwide strike” against GM was a farce… not one thing was gained by autoworkers… in fact, great losses were suffered by workers while the company will see its stock continue to increase in price as Wall Street coupon clippers once again reap greater profits.

Alan Maki


Another take on the GM/UAW settlement October 01, 2007

By Bill Fletcher

ZNet Commentary - October 01, 2007

The GM/United Auto Workers settlement may turn out to
be quite historic, but not necessarily in a good or
pro-worker way. As former UAW Regional Director and
one-time UAW presidential candidate Jerry Tucker noted
recently, the shift of health care liability to the UAW
by GM could be catastrophic if there is a severe
economic downturn.

Yet there are some matters that are not getting much
press attention which need addressing. The first issue
is the matter of the two-tier wage system. Two tier
wage systems, where newer workers start at wage rates
and benefits far lower than their predecessors, are not
new. During the 1980s when corporate America was
placing concession demands on workers-both those in
unions and those unorganized-this became a familiar
refrain. Allegedly the introduction of a two-tier
system provides financial breathing space for
distressed employers. Whether it does or does not, it
can definitely be said that it stresses out the

It has been demonstrated time and again that two-tier
systems have a demoralizing impact on the workforce.
In the case of the UAW, the Washington Post notes that
some entry level jobs that paid $28/hour will now drop
to $14. That is one hell of a drop! The impact on the
union cannot be overstated. The new workers, even if
they are now making more than they previously did, will
see themselves as having been sacrificed by the longer-
term workers, which also means sacrificed by the union.

The other piece of this overall puzzle, however, has to
do with how the UAW got itself into a situation like
this. In considering this critical situation, there
are some who might conclude that this turn of events
was somehow sudden and unexpected. That is not the
case. There are at least three sources of this
problem. The first has to do with the failure of the
US to enact universal healthcare. It is noteworthy
that GM's costs in Canada are lower precisely because
Canada has national healthcare. A reasonable person
would wonder, then, why GM does not push for national
healthcare in the USA? There are probably many
reasons, but one for certain is that it is far easier
to place the burden of healthcare on the backs of
workers and their unions, rather than joining in a
national campaign to shift the way that healthcare
operates in the USA. While the UAW has had plenty of
good rhetoric to offer regarding national healthcare,
there is little that they have done in practice over
the years to advance the growing demand for universal
coverage. Thus, the UAW is now handed what may quite
literally be a bill of goods.

There is another side to the healthcare issue. The
GM/UAW settlement may very well set a pattern for other
companies. The result could be a further distraction
away from the need for universal healthcare in favor of
a proliferation of Voluntary Employee Beneficiary
Associations. This is ironic coming at a point when
renewed calls AND energy have surfaced in favor of
universal healthcare. The proposed GM/UAW healthcare
exploratory committee, allegedly to be established to
consider alternative national healthcare options,
cannot be taken seriously. With the healthcare
insurance liability off the books of GM, what incentive
do they now have to explore genuine solutions to the
national healthcare crisis?

A second piece of the puzzle has to do with the
ideological orientation of the UAW going back at least
to the early 1980s. The notion of "jointness" which
emerged in the early 1980s in the midst of the
automobile manufacturing crisis (ignited by the
Chrysler near collapse) brought with it the idea that
the principal role of the union was not to defend the
interests of the members (let along the larger working
class) but to promote the competitiveness of the
particular company. Supposedly enhancing
competitiveness would enhance the job futures of the
members. Yet, few of the UAW leaders stopped to
consider-or at least discuss-who was competing against
whom, and toward what end? Thus, in the name of
quality and competitiveness, auto manufacturing plant
was played against auto manufacturing plant, sometimes
in the same company. Rather than promoting solidarity,
this promoted something akin to the narrow Japanese
enterprise unionismテや�ヲat best. There is only a short
distance between embracing the mission and expansion of
the corporation as the manner of protecting the
interests of one's members and taking on the company's
healthcare liability in order to promote the
competitiveness of the company.

Third, one must add that the UAW's failure to construct
an effective organizing strategy lies at the heart of
the union's dilemmas. Contrary to those who believe
that all manufacturing is disappearing overseas, in the
case of the auto industry it is quite the opposite.
Automobile manufacturing is coming to the USA FROM
overseas. Toyota, Volkswagen and others have moved to
the USA-they are called transplants-in search of
cheaper labor, believe it or not, which is what they
usually find in the so-called right to work (non-union)
South and in rural parts of the USA.

While the UAW embraced the language of organizing the
unorganized, and admittedly attempted some small-scale
organizing, the resources of the union were never fully
committed to the sort of venture that needed to unfold.
In addition to organizing non-union facilities, there
has been a critical need to organize the increasing
numbers of non-union parts facilities, plants often
staffed with immigrant labor working under abysmal
conditions. Yet, that is not where the UAW chose to
put resources. Instead, the focus was on those
currently unionized, even as their numbers decreased
and the waters of the non-union auto and auto-parts
industries rose steadily towards their heads.

It is in such a situation that the choices of the UAW
leadership are not particularly surprising, though
nevertheless quite problematic. Letting the Big Three
off the hook with regard to universal healthcare;
permitting the further growth of two-tier systems; and
an anemic organizing program to reach non-union
transplant facilities and parts manufacturers, has
added up to an industrial purgatory for the union.

The UAW not only needs a new type of leadership, but in
some ways more importantly, it must convince its
existing membership that a new type of unionism is
needed for the 21st century. No, this is not a call
for further so-called partnerships with employers, but
actually a call for a return to militant organizing and
struggle that embraces the demands and needs of workers
irrespective of whether they happen to currently be in
a union. The alternative? Well, actually in this
case, there really is not one since the demise of a
labor movement cannot be an option.

[Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a co-founder of the Center for
Labor Renewal ( and the
immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He can
be reached at]