CAW concessions to Chrysler wipe out decades of gains

[by Barry Weisleder]

Thousands of Canadian Auto Workers’ Union (CAW) members at Chrysler plants in Toronto, Brampton, and Windsor, Ontario, approved another batch of labour concessions by 87 per cent on April 26.

Given the deluge of propaganda by big business media and politicians in favour of the rollbacks, it is surprising that as many as 13 per cent overall voted to reject it. Indeed, at Brampton, Ontario’s CAW Local 1285, 24 per cent of production-line workers who cast a ballot gave it a thumbs down.

The new deal delivers the cost savings of $19 per hour demanded by Chrysler and the federal Conservative government. Although no jobs and no new ‘green’ vehicle products are assured, and while Chrysler may still seek bankruptcy protection, the federal government pledges to give the company billions of dollars in aid.

The latest concessions wipe out decades of labour gains. They include reduced paid relief time, cuts to supplementary unemployment benefits, increased prescription drug fees, an end to semi-private hospital coverage, and the termination of car purchase and tuition rebate programmes. In addition, the wages of new employees will increase more slowly, and there is provision for the hiring of more part-time and contract workers at Chrysler plants.

These concessions occur on top of cuts already swallowed by the CAW at General Motors in a deal reached in March. That agreement freezes wages until 2012, reduces paid time off by 40 hours per year, scraps an annual $1700 bonus, cuts company contributions to union-sponsored programmes, and requires CAW members to pay $30 per month towards their health benefits.

Breaking from the pattern set with GM is a major departure for the CAW, which usually negotiates similar deals with all three of the Detroit-based auto firms. The CAW split from the U.S.-based United Auto Workers’ Union in late 1984 over the UAW’s contract concessions.

The race to the bottom is far from over. Now GM wants the same breaks Chrysler got. And bosses outside the auto industry are wetting their lips.

So, what’s a union to do? Avoid following the CAW example of late. Since before the global market crash last fall, CAW officials have lobbied for protectionist barriers against Asian car imports, and demanded more government money for the shrinking North American auto giants. To that end, the CAW backed the Liberal Party in most ridings in the last two federal elections.

Once regarded as ‘progressive’ and ‘militant’, the CAW tops have uttered not a peep about demanding public equity for public investment in the car companies, let alone call for nationalization of the auto industry under workers’ and community democratic control.

Socialists and rank and file workers should sound the alarm and generate a big fight for public ownership as the alternative to subsidizing the corporate elite – before union concessions descend to deeper depths.