Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lenny Brenner on Tom Braden

On April 16 the following was sent by Lenny Brenner to progressive lists in the US requesting that it be posted widely. It is his response to the death of former American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations leader Tom Braden.

Sisters and brothers,

On 4/6/09, the NY Times ran on Associated Press obit, “Tom Braden, 92; Fathered ‘Eight Is Enough.’” It said that he had been a CIA officer, but it didn’t have one word about what is certainly of interest to anyone concerned about America’s labor movement. Below is what I had to say about this in my 1988 book, The Lesser Evil. Its a history of the Democratic Party. I called it that because I’ve never met an adult Democrat who believed in his party like people believe in their church. Such types always say something like, ‘yes, the Democrats are evil, but they are better than the Republicans.’


“AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland and Tom Kahn, head of the International Affairs Department, are decades-long CIA collaborators. Tom Braden, now a well-known talk show figure, was the CIA’s link to the labor fakers in the late ‘40s. In 1967, he related how he organized them into resisting the Communists in France at the height of their strength. ‘Into this crisis stepped (Jay) Lovestone and his assistant, Irving Brown. With funds from (David) Dubinsky’s union,’ the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, ‘they organized the Force Ouviere, a non-Communist union. When they ran out of money, they appealed to the CIA.’ [28] Kirkland was a loyal collaborator with the national headquarters CIA clique under George Meany, his predecessor as head man at the AFL-CIO.”

28 - Tom Braden, “I’m Glad the CIA is Immoral,” Saturday Evening Post, May 20, 1967, p. 14


Readers should circulate the above to all interested in reviving the labor movement. If there is to be any serious rejuvenation, the rank and file must be educated about the history of America’s unions. Members who don’t know its history are more than likely to let its present leaders make mistakes and commit political crimes similar to those of their predecessors.

Stay well, give 'em hell,

Lenni Brenner


Thursday, April 23, 2009

WA govt to cap public sector wages

Lisbeth Latham

On March 31, Western Australian treasurer Troy Buswell announced a cap on wage rises for public sector workers.

Future wage rises for the public sector would be pegged to inflation, Buswell said. Inflation is now running at 2.5%.

Any wage rises above inflation would be linked to improved efficiency and other workplace reforms. The announcement is part of the Coalition’s push to cut the state government budget. Revenue has fallen as a result of the end of the mining boom.

Almost immediately after his announcement, Buswell made it clear that the WA police, who are now in negotiations for a new collective agreement, would not be included in the new wage limit.

Attack on wages

Since December, the WA government has been pushing an efficiency drive to save 3% across the public sector.

Buswell said pegging public sector wages to inflation would save the government up to $500 million.

This is based on a comparison with the most recent Public Service General Agreement. The Civil Service Association recently won a collective agreement for public sector workers which includes a wage rise of 15.5% over three years.

The WA treasury, meanwhile, says inflation will rise by about 9% over the same period.

Such a comparison is wrong, however. It assumes there will always be low inflation. Over the past decade, WA has had much higher inflation, driven by the mining boom. In the year to September 2005, WA’s inflation rate rose to 4.9%, for example.

As the government is driving to cut spending, and while inflation is relatively low, Buswell finds it convenient to argue for a link between wages and inflation. It is likely, however, that if inflation rises in the future the government will push to move away from this policy.

Impact on workers

In the past, some unions have campaigned to have wage rises tied to inflation. Such an “escalator clause” can be an effective way to cut the extent to which workers’ wages are eroded by price rises, especially during times of high inflation.

However, the WA government’s proposal means workers will face a hard choice. Either have wages stand still or even fall in real terms, or give up working conditions and accept heavier workloads in exchange for higher wages.

Workers are likely to see pay fall for two reasons.

First, measuring inflation is a hotly contested issue. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), for example, has been criticised because it does not take mortgage interest costs into account. The actual cost of living can rise more than the government’s favoured inflation statistics indicate.

Second, if pay is linked directly to inflation, worker’s incomes may also suffer as a result of the time-lag between the period of inflation and when wages rise.

Only workers who win wage claims above inflation are guaranteed to truly maintain real-wage levels.

Importantly, the policy ignores what is happening on the income side for the government — which is clearly not linked directly to inflation. It also ignores the role workers play in generating increased income.

Public sector workers not only have the right to see their living conditions improve, just like all other workers. If the public sector is to be able to attract and keep staff then it needs to pay competitive wages.

Already significant sections of the public sector, especially education and nursing, are struggling to maintain staffing levels. A big factor has been the failure of these professions to maintain wage parity with other sectors, and an overall decline in government funding.

Police exempt

Although the government is looking to restrict the wages of the vast majority of public sector workers, it is not going to do this to the police.

This fits a pattern of police getting far better wages and conditions. This is not because the police are stronger or more organised than other public sector workers.

WA’s nurses and teachers unions have run far more extensive and intense industrial campaigns in recent years than the police, but have not achieved the same outcomes.

The superior work conditions of police reflect the role of the police in capitalist society. The police are one of the main repressive arms of the modern capitalist state. In the end, police are needed to protect the interests of the capitalist class.

However, individual police officers do not have the same immediate interests as capitalists. For the police to be a reliable body it is essential they are able to identify closely with the system they protect.

One way this is achieved is by giving them relatively better conditions than other public sector workers. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that the WA government is prepared to adopt a more conciliatory attitude to police wage demands.

Way forward

Immediate responses to the government’s new wage policy have come from the Australian Nurses Federation (ANF) and the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union (LHMU). Other unions representing the state’s public sector workers have recently won new agreements.

The ANF is negotiating a review of the final year of its three-year agreement, which expires in mid 2010. It aims to reduce the pay gap between WA’s nurses and nurses in the rest of the country. The ANF is threatening a public campaign in support a greater-than-CPI wage increase.

The LHMU’s collective agreement for teacher assistants expires at the end of 2009. LHMU state secretary Dave Kelly told the West Australian on April 1: “We took industrial action to get the last [agreement] in education so we don’t rule out that at all. They can underestimate our members if they like but we’ll put on a decent campaign.”

This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly issue #791


Monday, April 20, 2009

Italy: Millions demand action against crisis

Lisbeth Latham

The streets of Rome were filled with 2.7 million red-flag waving protesters on April 4, many sinigng the famous anti-fascist song "Bella Ciao". The mass demonstration was organised by Italy's General Confederation of Labour (CGIL).

The protest rejected the handling of the economic crisis by the conservative Silvio Berlusconi government and condemned employer attempts to take away union collective bargaining rights.

The Italian economy has been hit hard by the economic crisis. The economy is expected to shrink by 2-3% this year. The CGIL estimates job losses may reach one million by mid-2010.

A large part of the Italian workforce are on temporary contracts with little job protection and no right to income support.

Already, many Italian workers survive on very low incomes. Italy's tax department said in April that 35% of Italians live on less than €10,000 a year.

In November, the Berlusconi government announced an €80 billion in government spending package to off-set the crisis.

However, much of this "spending" is not new, but simply recycles old spending commitments made by the government.

CGIL general secretary Guigliemlo Epifani told the rally that, in reality, the government was only spending an additional €4 billion.

The CGIL has called on the government to take serious action to stimulate the economy and act to protect jobs and the living conditions of retirees, pensioners and the unemployed.

Epifani warned the crowd the government was also fuelling racism against migrant workers.

Epifani said "there is too great a gap between what needs to be done and the government's actions", resulting in a "black hole that threatened to pull in workers, retirees and many businesses".

The rally also condemned the push from employers to end national collective bargaining agreements. Epifani called on the two other major Italian confederations, the Italian Labour Union and the Italian Confederation of Trade Unions, to unite in joint action to protect conditions.

This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly issue #791


Sunday, April 19, 2009

France: More strikes called for May Day

Lisbeth Latham

On March 30, France’s eight union confederations issued a joint statement announcing they would organise a general strike on May Day.

The May 1 mobilisation will be the third general strike in France this year against the attempts of the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy to make working people pay for the global economic crisis.

There is also growing pressure for more ongoing actions to win the demands of the workers.

The joint statement issued by the union confederations called for a concerted effort to make the May Day mobilisation a new high point in the struggle to force the government to meet the demands raised by the unions on January 5.

These demands include the protection of public and private employment; resisting social and economic deregulation; policies that maintain the purchasing power of wage earners, the unemployed and pensioners; and defence of social protection and public services.

The unions committed themselves to make April a month of mobilisations in the lead up to May 1.

Following the joint statement, the radical Solidaires confederation’s national leadership issued an additional statement that reaffirmed its support for the unity in action achieved by the eight union confederations since the end of 2008.

Describing the two general strikes in January and March as “highlights” of the current workers' struggle, the statement argued: “These initiatives are a necessary step in the construction of the power that we must impose on employers and the government. But if we simply have ‘highlights’ every two months, this will lead to failure, as shown by the struggle to defend pensions in 2003.”

Solidaires repeated its call for an ongoing general strike. Similar calls have been made by the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), which has argued that more ongoing and intensified mass actions by working people were required to win the movement's demands.

Solidaires also raised five additional demands to those agreed on by all eight confederations. The demands included for measures to restrict the bosses ability to sack workers and to lower the working week; increases in wages and pensions; extra funding for public services; reforming the tax system to the benefit of the poor, starting with the eradication of the Value Added Tax; and increased protection of the livelihood of all workers.

Public support for the mobilisations continues to grow. An April 6 poll indicated that 76% of the population think that the May 1 mobilisations are a good thing. Even 61% of supporters of right-wing parties think the planned strikes are positive.

This is up from January, when 69% viewed the mobilisations positively, including 54% of supporters of the right.

With the next meeting between employer groups, unions and the government set for April 27, the debate over the direction of the struggle is set to intensify.

This article originally appeared in Green Left Weekly Issue #791


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Statement on G20 by We Will Not Pay For Their Crisis Collective

For the organizations joined together in the collective “We Will Not Pay for Their Crisis”, the G20, as was dreaded, does not bring any response to the total crisis which strikes the whole of planet. The meeting of G20 in London this Thursday April 2 was confined, as we feared it would be, to symbolic actions that go against the totally new dynamics desired by the world’s public opinion.

The Heads of States and governments of the 20 countries considered as most powerful chose through their final declaration, to re-legitimise a system that is in structural crisis and to reinforce the role of its most disputed institutions. By making 1100 Billion available to the IMF, World Bank, WTO and Forum of financial stability; the G20 chose to structure its response to the crisis around 4 institutions whose policies have long been denounced by civil society for their negative impact on the development and the access to rights of the people of the world.

While granting to the IMF and the World Bank the responsibility to ensure the operations of credit in the countries significantly affected by the crisis (including increasing the IMF’s resources by 750 billion dollars), the G20 gives responsibility to two institutions largely discredited by the failures of their policies, and which - less than one year ago - were the focus of the criticisms of the entire international community. This rehabilitation occurs without any satisfactory attempt to reform the institutions or with the change their policy, nor is there an attempt to integrate the IMF and World Bank into the United Nations institutional and legal framework.

International trade is presented like the first source for creating wealth and economic revival in spite of the obvious dead end that resulted from the liberalization of the exchanges and the unrestrained globalisation of the markets. The G20’s resolution does not call into the question the extent that Free Trade Agreements were responsible for financial deregulation and the growth of speculative practices.

The G20 offers no approach to that would put an end to the dictatorship financial markets that can only occur via public control and drastic regulation. The G20 makes it clear that it intends to save the financial banks and establishments by any means, at the price of the public financing, without any counterpart guarantee to the public (credit, banking services…) and without any suggestion of nationalising these institutions. There was no consideration of measures to prohibit speculation on the raw materials.

The establishment of a black list of territories that are not cooperating on the banking and tax level does not fulfil the popular demands to halt the transfer and harbouring of their savings via tax havens.

The general watchwords on the need for increased monitoring and better regulations for the banking institutions and financial actors will undoubtedly remain dead letter. One remembers that with the end of the Asian crisis at the end of the Nineties, the protective measures that these countries had introduced to protect their domestic markets were briskly dismantled under the pressure of the European States and the United States, this occurred particularly within the framework of regional and bilateral trade negotiations.

The G20 raised no specific proposals relating to the fight against the social inequalities, the creation of jobs and the durable protection of the ecosystems. They are only discussed in marginal paragraphs: neither new instruments of redistribution, nor massive investments in sustainable development and the defence and creation of employment with decent pay. The G20 does not bring any proposal to create new instruments with the service of another ecological and interdependent world, such as taxation of ecological destruction and of financial transactions. The G20 is silent on the recognition and promotion of public goods at a global level such as health, water, education and the knowledge, essential to rebuild globalisation on new bases.

As organizations of international solidarity, trade unions, associations of environmental protection and defence of rights, we know that the same policies implemented by the same actors will lead to the same effects: increasing inequalities and the precarity for the “not-rich person”, the systematic decline of natural resources and the degradation of ecological balances, the degradation of solidarity and social protections while wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of multinationals and global elite who are determined to protect their interests.

The world of solidarity, peace and social justice wanted by our collective, gathered under the banner “We Will Not Pay For Their Crises”, was not outlined in London on April 2, 2009. The London cosmetic operation tries on the contrary to give a little gloss to an unjust and discredited system. Our organizations will remain mobilized to inform the citizens, to publicise our analyses and our proposals and to join the broader movement of resistance and solidarity which will be spread in France, Europe and globally.

Associations and trade unions signatories of the call of the collective
Agir ensemble contre le chomâge - AC !, Aitec/Ipam, AlterEkolo, Les Amis de la Terre France, Association pour l’emploi, l’information et la solidarité - APEIS, Attac France, CCIPPP, Cedetim, Confédération générale des SCOP – CGSCOP, Confédération paysanne, CGT Finances, Convergence pour les services publics, Centre de recherche et d’information pour le développement, CRID, Droit au Logement - DAL, Fédération Artisans du Monde, Fondation Copernic, France Amérique Latine, Fédération syndicale unitaire - FSU, Habitat international coalition - HIC, Marches européennes, Mémoire des luttes, Mouvement de la Paix, Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples - MRAP, No Vox, Peuples Solidaires, Réseau féministe Ruptures, Survie Paris, Syndicat national de l’enseignement supérieur - SNESUP, Syndicat nationale unifié des impôts – SNUI, SUD PTT, Terre des Hommes France, Union syndicale Solidaires

Political organizations in support
Les Alternatifs, La Fédération, Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, Parti de Gauche, Les Verts, Parti Communiste Français, PCOF

Original text available at Union sydicale Solidaires


Monday, April 6, 2009

COSATU response to the G20 2 April 2009 London declaration

The Congress of South African Trade Unions broadly welcomes the G20 London Summit Declaration but rejects some of its conclusions.

COSATU regrets that the G20 meeting did not clearly acknowledge that the global economic crisis has been caused by the policies of the Washington Consensus, which propagated a ‘one size fits all’ economic model based on withdrawal of the state from the economy, emphasis on market fundamentalism, deregulation, privatisation, trade liberalisation, cuts in government spending and high interest rates, implemented through lending conditions attached to IMF and World Bank loans for poor countries. This policy led to gross imbalances in the global economic system, overproduction and over-accumulation, and non-regulation of the financial services sector.

This resulted in rising unemployment, income inequality and poverty, stagnating wages, cuts in social protection, erosion of workers’ rights, and increased insecure work. The International labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 50 million jobs could be lost and 200 million people could sink into poverty as a result of the current economic crisis.

In South Africa, contrary to the local proponents of the Washington consensus, workers are being laid off or put on short time, and wages are being reduced; there is a decline in exports, a fall in commodity prices and decline in manufacturing and mining sectors.

COSATU therefore rejects the G20’s reaffirmation of a free market policy to address the international crisis, which is precisely the result of such free market policies.

We had expected that there would be a paradigm shift in policy away from the Washington Consensus. The real economy, decent work, and poverty reduction were treated as marginal to the crisis, with the main focus on finance issues. The G20 should have focused more on social issues, and particularly on jobs. We are very unhappy that the Summit did not adopt the Global Jobs Pact on the social dimensions and employment impact of the economic crisis, as proposed at the ILO.

The G20 should have followed the South African example and called on governments, business, labour and the community to work together to protect the poor, the working class and vulnerable groups from the effects of the crisis through industrial, fiscal and social measures.

However, we commend the G20’s position on following social measures:

Its acknowledgement that the crisis unfairly affects the poor and the vulnerable in poor countries and a need for a collective responsibility to mitigate the effects of the crisis on the poor.
An increase in resources for social protection for the poorest countries and investment in long-term food security, and increased resource allocation of more than $1trillion to assist emerging markets and poor countries,

The UN to monitor the impact of the crisis on the poorest and the vulnerable
A commitment to meet Millennium Development Goals and implement pledges for aid as per the Gleneagles commitments, and more development assistance.

Support for employment by investing in education and training and through active labour policies focusing on the most vulnerable and the role of ILO to assess actions taken and those required for the future,
An undertaking to reach an agreement on the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Macroeconomic policies should address world trade imbalances which have resulted in inequality, poverty and unemployment. They should deal with equity and redistribution of wealth to close the widening income inequality, eradicate poverty and achieve the MDG goals to halve poverty and unemployment by 2014.

COSATU calls for a significant revision of the world’s social architecture to place workers’ rights and development at the absolute centre of the new global agenda.

Other social measures to address the impact of the crisis on the poor, which should be at heart of the stimulus packages, should include:

Commitment by all ILO member states to ratify ILO convention and comply with all labour standards. We are disappointed there was no express provision for adoption of the ILO decent work agenda. Decent work is the foundation of the fight against poverty and inequality and it should be at the cornerstone of the responses to the economic crisis.
Implementation of the ILO Declaration on social justice for a fair globalisation.

Adoption of the Global Jobs Pact on social dimensions and employment impact of the economic crisis, as proposed at the ILO.
Measure to curb speculation in staple food prices,
Measures to avert unemployment, wage losses, and to provide income support.

Support to companies that are temporarily affected by credit difficulties in order to protect jobs.
Putting more money into the pockets of the poor and working class in order to stimulate the economy. This would boost growth, as the poor are more likely to spend their cash quickly and thereby stimulate the economy. This can be done through increased benefits, direct job creation schemes such as investment in public infrastructure, and tax breaks.

COSATU agrees that countries should strengthen financial supervision and regulation among others:

Public control, oversight and regulation of all financial products and transactions in particular, hedge funds
Introduction of measures to address executive pay and bonuses that are behind much of the risky investments and regulation of remuneration schemes by law.
Introduction of laws to regulate corporate social responsibility of firms
Stopping the race to the bottom between tax jurisdictions which is eroding tax revenue for most countries and introduce sanctions against non cooperative jurisdictions including tax havens.
Requiring of oversight and registration of credit rating agencies which are responsible for hiding some of the risks associated with the current crisis

The G20 Summit called on central banks to lower their interest rates, so that government investment in public infrastructure can be financed at a low interest rate cost. We demand that our SARB take heed of the G20’s call.

We welcome the commitments to reform the IMF, in particular for appointments of head of international financial institutions on merit. We regret that there was no commitment to reflect developmental objectives including the social mandate of decent work which means increasing employment and improving the quality thereof in the IMF mandate.

There should have been commitments to abolish lending requirements for the IMF and WB that leave developing countries with little or no policy space to develop their economies. The G20 should address the US veto powers and representation of the developing countries on the IMF board.

COSATU deeply regrets that the IMF has been given an enhanced role in coordinating the global financial reform. This organisation has been responsible for actively pursuing policies which have contributed to the current crisis, and indeed is still pursuing them during the crisis. Its policy mandate, governance structures and policies must be transformed. An unreformed IMF could aggravate rather than resolve the crisis. Otherwise the coordination should be done by the UN.

We regret that the Financial Stability Board, which is meant to provide early warning on macroeconomic and financial risks in cooperation with IMF, is not representative of the poor countries; only one regional organization, the EC is represented. Other regional organisations such as the African Union and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries should have a place in the G20 just like the European Commission.

On protectionism, we regret that the G20 did not reprimand the rich countries for breaching their November 2008 Washington declaration not to impose protectionist measures. Since Nov 2008, 17 of the G20 countries have imposed trade-restricting measures, through among others, export subsidies in the form of fiscal measures.

Poor countries should not accept calls to avoid protectionism, which are in fact designed to stop poor countries from using targeted trade measures to protect their industries from the crisis, whilst the rich countries are using fiscal measures to protect their industries.

We regret that the G20 did not reaffirm the mandate of the Doha round to put the interests of developing countries at the heart of its programme. We still demand that trade policy negotiations in the WTO must be developmental in character and Non-agricultural-market-access (NAMA) provisions should not result in further trade liberalisation of markets in developing countries and job losses.

The next G20 meeting should be convened within 6 months to enhance coordination and a common approach to the crisis. COSATU demands that the trade unions should be directly represented at that Summit.

The G20 should ensure that there is a paradigm shift in policy making away from an economic model which focus on one option namely of opening markets and deregulation to a model which focuses on decent work, economic, environmental and social sustainability, an economic model that puts people first.


Interview with Sam Gindin on Canadian Auto Workers

Lisbeth Latham
[The following article was written in July last year but had previously not been published. Considering the depth of the crisis in auto manufacturing globally and failure of auto unions to effectively respond to both save jobs and conditions I'm posting it now as start to more detailed articles that I'm hoping to write over the coming weeks]

The North American car manufacturers (Chrysler, Ford and General Motors) like many other car manufactures are facing increasing difficulties of profitability. In response to these pressures on profits the US United Auto Workers (UAW) have sort to limit job losses by entering into agreements that give up working conditions in exchange for the auto-manufactures giving commitments for ongoing production. In late 2007, the UAW signed new agreements with Ford, GM and Chrysler. The most dramatic elements of these agreements included the shifting of the risks of future health care costs for workers from the companies to the union, and the acceptance of a permanent two-tier structure with new hires being paid half the wages and less than half the benefits of current workers and the first time creating a differentiation between “core” and “non-core” workers, with “non-core” workers receiving half there former wages.

In April the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), which had split from the UAW in 1982 as they rejected concession agreements, approached the North American manufacturers with a proposal for a new agreement which while rejecting the permanent two-tiering of the UWA contracts, included a number of concessions including the freezing of current Ford workers’ wages for the life of the three-year deal, cuts 40 hours of vacation pay per year, and freezes cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments for the remainder of the current contract and the first year of the new deal. The CAW’s offer was made five months prior to the expiry of their agreements and two prior to the CAW’s Collective Bargaining Conference. Initially only Ford accepted the proposal, however following the agreements ratification by 67% of the membership (the lowest ever return in favour of an agreement, with one plant rejecting the agreement); both Chrysler and GM accepted the proposal which was subsequently ratified by 87% and 84% of members respectively. I spoke to Sam Gindin about the significance of these agreements for the auto industry unions and the broader North American labour movement. Gindin is a former CAW research director who has been a prominent opponent of concession bargaining and of the shift in orientation by the CAW’s leadership. He is a regular contributor to the Socialist Project’s publication The Bullet.

The approach adopted by the CAW’s leadership reflects a sharp departure from its historic approach to bargaining. Gindin told Green Left “at the Big Three, the three year agreements were due to expire mid-September. Normally the period leading up to involves mobilization of the members as well as putting our case before the public via the media. A particular focus for the union is the Collective Bargaining Conference in the spring that was scheduled in June, where all sections of the union get together to establish general priorities and to support the big three negotiations because of their prominence and influence within the union and nationally, despite the Big Three now represent under 15% of the total membership.

“This time, the union itself asked Ford to open early negotiations early in April, the rationale to the members being that conditions would get worse in the fall. The result was that discussions amongst the members, the conference itself, and especially any mobilization were pre-empted”.

The offer by the CAW reflects an embracing of concession bargaining by the union’s leadership, which reflects a significant shift in the orientation. Gindin said “Historically, the CAW saw jobs as depending on political factors and lead in the creation of the 'Auto Pact'. In essence, anyone wanting to sell and profit from the Canadian market had to make a commitment to jobs and investment here. As well the union opposed concession bargaining to get jobs - seeing this as a diversion from the real issues as well as undermining the union. This was especially important in the early 1980s, when the first round of major concessions in North America. The Canadian resistance to concessions led to a split in what was then an international (Canada-US union)”.

More recently, the Canadian union has moved in the same direction as the US union, though it has not gone nearly as far as the UAW. In the context of the general shift to neo-liberalism and free trade, the CAW argued for subsidies (public concessions) as a way of limiting private concessions in bargaining, but the logic of having to 'buy' jobs from the companies soon spread into the reality of both public and private (bargaining) concessions”.

The change of course by the CAW leadership has the capacity to the broader Canadian labour movement. “In the earlier period, the CAW inspired the rest of the Canadian labour movement. Now it is more likely to reinforce the general sense of fatalism and defeat in Canadian labour. Particular struggles do of course occur in the Canadian labour movement, but they are sporadic and their cumulative impact is limited”.

Gindin argued that following the low vote at Ford, including the agreement being rejected at the Oakville plant, the leadership of the CAW moved to limit discussion amongst the membership for the GM and Chrysler agreements with “the settlement reached on a Thursday and the vote quickly held on the Friday and Saturday of a 4-day long weekend”. However even if “workers had been given the democratic time to discuss the agreements, it is unlikely that these votes would have been overturned. Workers voted in fear of losing their jobs, a fear both reflected by the union leadership but also reinforced by that leadership the difference in Oakville were both the limited impact of fear because some hiring was occurring and initiatives taken from below”.

Although the high votes at both GM and Chrysler appear to vindicate Gindin explained that “below the surface, there is a great deal of frustration and some anger, and a network of activists across plants determined to revive the union as an independent working class institution has surfaced (Workers for Union Renewal)”.

According to Gindin the CAW’s change in course reflects the pressures on the auto-industry internationally, but particularly in North America.

“In the immediate period, the issue is the economic uncertainty in the US and the explosion in gas prices, which are now affecting the Japanese based companies as well. Both are related to the particular kinds of vehicles the NA majors have emphasized because of their higher profit margins: pickup trucks and SUVs. Both are gas guzzlers and pickups are also used in construction, which has been especially hard hit. The growth of an environmental consciousness - still in its infancy - seems to be becoming an additional factor in the most recent dramatic turn away from SUVs.

“On the cost-of-production side, the NA companies have been very hard hit by the cost of healthcare in the US, where no public system exists. These costs include not just the present workforce but the growing numbers of retirees (at GM, for example, there are now five retirees per active worker). The Japanese plants, because they are newer have a younger workforce and virtually no retirees have dramatically lower costs. To offset this disadvantage, as well as models which have seemed less attractive to consumers, the NA producers offered large price reductions (especially since 9/11) and those subsidies have undermined corporate bottom lines.

While all car manufacturers face these challenges, the CAW’s difficulties at the North American Big Three, are partly of their failure to organise the Japanese transplants. Gindin says that “in Canada, the Japanese companies have largely followed the Big Three monetary settlements in order to avoid unionization and thereby maintain 'flexibility' in dealing with 'their' workers (e.g. speed-up; overtime - Toyota has scheduled 60 hours overtime on a regular basis; accommodation; workers with injuries are often let go). The inability to unionize these plants affects the membership base and therefore the finance's of the union but, more importantly, it means greater competitive pressures on the Big Three workers, even if the larger issue goes beyond Canadian labour costs to the models available and the health care costs in the US which affect us through integration into the US industry”.

Gindin said that it is also important to “note that we are especially affected by developments in the US Big Three, where though unionized, the union has been in such a headlong retreat. The two-tier system is the best/worst example of this”.

Gindin also identified the substantial excess capacity in the sector as a major issue, at a more general level. “The US has been attracting investment because of its market and costs even before the collapse of the dollar and this means excess capacity and closures elsewhere. In the short run, the economic downturn aggravates the capacity issue and the effectiveness of strikes, but there are two qualifications:

“Even in bad times, sales are uneven, some models are still selling, and the corporation is dependent on those sales so a strike MAY be possible, if the concessionary demands are severe enough;

“Conditions for striking the companies may block the feasibility of striking, but its crucial to distinguish between recognizing the limits of the moment and waiting/preparing to respond a different day versus turning that moment into a permanent defeat - i.e. by accepting the corporate logic, teaching workers that the world has changed and they can not fight anymore, reinforcing fatalism re the longer term;

“To sustain our fights we DO have to think about the larger context and this means joining with others in those fights. But if there are no fights going on in daily life, people are unlikely to have the confidence to join larger battles. That's why, even in bad times, unions must find some ways to resist in the workplace and in the community”.

For more of Sam Gindin’s writings on the North American auto-industry visit The Bullet.


About This Blog

Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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