ON SUNDAY night 46,000 members of the United Automobile Workers (UAW), employed by General Motors in America, walked out on indefinite strike in a bitter dispute over negotiations of a new work contract.
This massive walk-out is the first time GM workers have taken strike action in the US since 2007.
Terry Dittes, UAW’s GM department vice-president, said: ‘We are standing up for our members and for the fundamental rights of working-class people of this nation’. Dittes added that when GM faced bankruptcy ten years ago ‘Our membership and the American taxpayer stood up and made the hard choices and sacrifices for this company.’
Dittes is referring to the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler following the banking crash in 2008 that shattered capitalist economies throughout the world and brought these car giants to their knees.
Like the banks, the response of these companies was to demand that they be bailed-out by the working class through government hand-outs.
The US government handed GM managers $50 billion to prevent bankruptcy in 2009, taking a 61% stake in the company. When the US Treasury Department finally sold off its remaining GM shares in 2014 it had made a loss of $11.2 billion.
The US working class paid billions to ‘save’ GM and Chrysler for the shareholders and bosses, while GM workers paid a heavy price with wages and conditions cut as their union leaders insisted they had to suffer to keep capitalist industries from collapse.
Workers employed after 2008 earned only 15 dollars an hour – half that paid to older employees – and their benefits, including the vital healthcare insurance, were similarly inferior.
The demand of UAW workers for decent pay increases and an end to the poverty level wages for newer employees has been rejected by GM management who are bluntly stating that union members’ wages and benefits are already too high in comparison with unorganised auto workers in other parts of the world.
Indeed, GM has planned the closure of multiple plants in North America resulting in almost 15,000 jobs being slashed in Ohio, Michigan, Maryland and Ontario.
On the back of workers paying billions in taxes and pay cuts GM made a £2.5 billion profit in the third quarter of 2018, while GM’s Board of Directors recently authorised $14 billion for share buybacks in order to bolster their share price and provide even more lavish pay outs to shareholders and the million dollar salaries of its management.
Having been rescued from bankruptcy ten years ago these car manufacturers, despite recording massive profits, are preparing for the next wave of the world crisis as capitalism rapidly crashes into a global recession.
Along with the huge closures of GM plants in the US, the Japanese Nissan company has announced it will cut one-in-ten jobs worldwide as it records a massive drop in profits this year, while Ford is slashing 12,000 jobs in Europe and selling plants in five countries across Europe in an attempt to restore profitability.
The mass strike action by GM workers will be followed closely by car workers throughout the US who face exactly the same issue and are already demanding that the UAW leaders call all-out industrial action throughout the industry to close down car production in America.
The US working class is in a head-on collision with not just the car bosses but the entire capitalist system that today can only survive by dumping its crisis on the backs of workers though mass unemployment, poverty wages and the destruction of their hard won rights.
This is the burning issue that confronts workers in Britain and Europe as manufacturing industries collapse into bankruptcy under the impact of the world crisis of capitalism.
The only way forward for workers is to demand that the leadership of the trade unions either fight or be replaced by new leaders prepared to mobilise the entire working class in political general strikes to bring down their governments and go forward to workers’ governments.
Workers governments will seize these industries and expropriate the banks placing them under the management of the working class as part of building a planned socialist economy.