May 28, 2009
As the prospect of GM (General Motors) being forced into bankruptcy looms closer, the company (as well as the government) enters yet the next phase in a long, bitter and seemingly intractable war against workers -- and not just members of the UAW (United Auto Workers).
For the courtroom represents a battleground more vicious than any negotiating table, for there, the rules are (to borrow a phrase from segregation days) 'separate and unequal.'
That's because civil laws favor corporations. How could it be otherwise when lawyers are trained in corporate and contract law -- and rarely, if ever -- labor law? Under bankruptcy law, prior contracts can be broken, and new arrangements made, as long as creditors and investors get paid.
What of a man or woman who has spent decades at work for the company? Isn't that an investment?
To the investors and bondholders that is irrelevant.
They, and the White House, will have driven GM into bankruptcy court, not UAW, which has bent over so far backwards they're in knots.
In Sept. 2007, UAW signed a "landmark" pact with GM, in which the union assumed massive health care costs under what's called VEBA (volunteer employee benefit association). According to the terms, GM donates cash or stock to the UAW to administer VEBA, and GM agrees to the present work force of 73,000 workers. The VEBA contract was for 4 years, expiring in 2011.
Two years later, and tens of thousands have been laid off. Even before bankruptcy proceedings began, UAW heads were being pushed to accept GM stock (now around $1.40 a share) and corporate debt, instead of cash to run VEBA, and urged to accept "immediate cuts" to retiree benefits at the insistence of Timothy Geithner's Treasury Department, citing GM's "financial difficulties."
GM, we tend to forget, is a multinational, which builds and sells cars in Mexico, Canada and Asia. And while sales have indeed slumped in the Americas, sales are hot in Asia.
In China, the world's most populous market, an American car is still a status symbol, and China's economy is still the healthiest on earth, growing at an annual rate of 6%.
Moreover, while jobs are being lost in the U.S., and retirees' benefits are slashed, the bailout billions will fuel GM's efforts overseas, where, for example, a Chinese auto worker earns $3 an hour, versus $54 an hour for an American.
Does that make economic sense? Only when the bottom line is the be-all and end-all of existence (as in capitalism).
Meanwhile, six top GM execs recently sold all of their GM stock, sending a signal of imminent bankruptcy.
Having eaten the goose of GM profit, they leave the bones.
(c) '09 maj