“This never happens—to take a company from the inside. But I’m fighting for my family, and we’re not going anywhere.” —Lalo Muñoz—Chicago sit-down striker, Republic Windows and Doors, December 2008
History repeats itself, as the saying goes, but never the same way twice. After the 1929 crash, it took nearly three years of double-digit rates of unemployment and mass misery before a veritable explosion of strikes and other forms of mass resistance began. This time, as we shall see, the first small but highly significant indication of the act of mass resistance has begun sooner than the powers-that-be had expected in their worst nightmares. Not with just a strike victory, but via one of the most powerful weapons of resistance in the arsenal of a potentially revolutionary working-class uprising—when workers take possession of their factory.
Leaving aside the exceptionally provocative action by Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors bosses who suddenly fired their workforce without giving them the 60-day notice as required by Illinois state law; the bosses refused to pay them the $1.5 million in severance and vacation pay owed them.
Thus, what the country had not seen in the first few years after 1929 did happen at the end of 2008. The 250 fired workers, members of Local 1110, of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), held an ad hoc meeting, discussed, debated and voted to occupy the plant until their demands were met.
But even more important than their highly significant sit-down strike victory, was the example it sets for the entire working class. It proves that united and direct action under the right conditions, with a fighting and capable leadership, can get you a victory!
Making the power of direct action by any means necessary most convincing was the inspiring support their sit-down began to generate among the entire working class.
A report by Lee Sustar, shows why it was only a matter of days before the potential for winning mass enthusiastic support became evident. He writes:
Amid the forest of mobile TV satellite feed dishes, some 20 burly members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 installed giant inflatable rats on either side of the plant entrance and took up positions near the door. [A tactic that had proved useful in building-trades unions toward the end of the 20th century to mobilize popular support for scattered on-site strikes against non-union contractors .]
Local 150 Business Manager/President Jim Sweeney explained the motivation for this delegation in one word: “Solidarity.” Why the large delegation? “We heard they [management] were going to try to move them out,” he explained, adding that his locals’ members would be on hand for the duration of the occupation.
For Sweeney, the struggle “summarizes where we are as a movement,” he said. “We’ve come full circle. Seven percent of the workforce is unionized [in the private sector], and we’re back to sit-down strikes like in Flint, Michigan,” he said, referring to the famous factory occupation of 1936-37 that forced General Motors to recognize the United Auto Workers.
“We need a catalyst,” Sweeney said. “And this may be what starts it for the American worker again.” [Socialist Worker, December 9, 2008.]
Thus, for all practical purposes UE Local 1110’s sit-down strike has already inspired workers far beyond Chicago to rally to their support. And as noted by Local 150 President Sweeney, this could indeed be the “catalyst” that can put 1930s-style fighting tactics back into workers and their unions in the United States.
To be sure, the next time may not be as easy as it was for Chicago’s sit-down strikers when it involves thousands of workers as it did during the 1930s. Concessions won by workers then would cost the employers of today millions and even billions in 21st century dollars, depending on the numbers of workers involved. But it can also be easier when tens- and hundreds-of-thousands of workers decide: “We’ve taken all we can take and we won’t take it anymore!”
But labor history proves that it certainly can be done—providing the working class can construct a fighting leadership that knows how to fight
as effectively as those who came
To fully appreciate the significance of this seemingly modest event at Republic Windows and Doors involving a few hundred workers, we need to take a closer look at the state of the global economy. Today it is far worse than it was in 1929 or any other time before and since.
So let’s take a close look at why workers everywhere are being forced to fight as though they have nothing to lose and/or face losing whatever is left.
A ‘depression greater than the Great Depression’
George W. Bush reportedly said, in his closing remarks addressed to the mid-November 2008 meeting of G20 nations: “…[I]t’s conceivable that our country could go into a depression greater than the Great Depression.” This possibility, he later said, had come from a top-level policy meeting he had with Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who had convinced him that it was indeed a possibility if not a likelihood.
Then on December 1, 2008 U.S. government agencies responsible for making such decisions, belatedly reported that, starting in late 2007 and early 2008, the country was in recession—officially.
But most of the evidence upon which such judgments are made suggests that the economy had already changed from a recession to something far more serious as early as mid-October 2008—if not earlier. That was when the economy took a sudden lurch downward, effectively transforming an expected narrow victory for Barack Obama on Election Day into a landslide.
In any case, whether it’s called a recession or depression may mean little to the great majority of Americans who work for a living. What counts, however, is the big difference a deep and prolonged “recession” will have on their lives.
Meanwhile, the bipartisan capitalist government has been doing its best to soften the impact of the crisis on the rich and powerful, in the vain hope that by absorbing billions and trillions of dollar-losses by banking and industrial capitalists, and pumping a hoped-for, life-saving transfusion of trillions of taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars into their veins, their system can be saved.
Meanwhile, the failure of government to lift a finger to help the estimated 10-million homeowners losing or having lost their homes to foreclosure, and the millions of others losing or having lost their jobs has proved to be much more than enough to begin making the tens-of-millions of working people mad enough to be fighting mad.
How many unemployed
are too many?
We can get a handle on what workers can expect down the road by comparing the real rate of unemployment today with what it was at the end of 1929. Such a comparison will serve as a reasonably accurate gauge of the true state of the U.S. economy today compared to what it was before and after the stock-market crash of October 1929.
For instance, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in November an increase in joblessness from September 2007 to September 2008 from 6.1 percent to 6.5 percent, it’s no secret that the BLS does not count all those without jobs as officially jobless. For instance, in an article titled, “Grim Report on Jobs Not Showing Full Picture,” that appeared on the front page of the December 6, New York Times, reporters, David Leonhardt and Catherine Rampell reported the following:
The number of people out of the labor force—meaning that they were neither working nor looking for work and that the government did not consider them unemployed—jumped by 637,000 last month, the Labor Department said. The number of part-time workers who said they wanted full-time work—all counted as fully employed—rose by an additional 621,000.
In other words, there were at least three times as many newly unemployed or partly employed than were counted by the BLS at that time. Therefore, even if we were to take its statistics for good coin, it will show that today’s numbers are closely comparable with those at the end of 1929 when the Great Depression began. Moreover, if anything, they are worse, and already rising significantly each month.
Based on a report by the on-line encyclopedia, Wikipedia, the rate of unemployment during the Great Depression, stood at “3.2 percent at the end of 1929.” It rose to “8.7 percent in 1930, 15.9 percent in 1931, 23.6 percent in 1938 reaching its highest point of 24.9 percent in 1933.” And from there it seesawed up and down for the next few years until it rose again to 19 percent in 1938.
In fact, America and the rest of the capitalist world never really recovered from that first great global Depression. It took World War II, and the mass production of weapons of mass destruction to bring that Depression to an end.
The problem is compounded today by the rate of public and private indebtedness. The most conservative estimates cited are upwards from $60 trillions in total debt, public and private. Remember, however, private capital is the fuel that makes the capitalist engine go.
But let’s focus our attention on how the crisis has been affecting those who produce all of society’s wealth, and how it is likely to affect them tomorrow and the months and years immediately ahead. Let’s start with its impact on workers in just one of capitalism’s main industrial powerhouses, the auto industry, whose crisis of overproduction—that’s the real cause of recessions and depressions—typifies capitalism’s potentially fatal sickness today. And more, when it is known that it vitally affects virtually all of basic industry—and from there, everything else—from finance to commerce to health and service industries depends.
Auto bosses ask Congress for a taxpayer bailout
Detroit’s Big Three started losing their dominant position in production and sales of cars and trucks in the U.S. domestic market starting in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Consequently they are now faced with bankruptcy because of their steadily declining share of the American market.
Thus the Chief Executive Officers of Detroit’s Big Three, facing imminent bankruptcy, routinely applied for their share of the billions and trillions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailout money already handed out to the bankrupt financial institutions and held in reserve for ailing industrial behemoths. Then, after the lame-duck Congress began its final session on November 12, the Detroit Three’s CEOs were invited to make their case for a $25-billion bridge loan to tide them over the very crisis facilitated and deepened by the bailed-out lenders who now refuse to lend, even to credit-worthy borrowers.
But what are we to make of the sudden furor in Congress, loudly echoed in the mass media, over the relatively modest request by Detroit’s Big Three automakers for a $25-billion bailout? Modest, that is, in light of Congress’s bailout of the financial superstructure of the U.S. economy to the tune of billions and trillions of dollars in “loans” they know the banks mostly cannot, and will not, pay back.
But neither the bipartisan capitalist government nor Wall Street has any intention of letting the U.S. sector of the auto industry disappear without making every effort to keep it alive and well. They cannot afford to let their competitor’s take over this key sector of their own domestic market for cars and trucks, upon which U.S. control over its entire domestic market largely depends.
Without it, American capitalism cannot hope to come out on top in the never-ending struggle for an ever-larger share of the ever-shrinking global market place.
After all, the real problem didn’t begin in the nation’s financial superstructure. It began, as it has always done, in the industrial infrastructure of capitalist economy as indicated above; that is, it’s a classic crisis of overproduction.
In the final analysis every such crisis can be traced to the tendency built into the capitalist mode of production for the average rate of profit to fall. And at this point in time, the only way the profit rate can be raised is by forcing down the average cost of labor power by any means necessary.
To be sure, the individual capitalist’s rate of profit can be raised by the replacement of more workers with labor-saving machines, as well as by cutting labor costs the old-fashioned way, i.e., by cutting wages and increasing the workday and workweek. But either way, it also serves to reduce the average profit-rate enjoyed by all capitalists in a given country and eventually everywhere in the capitalist world as they play “catch-up and surpass” the other guy, in the never-ending race to cut labor costs.
That takes us to where we are today. The attack that was begun against the entire American working class was set into motion a lot faster when Congress turned down the Big Three’s request for a bridge loan. As we shall see, the “debate” that has since been covered in infinite detail in the mass media is really not a debate at all. It’s a charade designed to convince autoworkers that if they don’t “voluntarily” accept another drastic cut in their wage package and choose, instead, to fight for their jobs and living standards, bankruptcy judges will impose ever-worse conditions. But, neither the bosses, nor bureaucrats nor judges are as powerful as they want their victims to think.
Licking the toughest
kid on the block?
The question that needs an answer is, why are they still demanding that autoworkers and their union, who already suffered more than 50-percent reductions in hard-earned wages and benefits so recently, be asked to make even further drastic reductions and sacrifices? After all is said and done, next to the more than a million-member Teamsters Union, the UAW is still the second strongest union in the United States. Why not take on almost any other section of the workforce to spearhead the assault on overall labor costs?
We can think of at least three very good reasons for their plan of attack:
First, autoworkers and their union had played a major role in the great labor upsurge of the 1930s and serve as a powerful symbol of workers’ power.
Secondly, the UAW has played a pioneering role by winning wages and benefits better than any other sector of the American labor movement. The most significant benefit was originally called Supplementary Unemployment Benefits (SUB), which together with State-financed unemployment insurance amounted to full wages for a year of joblessness. The UAW was among the first to win the escalator clause, which pegs wages a little closer to rising prices periodically through the life of the union contract.
And third is a well-known tactic in all conflicts—military social, economic and political. When the war begins each side attacks the other where it is weakest, and continue targeting their enemy at the weakest point until one of them feels strong enough to pick on one of the enemy’s strongest battalions, which could take it more than halfway to victory.
In the neighborhoods where I grew up, we called it “licking the toughest kid on the block.” Thus, when autoworkers and their union licked General Motors in its Flint Michigan stronghold in 1937—the biggest and toughest kid on the block—the UAW took GM’s place to become the toughest kid on the block.
The analogy becomes more complete when we remember the latest phase of the assault by capital on labor began when Republican President Ronald Reagan, upon taking office in early 1981, launched his strike-breaking, union-busting attack on a small national union of airline controllers, PATCO, in a trap set by his predecessor, Democratic President Jimmy Carter, just before the 1980 election.
That historical episode, and many smaller local union-busting attacks by capital since then, helps explain why GM led the attack by the Detroit Three and the capitalist class-at-large—its government and all of its horses and all of its men—against autoworkers and their union from October 2005 through September 2007.
But while top UAW leaders are prepared as usual to go down for the count, there’s still a chance that the rank-and-file and its wisest and most class-conscious leaders are not ready for a knockout. Maybe they still believe they can make a comeback and gain some time or even set in motion an all-out fight to the finish by the American working class and its natural allies and all other victims of exploitation and oppression.
The first Black president and the key role he was chosen to play in the class war
This takes us to another big question. Unless you can believe that the most ruthlessly all-powerful American ruling class has found God and been born again as the champion of human rights, why did a decisive section of the capitalist class suddenly appear to have broken from their racist past by using their money and influence behind putting a Black President in the White House? Make no mistake; though he fooled people who could not be fooled before, he didn’t fool the rich and powerful. In fact, to hear the praise now being heaped on Barack Obama one might think Jesus Christ himself has come back to save American capitalism and all its rich and powerful as well as the tired and huddled masses.
And no less suddenly, but far less surprisingly, have they begun talking about Depression-era President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New-Deal policy which established the Democrats as the “workers’ friend” and the Republicans as the workers’ enemy.
In other words, for those of us who don’t believe in fairies and goblins, it’s an even more sophisticated version of the good-cop, bad-cop confidence-game played by Roosevelt which got him elected and reelected four times as the friend of the working class (but also the friend of the Dixiecrats-Jim Crow South as well as capitalism and its ruling class.)
But there’s a big difference between Obama and FDR. Obama is identified with the most oppressed sections of American society, while FDR was a white plutocrat with a long line of capitalist plutocrats as his heritage and behind him. But in this case, experience once again is proving that the first Black president’s racial origin is one of those differences that doesn’t make a difference.
As one of our contributors has
“Roosevelt was the worst strikebreaking president in U.S. history. Throughout the 1930s, hundreds of striking workers were killed, thousands wounded and tens of thousands thrown into jail. In 1934, Roosevelt’s first full year in office, 52 strikers were murdered, one every week.”
“Despite the hoopla about New Deal public works programs, the number of jobless Americans never fell below eight million. The Civil Works Administration lasted three months. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration lasted less than a year providing starvation wages to two million people. Even within these programs, workers were subject to draconian measures. In the spring of 1939, when conditions got so bad in the WPA [Works Progress Administration] that workers went on strike, Roosevelt immediately fired all 1.5 million of them! (See “New Deal, New New Deal, Old Deal, No Deal,” by Mike Alewitz, elsewhere in this edition.)
Obama is key to the success of the anti-labor offensive
The furor in Congress over whether or not to bailout the Detroit Three is indeed a charade. There can be little doubt, however, that there are those among the country’s power brokers in and out of Congress, who for one self-serving reason or another are truly opposed to a bailout of the still U.S.-dominated domestic market, which happens to be almost as big or bigger than the combined domestic markets of most of American capitalism’s main competitors. (Some simply because they are lobbyists and/or politicians elected, thanks to financial support received from Japanese, German and other foreign-owned automakers.)
But they aren’t necessarily as stupid as they sometimes appear. After all, good cops can’t do their part of the job without the bad cops, and vice versa. In any case, both good and bad cops don’t give a damn about what happens to autoworkers as long as it helps the auto bosses.
It’s pretty obvious, too, that their game plan does not exclude the likelihood that after Obama and his bipartisan capitalist gang do their hard-cop, soft-cop number on autoworkers they will demand still more! After all, there’s nothing stopping bosses from filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after they have sucked as much blood from autoworkers with the indispensable aid and assistance of the two-faced UAW bureaucrats. Chapter 11, by the way, should rightly be called “bankruptcy bargains only for capitalists” which gives a judge the power to break and remake all contracts, ensuring that “fallen companies have a reasonable shot at picking up the pieces”—at workers’ expense.
Nothing could be clearer about what the ruling class has in store for the American working class—which happens to be the only force capable of leading the great majority of capitalism’s exploited and oppressed from being driven down to the lower depths of pauperism and homelessness.
Class solidarity has more than one side
While there are more than a few occasions when one or another section of the working class can win some significant battles mostly through their own efforts, it is, nevertheless an exception to the rule. In any real conflict where the stakes are high, workers power depends, on the level of class solidarity achieved by the workers as a class.
But when we look at the entire spectrum of class relationships, it can be seen that even class solidarity is not enough to win when the stakes are at their highest. For instance, even during the 1930s when class-consciousness was at one of its historic highs, it wasn’t enough to realize its greatest potential gains.
One of the least appreciated contributions to the struggle for economic justice by working people during the Great Depression was the struggle for social and economic justice first initiated by rank-and-file working class leaders who instinctively came to understand the strategic importance of class and human solidarity.
One of the most important barriers to this solidarity was the policy of the leadership of the American Federation of Labor (AFL)—the only existing mass labor federation at the time—and their policy of supporting race-determined hiring and firing; and in the worst cases—insisting that their employers hire no Black workers. This had to be overcome decisively!
Capitalists as a rule try their best to defend their right to hire and fire whomever they damned please. They could readily see that the policy of last-hired and first-fired was entirely in their interests and diametrically opposed to the class-interests of the workers.
Capitalists also learned a long time ago that if you can’t stop workers from organizing a union, the best way to keep workers within manageable bounds is to tame its leaders. After all it’s far cheaper to buy off a few leaders than thousands of union members. And what could be better than dividing workers by the easiest and surest way. That is, according to race, nationality, religion or gender—and in any and every other conceivable way.
In a word, nothing is more destructive of class solidarity than the division of the working class based upon the myriad of identifiable differences between human beings while ignoring or playing down their common interests as working people. And we must be prepared to fight it by all necessary means.
Some of the mostly union and class-conscious readers of these pages may be wondering why I am making a federal case about something that they all know is the ABC of trade unionism and class consciousness. But I am confident that you will see why.
The role of race consciousness in the history of the 1930s
Let’s take another look at what we can learn from labor history that will help us better understand how we can most effectively defend and advance our class interests in the face of the most destructive attack on our living standards that the ruling class has mounted.
We look back to 1934, the year in which the first three great groundbreaking strike victories were won, that set the stage for the even bigger victories of the rest of that decade and the beginning of the next. While the miners union, the United Mine Workers, one of the largest industrial unions in the AFL, was well-known for organizing all workers in their union on an equal basis and with equal rights (because they already were fully integrated without regard for race, religion or national origin) there was no need for them to play a direct role other than by example—by supporting and establishing principles and policies, in the day-to-day struggle to organize all other industrial workers regardless of their race.
Thus, auto workers and their union in 1934 were among the first of the new industrial unions to put their force behind the struggle to end white-only unions and agitate and organize the working class irrespective of race, religion as well as any other social, or political differences that may arise. They went further still in that direction by also, at first implicitly and later explicitly, defending the rights of African Americans.
Consequently, by the mid-1930s, it had become unmistakably clear to Black Americans—as a people, not only as workers—that the struggles of all workers no matter their differences was also the struggle carried out by unions like the UAW, and, therefore, defense of these unions also became their struggle! In fact, it can be said that without this alliance forged by workers as a class and African Americans as a people—vigorously and enthusiastically reciprocated by the latter and their leaders, the great working-class rebellion of the 1930s would not have been nearly as massive and effective as it was.
Starting as early as 1935, it became increasingly harder for capitalists to draw on a vast pool of angry Black workers who could now easily distinguish between which part of white society, workers or bosses, was their main enemy. And as the saying goes: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. But when workers are showing what they can do and what they have done as a social and economic force—that’s what counts the most.
But there is yet another factor in the class vs. class equation that takes us to the role of the middle class in labor history. The middle class always sees its interests tied to one or the other of the two main contending classes in modern society—labor or capital.
In the class war now shaping up to be a fight to the finish, neither side—neither labor nor capital—can win without winning the support of those in the middle class.
Where we are and what needs to be done next
This takes us back to the single most significant sign that a new era of ever-sharpening class struggle may have begun with the victorious six-day sit-down strike victory by 250 fired members of UE Local 1110 in Chicago—the workers at Republic Windows and Doors.
In order to better understand the radical change in mass working-class consciousness taking place before our eyes, listen to how Armando Robles, a maintenance worker at the factory and president of UE Local 1110, responded to a question put to him and his coworkers by Times reporters: Why, they asked, had they taken such a bold step as to occupy and refuse to leave their workplace, unless their demands were met. Robles answered: “In the environment of this economic crisis, we felt we were obligated to fight for our money.” [Emphasis added.]
By pointing to the impact the crisis is having on the consciousness of the super-exploited and oppressed, as well as those workers who had for most of their lives enjoyed what they called their “middle-class” living standards, Robles is simply saying what millions of workers are thinking. And it’s only a matter of time before others also feel “obligated to fight for their money,” too.
The reporters, Michael Luo and Karen Ann Cullotta, who had interviewed many of President Robles’s coworkers at Republic, summarized what workers had told them:
The tale of how this small band of workers came to embody the welter of emotions in the country’s economic downturn is flecked with plot-turns from the deepening recession, growing anger over the Wall Street bailout and difficult business calculations.
This tells us much more than meets the eye, particularly when we take into account that the majority of the workers involved in this first sit-down strike victory since the 1930s were predominately Latino and African American workers.
No less importantly, it tells us that American capitalism’s radically changed immigration policy, which began slowly after the First World War and then more rapidly after World War II, was designed to create a new category of highly vulnerable immigrants. It was also designed to make it far easier to subject them to super-exploitation and hyper-repression. These so-called “illegal” workers are given the right to live and work in the U.S., not permanently as were 99 percent of immigrants that came before them, but only for a period of months for minimum wages.
The Smithfield strike
Now what would you do if you were such an immigrant with a family at home that you were now able to support somewhat better than you could have in your homeland—where jobs are even harder to get and wage rates are far lower than the average minimum wage-rate set by the States?
While the minimum wage in agriculture is somewhere between five and six dollars an hour, it’s perhaps twice that in industries like meatpacking. Providing, that is, if ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement—also called La Migra by immigrant workers) doesn’t grab you and deport you back from where you came from—mostly from south of the Mexican border. (But only after spending time in a federal prison first.)
However, the bipartisan capitalist government’s real intention is to allow many, if not most, highly vulnerable undocumented immigrants to work here illegally. La Migra’s function is to establish conditions that discourage protests while allowing the employers to continue to rob part or all of their wages. That’s why for the most part, ICE is assigned to hunt down, arrest and deport undocumented workers who have spoken up, and to keep one eye closed to those undocumented workers who keep silent.
It’s real purpose is to only enforce this law enough to put fear into undocumented immigrants to keep them from raising a fuss over how much they are paid, and whether or not they are paid at all. It has the effect of keeping these workers from joining a union, which weakens the bargaining power of all workers. And that keeps the average pay of workers down and therefore the average rate of profit higher. That’s what happened at the Smithfield meatpacking plant in North Carolina.
But the widespread cheating of undocumented workers out of their pay has begun to spread to include American citizens and fully legal residents as we have seen in the Chicago sit-down strike.
These strikes tells us something else about what the future holds in store for all workers—Black, white and Latino—in the immediate period ahead. African American workers account for more than 13 percent, and Latino’s more than 15 percent of the U.S. population. And because a higher proportion of oppressed peoples are working class, they constitute much more than 30 percent of the U.S. workforce—legal and “illegal.”
On December 13 the New York Times reported in an article entitled “Workers at Pork Plant in North Carolina Vote to Unionize After a 15-Year Fight”—about the Smithfield meatpacking plant where a union struggle involving a large number of immigrant workers was taking place—that although it was a fight with mostly militant rank-and-file Black and Latino union activists leading the way; and even though just a few short years ago the La Migra raids decimated the Latino pro-union activists at Smithfield by arresting and deporting them; the Black workers who took their place carried on the struggle, which has finally led to union representation—a modest but significant victory.
Adding to the potential force this section of the working class contributes to the worker’s movement is the fact that throughout American history, each wave of new immigrants tends to play the leading role in the never-ending class struggle. That’s the role now being played by the latest wave of Latino immigrants along with Black workers.
Besides, experience proves that both communities, Latino as well as Black, support the struggle of workers and their unions. That’s a mighty powerful potential alliance between workers—Black, white and brown—their unions and their community organizations. If it’s reinforced and kept as closely knit as possible, their combined power would become much greater than the mighty power demonstrated by workers in the 1930s and early ’40s.
One last word on autoworkers and the one-sided class war
The latest developments in the calm before the brewing storm strikes the autoworkers, their union and their natural allies, will heavily influence the course of the one-sided class war by capital, its mass media, and its government against the working class and its allies.
The December 19 New York Times ran a front-page story, titled “Car Bankruptcy Cited as Option by White House.” Here are the first four paragraphs that summarize the essential facts covered by David E. Sanger, Bill Vlasic and Micheline Maynard in this report:
The White House announced early on Friday that President Bush would make a statement at 9:00 A.M. Eastern time about efforts to negotiate a bailout for the domestic auto industry. On Thursday, his spokeswoman, Dana Perino, confirmed growing speculation within legal circles that the president and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. were considering the step.
“There’s an orderly way to do bankruptcies that provides for more of a soft landing,” Ms. Perino said. “I think that’s what we would be talking about. That would be one of the options.”
A senior administration official, however, later described that option as a last resort, to be used only if an agreement for a voluntary overhaul of the industry could not be reached. These officials said the preferred solution would be to force a restructuring of the industry outside of bankruptcy court, extracting concessions that would make the companies more cost-competitive with foreign automakers.
In return, the Treasury would tap the financial rescue fund, called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to make loans to the companies. (December 19, 2008.)
The main purpose of this latest report and subsequent reports will be to convince autoworkers that if they voluntarily cut their pay, they can prevent a Chaper 11 bankruptcy Judge, who has the legal power to cut their future wages and benefits, from doing so. As usual, in this case, Republican President Bush, playing his appointed role of “bad-cop” threatens to take everything from autoworkers so that “good-cop” President-elect Obama will take away less.
But one doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict that either way; they will take the Chapter II route, even if autoworkers make more concessions than they have already made.
In light of the last few decades of relations between the Detroit Three on one side and autoworkers and their union, on the other, common sense would suggest that autoworkers are highly likely to take whatever is thrown at them by bosses and bureaucrats without even trying to put up the kind of fight that can win. Besides, even if they did put up the best fight they can, they may, nevertheless lose—but no more than they will the other way.
First, if workers decide to fight, winning cannot be excluded. Second, there are things workers can do before negotiations have run their course to mobilize more support for their fight from their friends and allies—such as Chicago’s sit-down strikers gained and which resulted in their modest victory. And third, history proves its better to go down fighting than not to fight at all. Besides, most strike victories could not have happened against the world’s mightiest corporations without risking even greater losses had they not fought.
But common sense doesn’t necessarily lead one to the right course of action. Under ordinary circumstances it’s sometimes better to give up a little when the stakes are not as high as they are today, and wait until a more favorable opportunity arises to take back what was lost. And if you can do that, you can also take back more than what was lost in the next, new confrontation.
But these are not ordinary times, and the more ground workers give up without a fight the harder it gets to stop. And the way the world is going to hell in the proverbial hand basket, the consequences of not fighting will be nothing short of disastrous.
When the mood of workers keeps changing as fast as it is today, we may all be surprised at the fighting spirit that’s really out there and growing at an ever-faster pace.
I have been listening very carefully to what people are saying among my friends and acquaintances, and what I read in the papers and see and hear on television. I think a real fightback, bigger than the last one that began nearly 75 years ago will begin soon.
Perhaps some of those in the commanding heights of Wall Street and Washington know this too.