FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Euro-Trashing American Workers

The industries and nationalities differ, but the tactics remain the same.  European companies that wouldn’t dream of pulling similar stunts in their home countries have found they can treat American workers as shabbily as American companies treat Third World workers, yet never have to worry about any public relations backlash.

Take, for example, the French-owned multinational Roquette Freres.  Twenty years ago, Roquette opened a milling plant in the town of Keokuk, Iowa, lured there by the generous promise of tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks and other financial benefits.  The community leaders desperately needed the industry, and Roquette was more than happy to put down roots.

But last September, things turned ugly when Roquette put a gun to the head of the 240 members of BCTGM (Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers) Local 48 G and told them that unless they accepted what amounted to the evisceration of their current contract, they would be locked-out.

Roquette’s “last, best and final” offer to the union was an insult.  It included a $4 per hour pay cut, total license to use temp workers in place of full-time employees, elimination of sick, maternity and personal leaves, elimination of the pension plan, and drastic increases in health care premiums.  All jammed down the union’s throat.

Needless to say, if Roquette had dared used a similar power-play in France, they would have a public relations nightmare on their hands?not to mention a possible riot.  But noting that the U.S. has neither the strict labor laws nor the grudging but deep-seated pro-union sentiment France has, Roquette believes it can get away with any anti-union muscle tactics it likes.  And, apparently, it can.

Unfortunately, because Local 48 G couldn’t possibly sign so inferior an agreement, the union membership has been locked out since September, 2010.  The union’s good faith offer to continue working while negotiating was summarily turned down by the company.  Clearly, Roquette had already made its mind up; they were either going to humiliate the union by forcing it to capitulate, or destroy the Local outright, through attrition.

Some months ago I interviewed by telephone Local 48 G’s president, Steve Underwood, and reported in CounterPunch that, although he and his fellow members were bitterly disappointed and frustrated, they were hanging in there as best they could?despite being out of work during the holidays, which made for a bleak Christmas.  As of this writing, Local 48 G is still locked out.  It’s been almost 10 months.

Another example of European opportunism occurred in Washington, D.C., practically in the shadow of the Capitol Dome.  A German-based company (Jamestown Properties, with headquarters in Cologne) purchased the landmark Madison Hotel in the nation’s capital, and, after taking over, on January 19, 2011, proceeded to mount a frontal assault on its workforce.

The company boldly announced, on January 31, that it had decided not only to refuse to recognize the existing contract between the previous owners and UNITE-HERE, the union representing 150 workers, but to more or less “fire” everybody and require them to re-apply for their jobs. Simple as that. No talking, no compromising, no second thoughts. The decision was unilateral and final.  They pull a stunt like that in Germany?with their labor laws?and the company executives go to jail.

And then there’s Ikea’s Danville, Virginia, manufacturing plant.  It was only three years ago that state and local officials offered the high-profile Swedish company $12 million dollars in tax breaks and subsidies to lure it to Virginia.  For Danville, it seemed like the economic coup of the century:  a tiny, backwater, industry-starved community manages to attract a renowned corporation like Ikea.

Then, alas, catastrophe struck.  Ikea’s Danville plant turned into a Scandinavian version of a modern day sweatshop.  When the IAM (International Association of Machinists) made a run at unionizing the facility, Ikea went into an hysterical defensive posture, actually hiring the law firm of Jackson Lewis, an aggressive, anti-labor outfit that specializes in keeping unions out.  And that NEVER would have happened back home in Sweden.

Of course, without a union to protect the employees, Ikea-Danville quickly began doing what many non-union shops are fond of doing.  They established draconian, top-down work rules, whereby they unilaterally altered seniority, forced people to work overtime without advance notice, and arbitrarily lowered the starting hourly wage from $9.75 per hour to $8.00 per hour (the federal minimum is $7.25).

Again, none of these aforementioned hardball tactics would be employed in Europe?.which is why these corporations are relocating here.  As conservative as the European Right can be, you don’t hear right-wing politicians publicly advocating the actual elimination of labor unions and the abolition of the federal minimum wage.  Even the European Right would view such extreme positions as nutty.

But you do hear those suggestions being made in the U.S.  And you don’t just hear them from some fringe commentator ranting on a low-frequency Mojave Desert radio station.  You hear them from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

Limited Time Special Offer!
Get CounterPunch Print Edition By Email for Only $25 a Year!

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
Domenica Ghanem
Is Bush’s Legacy Really Much Different Than Trump’s?
Peter Certo
Let Us Argue Over Dead Presidents
Christopher Brauchli
Concentration Camps From Here to China
ANIS SHIVANI
The Progress of Fascism Over the Last Twenty Years
Steve Klinger
A Requiem for Donald Trump
Al Ronzoni
New Deals, From FDR’s to the Greens’
Gerald Scorse
America’s Rigged Tax Collection System
Louis Proyect
Praying the Gay Away
Rev. Theodore H. Lockhart
A Homily: the Lord Has a Controversy With His People?
David Yearsley
Bush Obsequies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail