Militant labor and corporate attacks

From the new issue of NEWS & LETTERS, May-June 2011:

Militant labor and corporate attacks

Detroit–A new militant spirit in labor is now coming into play, sparked by the militant struggle against the onslaught of Wisconsin unionized public workers. This opposition is re-energizing the union movement and producing new leaders who are expressing their opposition to their own union leaders and their concessionary mentality. There is positive promise in these new developments.

Attacks against labor, fueled by the economic crises that have persisted since the economic meltdown in 2008, have taken many forms. They affect not only union workers, but employees in all industries. Huge increases in the use of temporary employees and expanding the two-tier wage system are assuming greater importance.

Temporary workers are under complete control by management. They can’t belong to a union, have no benefits–such as pensions, vacations or healthcare coverage–and can be fired at a moment’s notice without access to a grievance procedure. They obviously have no job security and certainly can’t make plans for the future.

Labor Department data discloses that there were more than 320,000 temporary workers hired in the private sector last year, accounting for more than a quarter of the 1.2 million private jobs added to the employment rolls in 2010.

Corporations inflate their profits by not paying for benefits and save in taxes they pay on permanent employees. Another insidious corporate practice is misclassifying permanent jobs as temporary.

This is especially prevalent in the auto industry, which now has thousands of “temporary” workers. This practice is so rampant that the UAW targeted it as a major provision to be minimized or eliminated in contract negotiations later this year.

Corporations are also adding to their profit margins by maintaining or expanding the two-tier wage system, which ordinarily results in new-hires receiving about half the wages of older workers. This is a two-edged sword, with both edges slicing the workers. Not only is the corporation paying the new-hires less in wages, it is also driving a wedge into the principles of unionism that are based on equality of treatment of all members.

The friction between older and younger workers is very real when a new worker, as in auto production, gets $14 an hour and the older worker makes $28 an hour, and both are doing the same job. Moreover, the new worker is also getting less in pension, healthcare and vacation benefits due to concessions made by union bureaucrats.

In the past, many two-tier wage provisions were limited to the length of that contract. But corporations are now concentrating on making two-tier wages permanent.

Workers at the Harley-Davidson motorcycle plant in Milwaukee, Wis., approved a seven-year contract last year that extends the two-tier system and also freezes the wages of the workers. Workers will receive bonuses instead of getting wage increases. This means that contract benefits based on wages will not be increased for seven years.

Most startling is that the workers approved the contract two years before it will go into effect on March 31, 2012, when the present contract expires. When the workers protested the advance negotiation, the company intimidated them by threatening to move the work to another state.

–Andy Phillips

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