Rarely do predators address their prey as “colleagues.”
Yet “Dear Colleagues” is how Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli opened a Nov. 1 letter to employees. Nardelli was hired by Cerberus, the aptly named Wall Street private equity firm that took over the auto company this summer. Cerberus was a three-headed dog in Greek mythology that guarded the entrance to the underworld.
Nardelli’s letter outlined plans to eliminate one in every three Chrysler jobs in the U.S. and Canada.
The latest round of cuts was announced just four days after Chrysler workers, represented by the UAW, ratified a four-year contract. The package of givebacks had passed by at most a few thousand votes. That it passed at all was due to promises of job security. Now workers, not swayed by the phony niceties, believe they were lied to by the company and by their union leaders.
Whole shifts are being cut out at six plants in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. The 12,000 jobs now set to be eliminated are on top of 13,000 announced last February in what the company, with its typical callous disregard for human consequences, called the Recovery and Transformation Plan. Those 13,000 were on top of 5,000 skilled trades jobs negotiated away in the 2003 contract, which in turn were on top of 26,000 jobs that Chrysler cut worldwide in 2001.
This shock comes after the majority of the workers reluctantly agreed to major concessions to help the new owners “be competitive.” New hires will start at $14 an hour and will not get health insurance or a traditional pension when—and if—they can afford to retire. At $14 an hour, 40 hours per week, with no layoffs during the year, these union workers would earn only one and one-half times the official federal poverty wage for a family of four. That wage, which is half the current pay of a UAW production worker at Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, is more than three dollars less than the average hourly wage nationwide.
Obviously, enough is never enough for this breed of predators. Days before the cuts were announced, Nardelli remarked that the auto industry “has an insatiable appetite for cash.”
Declining sales are what the Chrysler bosses are using to justify these catastrophic cuts, but the math doesn’t compute. October sales are down 9 percent compared to October 2006. Sales for the year are down only 4 percent.
Nardelli’s own argument for the cuts cites a projected industry-wide drop in annual sales from 17.2 million vehicles last February to as low as 15.5 million by the end of this year. Yet that’s 10 percent or less—not 33 percent.
In fact, this criminal act, this tearing away of some 25,000 workers from the few good-paying union jobs left, has nothing to do with temporary market fluctuations. As the Nov. 2 Detroit News commented, “The new, privately held Chrysler LLC will be a smaller, leaner and more selective automaker than the expansion-driven division it was under the German management of DaimlerChrysler AG.”
One could argue that such a drastic restructuring violates even the weak language of the just-passed contract. While it unfortunately permits “volume-related” and other specified layoffs, nowhere does the agreement allow for the permanent shrinking of the workforce as part of a “lean” corporate strategy.
Years ago, the United Auto Workers union would have been in the forefront of the fight to save these precious jobs. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger should be screaming bloody murder over this horrible deception and the scale of the cuts. In fact, the UAW leaders must have known in advance what was coming down. At meetings in Belvidere, Ill., where the last plant was voting on the contract, a union representative let the cat out of the bag by admitting that the third shift there would be eliminated.
The UAW had no immediate response to this latest outrage. It was only days later that Gettelfinger remarked he didn’t know that Chrysler would do what they did. Clearly, the fight won’t come from the top.
A new strategy must arise from below to put an end to such shameless collusion between labor and capital. The new fightback program must revive an old concept, popular during the time of the great sit-down strikes of 1936-37: that a job is a worker’s property right. Workers could advance the legal arguments expressed then by the UAW’s lead attorney, Maurice Sugar:
“Let us see if there is not a logical basis for the claim which the worker makes that he has a right in his job. We start by asserting that every worker has the right to live in decency and as a free man. Since the worker has the right to live in decency and as a free man and since his livelihood and his freedom actually depend upon his having a job, it follows that he has a right to a job.”
Such simple truths can form the basis of a militant campaign to defend workers’ jobs against those who promise economic security even as they conspire to destroy it.
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