New Auto Contracts: Great Leap Backwards

DETROIT, MI October 11 — If the tens of thousands of black youth marching in Jena, La. on September 20 was a glimpse of revolutionary potential — the future — then the 2007 auto contracts are a grim reminder of the long, dark night in which the working class finds itself without revolutionary communist leadership.

the same day the four-year UAW-GM contract was ratified, Chrysler and the UAW reached a new agreement. Ford’s next.

A two-day “strike” at GM and a 6-hour “strike” at Chrysler give new meaning to the term “staging a strike.” These actions were called to rally the membership behind a transformation in auto that will be a Great Leap Backwards for generations of industrial workers. More than one-fourth of the workers never struck because their plants were already on temporary shut-down due to a huge backlog of unsold vehicles.

The media is focused almost exclusively on the transfer of health care from the auto bosses to a union-run trust fund. This lifts almost $100 billion in health care commitments from GM, Ford and Chrysler which they can now claim as profits. But the real news lies in the rollback of wages and benefits for workers about to be hired.

Starting wages at GM, Chrysler and soon Ford, will be slightly over $14-an-hour, the 1990 rate — when a gallon of gas was 80 cents! For the moment, new hires at UAW factories in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio will earn less than non-union workers at Honda, Toyota and Daimler plants in Mississippi and Alabama! Healthcare, pensions, work rules and job security will further decay.

The London Financial Times reports (10/17) that while under the old contract a GM worker cost the company $78 an hour in wages and benefits, under the new contract, a new worker will cost $25.66 an hour. Three-fourths of the workers under the higher rates will retire in the next four years.

Creation of new multi-tiered, “non-core” workers will drop wages and benefits even further. At Chrysler, 11,000 of the 45,000 current jobs are “non-core.” Wages will sink and many jobs will be farmed out. The UAW agreed to the elimination of more than 100,000 jobs and more than 40 plant closings at GM, Ford, Chrysler and Delphi a year before contract talks even started. These union leaders worked hand-in-glove with the bosses and never fought the racist layoffs which initially fell most heavily on black workers. This laid the basis to hit white workers as well. Racism hurts all workers.

All this results from the sharpening competition among the world’s auto billionaires, as well as the collapse of the old communist movement. In this period of heightened conflict and increased attacks, workers have no mass revolutionary center or leadership to guide them in the class struggle. This is the bosses’ greatest weapon in their ability to survive every threat, challenge and crisis.

Even against these odds, more than one-third of GM’s workers rejected the contract. The union left Ford for last because they expect the most problems here, from both the company and the workers. Chrysler and Ford workers should reject these contracts and begin organizing joint strike actions and a mass march on Solidarity House. We should appeal to auto workers worldwide to support our struggle.

From Baghdad to Soweto, from Bogotá to Detroit, the bosses and their flag-waving union leaders are getting away with murder. They want us to believe the answer lies in one election after another. But the answer lies in the patient, steady building of a mass revolutionary communist movement.

We will turn the tables on the bosses when industrial workers make communist ideas mass ideas. By fighting the bosses and union leaders on this contract, increasing the readership of CHALLENGE and deepening our personal and political ties with our co-workers, we are paving the road to communist revolution.

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