Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mobilize auto workers behind the American Axle strike

Statement of the World Socialist Web Site editorial board
20 March 2008

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The following statement is posted as a leaflet in pdf format. We urge our readers and supporters to download and distribute it as widely as possible.

The World Socialist Web Site and the Socialist Equality Party call upon all auto workers to mobilize in defense of the three-week-old strike by 3,650 workers at American Axle & Manufacturing plants in Michigan and western New York. By resisting the company’s wage-cutting demands, American Axle workers are taking a stand for the entire working class.

What is at stake in this struggle? Once again, a company run by multi-millionaire owners is demanding that the wages and conditions of the workers be permanently slashed to near-poverty levels. This is a situation that confronts millions of workers in the US.

American Axle CEO Richard Dauch—who received at least $60 million in total compensation over the last five years—has threatened to close plants and shift production to lower-wage factories in the US and Mexico unless workers accept a $14-an-hour wage cut, sharp reductions in medical coverage, the elimination of employer-paid pensions and retiree health care benefits, and hundreds more job reductions.

Last week, three workers at the Detroit plant were arrested after the company began to implement its threat to ship products out of the strikebound factories.

This is a struggle not simply against one company. Behind Dauch stand the biggest corporate and financial interests, which are determined to make the working class pay for the financial crisis on Wall Street resulting from the bursting of the real estate bubble.

The question posed is: Who is to pay for the failure of American capitalism?

It is not only manufacturing workers whose livelihoods are being attacked, but far broader sections of the working class. At the bankrupt investment bank Bear Stearns, more than half of the company’s 14,000 employees lost their jobs and the entire work force at a stroke saw their life sayings wiped away by the collapse of the firm’s stock.

The needs of working people are irreconcilably opposed to a system that is entirely geared to increasing corporate profits and further enriching a financial aristocracy. The fact that the entire working class confronts a ruthless offensive by big business, backed by a government and two-party system that defend corporate America, demonstrates that this is fundamentally a political struggle between opposing social classes.

The industrial mobilization of the working class must be guided by a new perspective and strategy and the building of a political movement that opposes the capitalist system, whose failure is being demonstrated each day in the spread of home foreclosures, a financial crisis that threatens to plunge the country into a new Depression, and growing social inequality.

The role of the UAW

The fight against wage-cutting, the loss of jobs and the destruction of all the gains won by previous generations of workers cannot be conducted through the existing labor organizations, such as the United Auto Workers union. They categorically defend the profit system through their collaboration with the corporations and their political alliance with the Democratic Party, which they falsely portray as a “friend of the working man” in order to block the building of an independent party of the working class.

Last year the UAW signed contracts with the Big Three automakers that imposed on its own members 50 percent wage cuts and the destruction of health benefits and pensions. In return, the union became the proprietor of a health care trust that constitutes one of the largest private investment funds in the US, with more than $50 billion in assets. Under the terms of the deal, the UAW has become the single largest shareholder in General Motors and Ford.

How, by any stretch of the imagination, can one describe such an outfit as a working class organization? It is a business, controlled by a bureaucracy that at every point sets out to advance its own financial interests by collaborating with the auto companies at the direct expense of the workers who are compelled to pay dues into its coffers. Its major function is to stomp out dissent within the ranks and soften up workers to accept management’s demands.

With its control of tens of millions of shares of GM and Ford stock, the UAW has a direct financial incentive to assist the auto bosses in slashing labor costs, wiping out jobs and driving up the exploitation of its own members on the shop floor.

American Axle was set up in 1994 after GM spun off its axle and forging operations in order to slash labor costs for its parts production. The number one auto maker and its Wall Street investors are demanding that American Axle deliver a decisive blow to the striking workers in order to break the resistance of all auto workers to even greater concessions that will be demanded as the US auto companies face slumping sales and a further loss of market share.

The most dangerous threat facing American Axle workers is the deliberate effort of the UAW to isolate and sabotage their struggle. The UAW’s top leadership has taken the negotiations out of the hands of local representatives in a sure sign that a sellout is being prepared.

On March 4 the Detroit Free Press reported that the UAW offered substantial wage cuts to American Axle on the eve of the strike.

According to a March 17 article in the Automotive News, the UAW International is seeking “job guarantees” from American Axle to end the walkout, basically on management’s terms. “General Motors has contracted hundreds of millions of dollars of new business annually with American Axle. The union wants those axles and other parts built in UAW-represented US plants, not in Mexico, said a source close to the situation,” the publication reported.

It continues, “The job guarantees are needed to salve the pain of concessions the UAW must make at American Axle to bring wages and benefits more in line with the axle maker’s competitors, said Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research think tank in Ann Arbor, Michigan. ‘Plant investment is the quid pro quo,’ he said.”

As always the UAW is negotiating, not to defend its members, but to defend its own interests. The Automotive News article makes clear that the UAW International is trying to arrive at agreement with Dauch to secure the maximum number of dues-paying workers in return for agreeing to the wholesale destruction of wages, benefits and working conditions.

Whatever “job guarantees” the UAW claims it has obtained will not be worth the paper they are written on. The UAW said it received such promises from GM, Ford and Chrysler last year. But once the contracts were ratified the companies eliminated entire shifts at their assembly plants and wiped out thousands of jobs.

American Axle workers are defying the pattern of wage- and benefit-cutting contracts the United Auto Workers union has accepted throughout the auto industry. Having faced widespread opposition to its betrayal of Big Three auto workers, the UAW is determined to make sure the American Axle strike does not become a rallying point to oppose its pro-business policies.

The way forward

If this struggle is not to be isolated and sabotaged, the conduct of the strike and negotiations must be taken out of the hands of the UAW. Rank-and-file committees should be set up, independently of the UAW, to unite auto workers and working people in the communities threatened with layoffs and plant closings. These committees should call demonstrations, organize mass picketing to stop production at the American Axle plants, and fight to expand the strike to GM, Ford, Chrysler, Delphi and the other auto and auto parts companies in order to overturn the concession contracts signed by the UAW.

The fight of auto workers must be linked up with the struggle of the working class as a whole—against the threat to jobs, the wave of home foreclosures, cuts in social programs, and the squandering of billions on the war in Iraq. This must be the start for the building a new political movement of the working class based on the fight for an international and socialist alternative to capitalism.

The decimation of cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Flint, Michigan has been part of a deliberate policy of deindustrialization, which has led to the destruction of six million manufacturing jobs since 1979. This was done by the most powerful financial interests, which sought to free up capital from “underperforming” industries in order to reap vast fortunes in the stock market and through other forms of financial swindling.

At the same time, companies like American Axle shifted production to Mexico, China and other low-wage countries in order to maximize returns for investors and enrich the top corporate executives. The response of the UAW has been to peddle nationalist poison in order to drive a wedge between US workers and their brothers and sisters internationally, while collaborating ever more closely in the slashing of wages, benefits and jobs.

The attack on auto workers is international. In recent days, BMW has announced the elimination of 8,000 jobs in Germany, and GM Europe said it would cut 5,000 jobs in Belgium, France, Spain and Germany. A genuine fight in defense of jobs is possible only by uniting auto workers on an international scale based on a socialist program.

American Axle’s financial books must be made public. The huge payouts for Dauch and other top executives must be frozen and the tens of millions they have squeezed out of the company returned.

The vast assets of the auto industry—built up by the labor of generations of workers—can no longer be the personal property of America’s wealthy elite, who dispense with them as they see fit. If the industry is to be run for the good of society, it must be transformed into a publicly owned utility and placed under the democratic control of working people. This will not only guarantee a good standard of living for auto workers and their families, but the production of safe, high-quality and affordable transportation for consumers.

The fight for this socialist and internationalist policy requires a break with the Democratic Party—the twin party with the Republicans of big business, inequality and war—and the building of a mass socialist party of the working class. This is the aim of the Socialist Equality Party. We urge auto workers to consider our program and make the decision to join and build the SEP as the new revolutionary leadership of the working class.

We encourage autoworkers and others to contact the WSWS.

See Also:
American Axle workers in Detroit discuss political issues in strike
[14 March 2008]


  • At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It is no secret that AAM and the UAW are at odds with the new contract. It is no secret that the rumors, of the proposed contracts, are going to hurt thousands of families. And, it is no secret that we, as AAM families, simply can’t stand for it.
    AAM states the Detroit facilities are losing money. Consequently, it is our fault and we need to take a pay cut to adjust their profits accordingly. Well, I wonder if Mr. Dauch knows how his plant is mismanaged and that he is misinformed by his management. There are quite a few costly issues with the Forge. Issues that have been discussed with management numerous times. Issues that could save AAM considerable amounts of money. He needs to come down to the floor and speak with the men and women that work hard for him and honestly know the” ins and outs” of their machines and departments. He would hear honest opinions and thorough suggestions that would better productivity. It would change his idea of what his workers really do and in time will even see better profits. I guarantee it!

    Processes are not clarified. Like re-run steel; steel is scrapped after it is run through the induction heater twice. No documentation supports this action. The Quality Supervisor states steel can be run through more than twice. Usually this steel is scrapped. Many racks of this steel are scrapped annually. How much money is lost on a whole rack of good steel being tossed out.

    We had a period of time where no Preventative Maintenance had been performed on the Upsetters for many years. Employee’s are blamed for these machines not running or when we can’t obtain a quality part.

    Supervisors just want to be a boss. It’s all about clicking with the Upper Management and covering their own rears not the hourly employees. Supervisors just want to look good for Dauch and Upper Management. We have been told, on Numerous occasions, when Dauch walks through the plants, to just keep the machines running even if we are only making scrap. They think they are showing Dauch that we are “running strong”. Dauch needs to walk in Unannounced. He will see the real way his plant is being run. It is like a dog and pony show if they know he is coming through.

    Shotblast and Bender Operators become supervisors. An Agricultural Engineer running the Upset Department? Finance people become Area Supervisors and then Plant Managers? How can a 3 month Supervisor tell a 14 year vet what to do and how he should do it? Who would you want to teach you on the workings of an Upsetter; Management with a degree that has nothing to do with Manufacturing or an employee that has been running and repairing that machine for 14 years? These people have no idea the skillfulness and intricate modifications that are done to produce a quality part. Some of these modifications are needed due to the lack of preventive maintenance mentioned above.

    There has been “big money” wasted on past processes that we don’t use anymore. Example: We implemented a new tagging system that failed TWICE. How many hours were wasted organizing and building this system, TWICE? How much in materials wasted, TWICE? By the way, we aren’t using this system …again. Yet, you won’t listen to the suggestions that will really save you money. Like the scrap mentioned above, or cutting small rubber mats out of the big used rubber mats to save money. Why buy small ones when we can reuse big ones? How many thousands of dollars would that have saved over the years? Somehow Management doesn’t think it’s a good idea! Who makes these decisions? I want to see them on St. Aubin begging for their jobs. These are some of the reasons why we feel we are being set up for failure. Imagine the money saved if someone listened to us years ago. Really, years ago.

    AAM spent $150,000 to develop a class that would train and instruct us on how to run and repair an Upsetter. 4 people took the course (I was one of them) and there were numerous errors in the textbook and on the video. This is a training video and there is a safety violation RIGHT ON THE VIDEO! It is a shame that an hourly worker is looked at as disposable and useless. It is ironic that the same employee is the one who is correcting your textbook and has to educate the “teacher” on the finer points of Forging.

    We have gone for years without the proper tools. At one time we had them. Then Management took them and threw them away because they were going to “re-do” the system. We have never received replacement tools. This causes much more down time and consequently money is wasted…again.

    As we all know, Toyota is an important client. Then why is the quench protection for Hino shafts barely operable? Equipment is broken. The process is hardly documented; as we have been instructed to do. The whole process needs to be re-evaluated. Good parts are continually being scrapped in large quantities. Modifying this process would save a lot of money for AAM and maybe even Toyota.

    Then there are safety issues. There is plexiglass in the windows of an overhead crane. OSHA standards require shatterproof glass. Maybe I should mention the Upset crane that doesn’t have brakes. The list can really go on and on. Safety issues are ignored until we are fined or somebody gets hurt. 2 ½ years it took to put a mirror inside the bay door of the Upset department so Hi-lo’s won’t injure people.

    These are just some of the issues in my department. I know there are issues in other departments as well and those employee’s could share a wealth of suggestions too.

    While Mr. Dauch, was at Chrysler, he was quoted as saying “We would go in, stop operations, and talk to people” You felt it was important to hear what the workers had to say. Why not now when it is YOUR OWN company? Who better to give you insight on the struggles or successes on the floor? It has been said that you are purposely ignoring these issues because you want the Forge to fail. We know you want to shut it down. And who better to blame than the hourly employees that manufacture these products. I don’t want to believe that. Who in their right mind would want any part of their company to purposely fail? But how can such a shrewd businessman let all of this go on under his nose and be none the wiser?

    I don’t need to quote all AAM and Dauch’s profits,. We have heard it many times. We all know about his large salary, bonuses etc while the company lost 222 million dollars in 2006. We are all aware of the bonuses of Upper Management. But not one of them are willing to take a cut. Do you even consider the consequences your actions are going to have on our families? 3600+ people will lose their homes and maybe even their cars. Some of your employees have spouses or other family members here too. So, in their case you are affecting two salaries in one household. In our situation, my wife has already taken a pay cut similar to the one we have heard you suggest. We simply can’t do it again. I am a forth generation Forge employee. I have worked for your company for 14 years. We have built a life around AAM and our pay. You can’t just take 60% of our pay and benefits and not expect a fight. What is left after I pay benefits with $11.40 an hr? How can I support my family with that? How would you support your family with that? With gas going to $4.00 a gallon, how can I even drive to work on that?
    If you cut our wages the way you want to, you will have to offer a lump sum “buy out” or “buy down”. I hear you don’t want to do that. This almost seems impossible to believe. Are you so callous as to leave all these families bankrupt and homeless? I know it sounds extreme but it is very true.

    I must quote Dauch again. In an article, from Krannert School of Management, Dick Dauch stated: (referring to a story that he reads to his employees “every year”)
    “Have a Love Affair
    You say you love me, but sometimes you don't show it.
    In the beginning, you could not do enough for me.
    Now you seem to take me for granted.
    Some days I wonder if I mean anything to you at all.
    Maybe when I'm gone you'll appreciate me and the things I do for you.
    I'm responsible for getting food on your table; for the clean shirt you wear; for the welfare of your home; for the thousand-and-one things you want and need.
    Why, if it weren't for me, you wouldn't have the car you drive.
    I've kept quiet and waited to see how long it would take for you to realize how much you really need me.
    Cherish me ... take good care of me ... and I'll take good care of you.
    Who am I? I'm your JOB!”
    What happened to those thoughts? And in the same article, when speaking of your contribution to our local communities, you stated “ …we do have a social conscience.” Where is it? It is going to be my kids you are helping out, in the Girls and Boys club of America, if you continue with this charade.

    With all this said; I have to say I know you have a negative opinion of the hourly worker. You feel that we are all replaceable and indispensable. I can assure you I am not. I am that worker who gives 110%. I go over and beyond. My Supervisors never have to tell me what to do because it is already done. I am never someone who says “that isn’t my job”. I can run and problem solve an Upsetter better than most people on the floor and any Manager that has come through this plant in my 14 yrs. I gave you 14 years of dedicated service and I deserve the respect as such.

    In Solidarity


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