DETROIT, MI March 11 – The strike by 3,600 UAW workers at five American Axle Manufacturing (AAM) plants is into its third week. This is the latest aftershock in the restructuring of the U.S. auto industry, which has seen starting wages cut in half at GM, Ford and Chrysler at the same time that they have eliminated over 80,000 jobs. This is the result of the sharpening competition between the world’s auto billionaires for markets, resources and cheap labor. The U.S. market is under siege by Asian and European auto bosses. U.S. bosses, with the UAW in their pocket, are slashing wages and benefits which took workers 70 years to win.
Actually, it’s more like two strikes. The workers are striking against the bosses’ demands to cut wages in half, cut health care, and end pensions. The UAW leadership is striking over how much it will cost AAM in buyouts, “buy-downs” (lump-sum payments in return for permanent pay cuts) and other schemes, to get what they want.
“How are we supposed to live like this? Is gas going to be cut in half, or groceries, or our house and car notes? And the company’s making profits. They are attacking us to ‘stay competitive.’” That’s how two black strikers with 15 years at AAM saw it.
The mostly black workforce at the Detroit plant is already struggling to survive in a city ravaged by racism. With soaring unemployment and the highest foreclosure rate in the country, more mouths than ever depend on each and every paycheck. Cutting them in half is devastating.
Meanwhile at Solidarity House, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said, “Our members cannot be expected to make the extreme sacrifices American Axle is asking for with nothing in return.”
AAM wants to cut wages in half, increase co-pays for prescription drugs, eliminate vision coverage and freeze pension benefits, replacing them with a 401(k) plan. This would lower overall compensation from $65 an hour to $27, costing AAM workers $200 million a year. It would cut wages to $11.50-$14.50 an hour, matching what the UAW negotiated at Delphi, GM, Ford and Chrysler.
AAM also wants to close some union factories and move the work to non-union plants in the U.S. paying $10.00/hour, and a plant in Mexico paying 70 cents/hour.
As of today, the strike has forced GM to shut or cut production at 29 plants, involving over 37,000 workers. This has had a ripple effect closing many supplier plants. Unfortunately, the effects of this have been blunted because GM has a 90-day backlog of unsold cars and sales are even slower at this time of year.
Nevertheless, this shows the potential power we have in our hands. A small number of determined workers can shut down a significant part of the industry with ripple effects that go far beyond. If these workers were led by a revolutionary vision of class war, with their eyes on the prize of abolishing wage slavery with communist revolution, this could be the “spark that starts a prairie fire,” and the stakes could quickly rise.
But without that revolutionary vision, this strike will be just one more speed bump on the road to fascism, racist terror, poverty and war. PLP is introducing and re-introducing CHALLENGE to some new and old friends on the picket line. We will try to win them to march with us on May Day. This strike is not going to have a happy ending. The good guys are not going to win. The deck is stacked. But by building a base for PLP, we will have a chance to turn a bad thing into its opposite.
Capitalism’s Twin Crises Flatten Wages, Jobs
The net U.S. job loss for February was 63,000, the largest falloff since the last recession. (NY Times, 3/7/08) Fifty-two thousand manufacturing jobs and 39,000 construction jobs were wiped out, offsetting small gains in other sectors.
Bush and many bourgeois economists still maintain “there’s no recession.” Workers know better — polls show more than half say the recession has already begun.
According to Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, the labor market has been “clearly infected by the contagion” from capitalism’s twin mortgage and financial crises. Worker