AS PAY negotiations between the American car giants General Motors (GM) and Ford, and the United Auto Workers (UAW) have reached a critical point, company chiefs are threatening to close down their operations in the United States and shift production to low-wage countries in Latin America and Asia.
Commenting on GM’s and Ford’s threats, an industry analyst commented: ‘This threat is very real and the UAW is aware of it. Both GM and Ford have made it clear to the union that you do whatever you have to do to stay in business.’
A GM spokesman admitted as much declaring: ‘From a GM perspective, the focus on the talks is on closing the competitive gaps and building a viable long-term future for the company and our people.’
This is the end of the ‘American Dream’, as far as carworkers are concerned. This ‘Dream’ always excluded the low paid and unemployed. Now carworkers are targeted to join them!
Their current pay contract runs out on September 14 and a deal on a new one is due to be concluded before that date.
The huge US vehicle-building monopolies are demanding pay cuts and the slashing of payments into pension funds and healthcare insurance for carworkers, agreements which the UAW members have fought long and hard to achieve.
At present labour costs for vehicle production amount to approximately $71 (£35) per man hour.
Workers’ hourly rate is about $27 (£13) and the other $44 (£21) is made up of other employment costs, in particular payments into a pension fund and health insurance, for present and former employees.
GM and Ford have made it clear that they want to slash labour costs by 30 per cent, or they will shut down their plants in north America and move production elsewhere.
Car bosses know that imposing a pay cut, to bring American carworkers’ wages more in line with those in Mexico or Thailand, would spark a different kind of plant shutdown, a mass strike by UAW members.
The car giants have debts running into billions of dollars and claim these arise from their financial commitments for pensions and healthcare. They are demanding that the union accepts that they can dump non-wage labour costs.
Their plan is to off-load these debts through creating a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association, funded by meagre sums from the companies and by UAW members paying the rest, in order to have healthcare insurance and a pension.
Such a scheme would have to invest its funds in the money market and shares. Today such investments are catastrophic, with billions wiped off shares in the past few weeks and American money markets awash with $2,200bn (£1,100bn) of debts that will certainly trigger more collapses.
In addition, the union would be expected to play a key role in running the scheme, acting as a broker in search of profitable investments – like sweatshop businesses in Latin America and Asia?!
This is what is on the table in the Motown talks between the car giants and union leaders, like UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. On their past record, these union leaders will capitulate to the bosses.
This situation in Motown brings out clearly, not only the crisis and bankruptcy of the US car monopolies and American capitalism, but that of the reformist, business unionism of the likes of Gettelfinger.
To defend jobs, pay, pensions and healthcare, UAW members need to build a new revolutionary leadership in their union that will break with class collaboration and strike to defend past gains.
In the present crisis of world and US capitalism, this political leadership must sever links with the parties of the big corporations, the Republicans and Democrats, by organising a Labor Party to fight for the interests of the working class.
Today workers’ rights to decent living standards, pensions, healthcare and education cannot be achieved within crisis-ridden American capitalism.
US imperialism must be overthrown by the working class, organised under the leadership of a party of the Trotskyist International Committee of the Fourth International, to establish a socialist United States of the Americas.THE Pentagon implemented United States President George Bush’s decision to establish Africom, a special African military command centre, at the weekend.
The Pentagon said Africom will allow the US to have a more integrated and effective approach to the continent and will be fully-functioning next year.
The American President proposed the plan for Africom in February, shortly after the US launched its bombing raids against Somalia, killing scores of people. When he announced the plan, Bush said: ‘This new command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa.’
Defense Secretary Robert Gates added: ‘This command will enable us to have a more effective and integrated approach than the current arrangement . . . an outdated arrangement left over from the Cold War.’
He said the Africa command centre would ‘oversee security, cooperation, building partnership capability, defence support to non-military missions, and, if directed, military operations.’
US imperialism not only wants to target more effectively anti-imperialist regimes, like that of the Council of Islamic Scholars, which existed in Somalia until the coordinated attack of the US and Ethiopia in January, it also gets 10 per cent of its oil imports from Africa.
Bush’s political opponents in the US have criticised the move as a ‘militarisation’ of foreign policy towards Africa with some justification, after his wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, and threats of war against Iran.
The militarism of US imperialism and the Bush regime is more extensive than this and is driven by the deepening crisis of American capitalism, threatened by recession, financial collapses and the drive to grab oil supplies on every continent.
The US is the biggest supplier of arms to allies internationally, according to the Congressional Research Service. Last year American arms sales reached nearly $28.8bn, with $5.1bn supplied to Pakistan, $3.5bn to India and $3.2bn in Saudi Arabia.
Not only did US forces attack Somalia earlier this year, Bush and his allies, like the British government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have been pushing for military intervention in Darfur, an oil-rich region of Sudan.
The US and Britain were in the forefront of demanding the Sudanese government accept United Nations so-called ‘peacekeepers’, alongside African Union (AU) troops in Darfur. Demonstrating hostility to the presence of foreign troops in Darfur, rebel forces attacked an AU base at the weekend, killing 10 soldiers.
Certainly the setting up of Africom by the Pentagon shows that the White House is preparing for military interventions and wars in Africa, in order to pursue the interests of US imperialism.
However, the weakness of American imperialism is expressed in the fact that not a single African government publicly welcomed the move.
More than that, no country on the continent is willing to host Africom, with its initial staff of 400 military, diplomatic and other specialist staff. Its headquarters is to be in Stuttgart in Germany!
Millions of US workers are dismayed and angered by this move by Bush and the Pentagon. They do not want to be cannon fodder for more imperialist military adventures – more deaths among the peoples of the Middle East and Africa, and American youth in the armed forces.
American workers and their trade unions are opposed to the fact that billions from the government budget are spent on war, while there are no funds for healthcare, education and welfare.
To fight on these issues, the unions must break with the parties of US imperialism, the Republicans and Democrats, and back a Labor Party that will fight for the interests of the working class.
The answer to the militarism of Bush and the Pentagon is the struggle to carry through a new American Revolution to overthrow capitalism, establish a workers’ government and carry out socialist policies, including disbanding the Pentagon and withdrawing all US troops from other countries.
To organise such a struggle, workers and youth must build a revolutionary party, a section of the International Committee of the Fourth International.