Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Another Important Battle: The American Axle Strike

Another important battle: American Axle strike

By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Published May 31, 2008 9:15 AM

During the week of May 18 under massive pressure from the UAW International and the American Axle Manufacturing bosses, workers at American Axle plants in Michigan and New York ended their courageous three-month strike, voting to accept a concessionary contract. Five days later, UAW President Gettelfinger and AAM signed the contract. Plants are now in the process of resuming production.

The contract is rife with concessions and givebacks, many of which the rank and file members are only now learning about. As more onerous details emerge, they hold the potential to spark many battles within the plants and beyond.

Despite all odds, the workers at American Axle led the way by fighting back against a profitable company, which had the full backing of GM and other Wall Street vultures, and a media blitz that hammered constantly with the lie that concessions were necessary to save the company. Many workers rejected the pressure and fought to the end for a decent contract. The vote totals showed almost 25 percent of workers at UAW Local 235 rejected the contract, as did about 10-20 percent of workers at the other locals.

The workers of AAM and allies with their fighting spirit will apply the numerous critical lessons of the strike to regroup for inevitable class battles every day on the shop floor.

A most critical lesson of the strike was the leadership displayed by the Black workers, women and men. The picket lines were strong during the winter-long, three-month strike. Unity with white workers and members from other locals and communities and progressive organizations was solid. Food and money poured in to aid the workers and their families who were trying to make it on a paltry $200 a week strike pay. Meanwhile the Gettelfinger leadership was sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in the strike fund.

Strike weapon needs sharpening

The workers’ action at AAM showed the power of the strike weapon. Over the duration of the strike, 30 GM plants were idled and the corporation lost at least $2 billion in idled plant production and lost sales. AAM lost millions and both companies suffered big-time stock market losses.

To be effective, the strike weapon today needs to incorporate and broaden a political strategy that raises class consciousness and the understanding that conditions under capitalism are the result not only of downsizing, restructuring and offshoring. They are also being driven relentlessly by competition. There is no economic struggle that doesn’t become political. Competition is global, based on the scientific technological revolution, which has revolutionized the means of production.

Under present-day capitalism/imperialism, competition is deeply embedded in the drive for profits and investment to increase production and lower labor costs. Expand or die is their motto. This is the very nature of capitalist competition. And increasingly workers in capitalist countries are being pitted globally against workers in the developing countries in a race to the bottom.

The courageous workers at AAM were led to a concessionary contract by a UAW International leadership that sees only one way to respond: adjusting and conciliating, instead of fighting back on an internationalist basis together with unions and their allies worldwide.

Within the AAM strike the auto barons whipsawed the workers both in the U.S. and elsewhere where the company has operations, which led to the concessionary contract. Without the knowledge of how to deal with this crisis, the workers were forced between a rock and a hard place. So the workers, being practical, voted for the contract but a significant number wanted to keep fighting.

Despite the horrendous, precedent-setting UAW-AAM contract, hope can be found in this epic struggle in the heroism of the workers and their valiant fight, which drew strong support from labor-community-student allies internationally [See previous AAM coverage at www.workers.org].

AAM and other Wall Street vultures are continuing their onslaught within the auto industry and beyond to gut contracts and smash wages for union and nonunion workers even as inflation and the cost of living skyrockets.

But as the AAM strike and history show clearly, union leadership that has a “market-competitive” labor-management ideology will never be able to fight the barons of industry and their bankers effectively, much less lead the workers to victory. Time and again this kind of opportunistic business union, top-down “leadership” has sold out the workers and dampened or co-opted the class struggle. Lacking is the necessary class-consciousness and the ability to restructure and democratize the international unions and use this qualitative advance for the kind of action that this historical period calls for.

More than at any time in history this is a life and death question. To be victorious, the change has to come from below, from the multinational workers, organized and unorganized. True leadership must be thoroughly independent, politically anti-capitalist, militant, internationalist and ready to struggle.
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