THE two-million-strong Service Employees International Union (SEIU) will today launch an ‘intensive’ campaign for healthcare and trade union rights for all workers in the United States, but is still insisting that this can be delivered by incoming President Barack Obama.
Trade union recognition and a National Health Service were two of the main demands of American workers when they voted in their millions to sweep the Republican Bush administration out of office and elect Democrat Obama in November’s US presidential election.
Now the American trade unions are demanding that Obama introduces legislation that will guarantee the right to healthcare and the right to be represented at work.
Against a backdrop of economic crisis and skyrocketing healthcare costs, the SEIU said it will today launch ‘a groundbreaking state-by-state effort to fight for immediate economic relief and recovery efforts, help fix the nation’s broken healthcare system and ensure workers have freedom to choose a voice at work.’
The campaign ‘comes the same week as an economic stimulus package moves before Congress and on the heels of an historic election where ordinary American families overwhelmingly voted for change,’ said the union.
‘Post-election polling by Lake Research Partners showed the economy topping the list of voters’ overall issues and healthcare costs ranking number one among economic concerns.
‘Meanwhile as union membership has declined nationally, average CEO (executive) pay has reached an all time high of 344 times average worker pay according to The Washington Post.’
Meanwhile, US car workers are in uproar after it emerged that Congressmen in Washington got a pay rise, whilst demanding savage pay and benefit cuts in the bankrupt US auto industry.
During the whole debate on Capitol Hill about bailing out the auto giants, members of the US Congress kept saying autoworkers were overpaid.
Some senators and members of the House of Representatives claimed United Auto Workers union (UAW) members were getting $73-$75 an hour.
Federal lawmakers demanded pay cuts as a condition of the ‘bailout’.
But their figures were wildly wrong and included all kinds of things not typically considered wages — healthcare, benefits, vacation time, pension costs, retirees’ healthcare funding, etc.
The actual average hourly wage for a unionised car worker, straight time, is much, much less.
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger testified before Congress that average pay at unionised auto plants was $28 per hour, while General Motors Corporation quoted an average of $29.78 per hour.
A worker making those wages and working full-time all year would get $58,240- $61,942, however workers in the auto industry are being put on short-time working or being laid off altogether.
Meanwhile, a US Congressmen’s basic salary was around $169,300 last year – not counting their benefits, their healthcare or their pension costs.
What’s more, US senators and representatives will get an additional $4,700 in their yearly paycheck, bringing their basic salary to $174,000.
Angry car workers have pointed out that these Congressmen are presiding over an economic meltdown and a ‘regulatory system’ for business that has been described as a shambles.
The only reason the government isn’t facing bankruptcy itself is that it can run up the federal deficit and just print more money.
The economic pain goes well beyond auto workers.
People are losing their jobs and homes across the United States.
And people who have invested in stocks and in their houses have seen billions of dollars worth of value simply evaporate.
‘They’ve actually outdone Marie Antoinette,’ said one angry worker.
‘She said, “Let them eat cake’’. Congress says, “Let them take pay cuts’’.’
However, the leader of the UAW, Ron Gettelfinger, is now beginning to toe the government and bosses’ line and volunteering that UAW members will be prepared to ‘bite the bullet’, in order to save the big three auto companies.
Gettelfinger said originally that the UAW was not prepared to accept wage cuts.
However, he moved on to say that the union would accept the Bush administration’s emergency loans deal, while pressing Barack Obama to amend it when he takes office next month.
The UAW was confident that this could be done.
But now Gettelfinger says: ‘This new year, we’ve got a huge task ahead of us: restructuring the American auto industry for a viable, long-term future.
‘It won’t be easy – just as it wasn’t easy to win the emergency bridge loans which give us a chance for a brighter tomorrow.’
Gettelfinger said that: ‘When we went to Washington seeking to help so that US carmakers could weather the current economic crisis, many in the Beltway used this as an excuse to beat up on American companies and American workers.
‘Then a funny thing happened: A lot of somebodies stood up to defend us – including millions of people who were offended that Main Street manufacturing was subject to such intense scrutiny, while Wall Street investment firms were asked few questions and received a blank cheque.
‘Now that America has decided to invest in the domestic auto industry, we have a promise to keep: We won’t let you down. We’re going to do the hard work necessary to rebuild our industry.’
Gettelfinger continued: ‘All stakeholders must participate.
‘Unfortunately, the terms of the loans approved by President George W Bush single out members of our union, by demanding steeper and faster concessions from the UAW than from any other part of the industry.
‘That’s not right, and we’ll work with the Obama administration and the new Congress to implement a more balanced approach.
‘Along the way, we’ll have to clear away some myths. For example, anybody who claims that union work rules interfere with efficiency is uninformed about the current state of our industry.
‘According to the Harbour Report – the standard for measuring auto plant productivity – all 10 of the most efficient plants in North America are union plants.
‘Union workers get the job done in less hours per vehicle than the competition.
‘For example, according to 2008 Harbour data, it takes UAW members in Kansas City just over 19 hours to assemble a Ford F-series pick-up.
‘It takes more than 32 hours to assemble the Toyota Tundra, a similar vehicle, at a non-union plant in Princeton, Indiana.’
Pleading for wage levels to be maintained, Gettelfinger said: ‘While we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished on the factory floor, the problems of the auto industry cannot be solved by our companies and our union alone.
‘Cutting wages for middle class workers, for example, won’t do any good for the American economy – and it doesn’t do much for automakers, either, since labour costs are just 10 percent of the price of a vehicle.
‘Instead, we need a strong stimulus plan – like the one planned by President-elect Barack Obama.
‘And while we’ve worked as creatively as we can to control healthcare costs within the auto industry, America’s healthcare crisis remains a national problem in search of a national solution.’
But Gettelfinger concluded by agreeing with Washington and the bosses that ‘restructuring’ had to take place.
‘To be clear, we’re not making any excuses,’ he said.
‘The restructuring of our industry that is required in exchange for government assistance is starting now, regardless of whether we can achieve much-needed policy changes.
‘But creating a viable auto industry for the long-term will require more than emergency bridge loans.
‘It requires sound policies on incomes, trade and healthcare that will support working families – and renew the US economy.’
American workers will quickly discover that the incoming President Barack Obama will not meet their demands for healthcare, housing and protection from the US capitalist catastrophe now unfolding.
They will have to change the leaders of their unions and get leaders who will fight for the interests of the working class and use all the strength of US labour to fight the mass sackings and wage cuts that the bankers and bosses are demanding.