Deep economic crises violently interrupt daily lives and force more radical responses onto the public agenda. In the case of the North American auto industry however, that radicalism has been remarkably one-sided. Absent an alternative of their own, workers were (and remain) trapped by their dependency on ‘their’ corporations becoming stronger. On the one hand, corporations and governments have aggressively attacked auto workers and effectively ended their status as the trend-setters for working class gains; on the other, there has been virtually no work interruptions or effective political response from the auto unions.
In the now 100 years since Henry Ford first introduced the assembly line (1908), only the Great Depression matches the present crisis in terms of its impact on the U.S.-based auto companies, their suppliers, and the workers and communities involved. At that time, workers responded with the breakthrough of industrial unionism. Can auto workers respond as creatively today?
The Road to Nowhere
At his first press conference after replacing the former head of General Motors, GM’s new Chief Executive Officer seemed to offer some relief to Canadian auto workers. The new collective agreement in Canada, Fritz Henderson declared, made the Canadian workforce “fully competitive with the UAW” (Globe and Mail, March 31, 2009).
The catch of course was that this was not the end of the story. Soon Henderson was warning that, “We need to go further, you can’t really afford to take anything off the table” (CNN’s “State of the Union”). Part of shunting Richard Wagoner, the former head of GM aside was to put more pressure on the UAW to reopen their agreement and make even more concessions. And as that occurs, GM will surely return with more demands on the CAW.
It used to be that corporations promised jobs for concessions; now they aggressively demand more concessions alongside fewer jobs. That earlier trade-off was of course always a myth. Concessions don’t save jobs because in a capitalist economy, corporations driven by profits and limited by competition or consumer demand won’t or can’t deliver on job guarantees…..Continue reading