Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 27, 2005

A Little Leaner, A Lot Meaner At GM
Bragging rights arenít what they used to be. General Motors seems resigned to soon ceding the title it has held for decades as the worldís top auto producer to Toyota. The closing of ten North American plants, and lines in two others, resulting in the elimination of thirty thousand UAW and CAW jobs, will leave them with the physical capacity to meet only 23 percent of expected American market share. Thatís less than half the share they held a little more than thirty years ago, when Japanese companies started contesting them in a major way. Soon GMís "foreign" sales will exceed those in its traditional "home" market.

While Wall Street applauded these mammoth, and somewhat humbling cuts as a step toward profitability, they have doubts whether they can be implemented quickly enough. Under the present contract, no UAW plants can be closed without union approval and laid off workers can draw 95 percent of their standard wages, and all of their benefits from the Job Bank. A possible buy-out plan to entice enough workers to retire early might cost a billion dollars.

I donít see GM being patient. Just as they recently did with health care, look for them to demand from the UAW some immediate relief from contractual restrictions on job cuts. If they donít get it they may well let losses eat up their considerable cash reserves and play the bankruptcy card.

Will They Finally Get A Roof Over Their Heads?
Actually Iím not referring to the thousands of Katrina "evacuees" who are on notice that they will soon be booted out of hotel accommodations furnished by FEMA and have no alternative shelter to turn toĖand in many cases, no jobs either. Nor am I talking about the 3,000 or so folks that HUD estimates are homeless in Kansas City on any given day. Many of them camp out in their vehicles; a number compete for temporary beds in charity shelters every night; some always wind up sleeping in parks, boxcars, doorways--whatever shelter they can find.

No, Iím addressing a much more serious issue, one that has our local Establishment bubbling over with anticipationĖa sliding roof that could cover either Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Chiefs) or adjoining Kauffman Stadium (domicile of our record-setting [most losses that is] Royals.)

Sometimes players and fans alike get cold and wet in open air stadia. Baseball, which has enough sense not to play under such conditions, sometimes has to reschedule, or even cancel games due to bad weather. The Super Bowl could never be played here in such primitive conditions. Isnít it about time we stop wringing our hands about losers who canít find a place to live, or kids wasting away in schools losing their accreditation, and deal with this real crisis?

Of course, we canít expect much from the poor team owners. The Chiefís owner, Lamar Hunt, is part of the prolific Hunts that made many billions in oil. But, to be fair, we shouldnít forget that some family members also lost hundreds of millions trying to corner the world silver market. The Royals top dog is David Glass, who has been on the Board of Directors at Wal-Mart since 1977, served a stint as smiley faceís CEO, and whose compensation includes options on more than a million shares of Wal-Mart stock. No, theyíve done more than enough just bringing us civic pride in their sports franchises.

Fortunately, our government, business and civic leaders have stepped up to the plate as they always do in times of need. In addition to 400 million dollars of public money already in the works for "renovating" Arrowhead and Kauffman they are proposing we all chip in another 200 million or so for the sliding roof. They assure us that this modern marvel will guarantee Kansas City at least one Super Bowl game. All our boats will rise on that mighty wave they tell us. Iím sure the lads who hang out at the Starvation Army are already planning how to spend their windfall in spare change bound to come on that great gittiní-up morniní.

Another Casualty Of Split?
Workday Minnesota is one of the best labor web sites in the country. Unless an angel with deep pockets makes a surprise intervention it appears this valuable resource will be lost after the new year. While officially hosted by Labor Education Services at the University of Minnesota, the lionís share of the siteís expenses had been underwritten by the Minnesota AFL-CIO. With virtually no warning, the state fed cut off their funding, blaming the split by Change to Win unions for poverty of resources. Site editor Barb Kucera already has received a layoff notice, effective in January.

No doubt, the CtW split has caused budget problems at all levels of the AFL-CIO. Safety, education and communication programs have taken the earliest and hardest hitsĖwhich tells us something about leadership priorities. Many think the Minnesota bureaucracy were pleased to find an excuse for tanking Workday Minnesota. Unlike usually worthless official house organs, they showed remarkable independence as well as doing quality researching and writing. They have given extensive coverage to actions like the AMFA strike at Northwest Airlines, and the UE organizing campaign among U of M grad studentsĖindependent unions considered outside the pale by many of the state fed big-shots. The site has also on occasion carried articles by such known troublemakers as Peter Rachleff and Dave Riehle.

Letís hope the folks in Minnesota find a way to pull a Houdini. If they donít some other venue should be found to continue their tradition and make use of their considerable talents.

If You Happen To Be Near New Britain...
Iíve been invited by a group of young socialists at Central Connecticut State University to give a public forum on the Crisis in the Labor Movement. It will take place Thursday, December 8, 7PM, at the Marcus White Living Room on campus. If youíre in the area drop by and join the discussion.

Packing My Bags, Changing the Oil
The same journey that takes me to Connecticut will also include attending meetings of the US Labor Against the War steering committee in Chicago and the Interim National Council of the Labor Party in Washington. Since nearly all of my waking hours will be spent either in meetings or behind the wheel of a 1999 Ford Contour, I wonít be able to continue to update the Daily Labor News Digest, or the Crisis in Auto pages until I return homeĖDecember 17. Iíll send a reminder to the KC Labor list before we resume updates.

Thatís all for this week.

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