Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 2, 2007

I’m convinced it is a conspiracy. Every time I go on the road for a few days, putting a hold on the updating of the Daily Labor News Digest, all hell seems to break loose. Evidently the ruling class sees these rare interruptions in information flow as narrow windows of opportunity to take care of business. I’ll briefly comment on some of the major developments.

Historic Defeat
In our last WIR we noted the unusual length of the hour-by-hour extension of the UAW-GM contract while negotiations continued. The very next day Ron Gettelfinger told everybody to hit the bricks, calling the first national strike against General Motors since 1970. It was also the shortest, wrapped up in two days.

The agreement now being voted on by UAW members is not just another give-back deal. It is a defeat of truly historic proportions for not just auto workers but the entire American working class.

* The VEBA deal signals the end to company obligations to honor the promise of the last half-century to reward those who do the many faceted hard work of building cars with a secure retirement with middle class living standards. The details of allowing GM to buy out of this pledge have yet to be worked out. But the agreement “in principle” means future generations of auto workers will receive no guarantee of health care when they retire and benefits for present UAW members are dependent on the successful investment of VEBA funds. Those few companies, and public sector employers, still offering retiree health care will demand–and most likely get–the same deal.

* The new second class tier for new hires created in this settlement will not only get half-wages in their “non-core” jobs. They will not be covered by the traditional defined benefit pension that has allowed many UAW retirees to get 3000 dollars a month on top of their Social Security. Instead they will be put in to a 401(k). They may be able to eventually bid on top tier jobs and receive the full pay level. Indeed, they will furnish the lion’s share of filling in attrition in those jobs, which GM will stimulate by offering buy-outs. But they will never get a pension or health care when they retire. This deal distributes the nails to all employers to finally close the coffin on defined benefit.

* The strike was called over job security and Solidarity House has claimed a big victory in this area. But not everyone will join in this joyous celebration. The nine plants previously announced as closing will close. GM has pledged to keep 16 of the 18 assembly plants not already on the closed list open. One of the 18 is under IUE contract and its fate was not settled in the UAW deal. That leaves one without guarantee, apparently the Wilmington, Delaware plant. Other plants liable to either closing, or sale, include the Livonia engine plant, a small engine plant in Parma, Ohio, and stamping plants in Flint and Indianapolis. The Job Bank was not eliminated but limits on time spent in it have been imposed and workers are expected to move much farther than previously to other open GM positions. All in all, considerably less job security than any UAW contract in decades.

The UAW leaders will now turn to their “partners” at Ford and Chrysler. Both have indicated the GM deal is too rich for their blood. Historically, there have been few deviations in pattern bargaining among the Big Three. But historically we never saw the UAW negotiate two tiers, or abandon defined benefit pensions at the Big Three either. All bets are off for the next round of surrender in Detroit.

A Deal At UPS
UPS is now the biggest national union contract. The Teamsters have announced they have successfully negotiated a new agreement nearly a year early. So far details are murky, not even any statement yet from TDU, except for one element–UPS pull out from the Central States Pension Fund.

In better days the multi-employer regional pension funds set up by the Teamsters had a progressive character. They made portability of benefits possible when workers had to move from one job to another within the fund’s jurisdiction. But the Central States in particular has taken some rough rides. For a long time the fund was run by out and out gangsters who ripped it off. Eventually criminal prosecutions, and rank and file insurgency, got it cleaned up and restored to good health. But then in 2003 bad investment strategy nearly tanked the fund again. It’s estimated the fund is now 49 percent underfunded.

The new deal allows UPS to buy out its obligation to Central States for 6.1 billion and shift 44,000 active workers currently covered into a new jointly administered plan. It’s estimated the buy out would still leave Central States 30 percent underfunded.

Still no details on wages or other benefits or conditions in the new tentative agreement.

Don’t Call Senate Do-Nothing
Our peace Senate has been busy. The other day they demonstrated their commitment to self-determination by voting 75-23 in favor of partitioning Iraq. Then they approved the war funding bill by 92-3. Five senators were absent–all presidential candidates off chasing votes. Among those in favor was the independent, sometimes calling himself “socialist,” Bernie Sanders. The only three no votes were Democrats Byrd and Feingold and Republican Coburn.

Nile Strike Fever
Unions may be withering in the USA but they are making a big fuss again in the Middle East. We’ve often reported on actions by Iraqi unions. Two subscribers to our e-mail list forwarded stories about the trade union upsurge in Egypt as well.

Back in the day of Nasser most Egyptian industry was nationalized. Nasser was part of the Third Way movement, which included the leaders at the time of India and Yugoslavia, that sought to incorporate the best features of both western democratic capitalism and what was called socialism in the Soviet Union and China.

Today Egypt incorporates the worst of capitalism in the era of globalization while maintaining some left overs of the oppressive bureaucratic features of the old USSR. Economic “liberalization” has made the state industries cogs in the global capitalist market. Inflation is galloping, the workers are hurting. But they are fighting back and winning some initial, at least partial victories.

The government is fearful that the unions may become the base for a genuine political opposition–much more of a threat than the sectarian Muslim Brotherhood. Keep an eye on Egypt.

Party Time Weekends
The occasion for my road trip was an invitation to speak to the annual state council meeting of the Ohio State Labor Party in Cleveland last Saturday. The OSLP is quite active in the Single-Payer Action Network of Ohio as well as in US Labor Against the War and the local antiwar coalitions. There were guests from these activities on hand at the gathering including an AFSC leader, union officials from UNITE-HERE, a former UAW regional director, and observers from Progressive Democrats of America, the Green Party, and Natural Law Party. After a report by OSLP leader Jerry Gordon, and my presentation, we had a vigorous but fraternal exchange during the discussion. One of the PDA members, an RN dedicated to the single-payer movement, signed up to join the Labor Party.

It was a welcome breath of fresh air in the smoggy labor and peace movement environment and I thank the Ohio party for inviting me to be part of it. Within the next few days I will post my remarks. I also want to thank my old friends Carrie and Adam in Chicago for once again extending hospitality for stop-overs both coming and going. They even included me in their son Sam’s birthday celebration.

This coming Saturday the Kansas City Labor Party will be holding a “mini-conference.” LP national organizer Mark Dudzic will be a special guest speaker, talking about the need for Just Transition to protect jobs and living standards as we adjust our economy in the face of global warming. Tony Saper, a Metro bus driver, and ATU representative to the Regional Transit Alliance, will talk about the Kansas City transit crisis. I will be preparing lunch–and also speaking about the Post-SiCKO Fight for Single-Payer.

Shawn Saving will be conducting a radio interview with Mark Dudzic about Just Transition on this Thursday’s Heartland Labor Forum radio show.

Quote of the Week
“Politics and the economy are all one big interactive system.” George Shultz, former Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury, receiving the Truman Medal for Economic Policy.

That’s all for this week.

The Fall Labor Party Issues Mini-Conference
Saturday, October 6, North Kansas City Library

Click here for information

KC Labor Home

Daily Labor News Digest 

 Past Weeks In Review

  Site Meter