FROM FINANCE TO INDUSTRY: THE CRISIS IN AUTO - Part 12

A crucial part of the strength of U.S. capital and the U.S. state lie in the weaknesses of its labor movement, which provides, as this crisis has sadly shown, the U.S. elite with the flexibility it needs to solve its problems on terms favorable to it. Had U.S. workers demonstrated a capacity to limit concessions or foreclosures, to demand a democratization of the banks rather than simply "fixing" them, to insist on a radical correction in the gross inequalities that emerged on the way to this crisis, to focus on rebuilding social infrastructures and cities rather than simply "stimulus," the crisis would have confronted much deeper uncertainties — and a more ambitious and far-reaching set of alternatives might have reached the public agenda.

Toward a Class Perspective

The crisis seriously weakened GM, put Chrysler into the hands of Fiat, and destroyed hundreds of auto parts companies. Yet at the end of the day there will still be an auto industry in North America that is more concentrated (with fewer but larger corporations) and, in capitalist terms, stronger than it has been in recent years. But the workers in the industry have been dramatically weakened and in light of the high profile of the sector and the historic role of its key unions (as well of course of the depth of the current crisis itself), the outcome in auto will clearly escalate pressures on other workers, both private and public. To that extent, the defeat of the autoworkers threatens to become a historic class defeat.

Both the UAW and CAW have, unlike in their early days, refused to raise any larger questions about the economic system. In fact, in the name of job security the unions (and their members) generally defended the corporations against any criticism, such as that of corporate insensitivity to environmental sustainability. This lack of independence from the corporations has cost workers not just in terms of the unions' public credibility and leadership role on social issues but it has, in its short sightedness, ultimately left autoworkers less secure. Moreover, as the crisis unfolded and the jobs issue dominated all other considerations even more, the union — absent any alternatives for defending jobs — was left all the more vulnerable to the most damaging concessions. And even when corporations like GM and Chrysler were saved, most jobs were not, since a basic part of the corporate (and government) recovery strategy included the further decimation of the workforce.

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