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Frank Hammer and Dan LaBotz are absolutely right that the attempt by the powers that be to destroy the auto unions is a defining moment for labor just like the PATCO fight in the ‘80s. Labor has to stop cheerleading for their bosses plans, come up with their own, unite with their natural allies and come out into the streets swinging. It should not wait to see what the Obama Administration has in store for it. That the word of the future appointments of Geithner and Summers was joyfully received by the stock market is no good news to us.
Instead of being “realistic” and supporting a bail-out with drastic new cuts in worker pay and benefits, we should set out to reorganize the auto industry from top to bottom as public enterprise. To do it labor needs to join up with the forces that have in recent years turned out people at demonstrations in the hundreds of thousands, the anti-war movement, the immigrants rights movement and the black liberation movement. And labor needs to get out in the streets as soon as possible.
Here’s a modest nine-point plan for the industry:
1. GM., Ford and Chrysler would be merged into one company to be run as a car/bus/transportation business
2. Its cars would come with bumper to bumper warranties of 10 years (up from three years now) and become instantly competitive.
3. The government would provide high quality health care for all auto workers and auto worker retirees. It would be a model program, the prototype for single payer for everyone.
4. For at least a year there would be no layoffs of auto workers. Spread the work around. Let workers who are not producing cars use work time to figure out how to how to make better cars and vehicles. Send some of them full time to schools specializing in research and development.
5. Dump the current Boards of Directors and create a new one, 40% elected by production and white collar workers, another 20% chosen by environmental and consumer organizations, the rest chosen by the government. The company books would be open to the public.
6. Product lines would be reduced especially the macho gas guzzlers. The Hummer would be allowed to sink into the mud. The wasteful practice of making a new model each year would be ended. High mpg and pollution standards would be mandated.
7. The company would figure out ways to make buses that people would be enjoy taking, comfortable and secure with plenty of space for packages. The buses would be networked with smaller public vehicles, Segways, and any number of other transport options to bring people to and from their homes to bus routes.
8. Convert the excess plants in the auto parts sector to useful green jobs. As Diane Feely has pointed out axle plants can be converted to produce wind turbines, a product not currently made in the United States
9. Put a $200,000 cap on executive salaries. There are plenty of people who would work for that piddling salary if the current honchos can’t live on that amount.
This would no doubt require a lot of money, much more than then $25 billion being asked for currently. The US has it. It guarantees $290 billion of toxic Citibank assets at the drop of a hat. The next day it commits $600 billion to buying the debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It spends half a trillion a year on current and future costs of its Iraq-Afghanistan imperial wars. If it can afford all that, it can certainly pay to recreate an industry that makes something people actually use.
At its height a million Americans turned out for anti-war marches. Hundreds of thousands of African-Americans took part in the Millions More Movement demonstration in DC in 2005. Millions of immigrants and supporters took part in the May 1 boycott/strike of 2006. All these folks could be recruited to help win a fight for auto provided the union movement made a public promise to start giving active support to their causes.
Another bailout of financial and social failure would merely prolong the Big Three’s death rattle and discredit future government action. We need to think out of the box, out of the factory, out of the corporation. We need something new that will capture the public’s imagination.
Only the very radical is possible.