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How dare they ask us to sacrifice?

November 22, 2002 | Page 3

HOW CAN jobs be saved in this rotten economy? The employers' answer: Cut workers' wages and benefits to restore profitability. That's why union workers--from the airlines to state and local governments around the U.S.--are facing demands for billions of dollars in concessions. And that's not to mention the 87 percent of workers without union representation who have no say in the matter.

But a look at history shows that giving back hard-won gains to employers simply doesn't save jobs. Over the last 25 years, the number of unionized workers in steel, auto and other industries has been cut by more than half--even when unions gave concessions.

And now, even after we've learned of the corporate corruption and billion-dollar rip-offs of pensions engineered by Wall Street, Corporate America has the nerve to declare that workers must do with less in order to save "their" companies.

What kind of gall does it take for Glenn Tilton, the new CEO at United Airlines, to rake in a $3 million "signing bonus" while demanding that unions--which technically own the company--agree to billions in givebacks? If they refuse, Tilton says, the company will file for bankruptcy--and a judge will impose even deeper cuts.

But even if workers in every airline made concessions, it wouldn't prevent bankruptcies--and even the liquidation of some companies. That's because the economic crisis isn't caused by high wages or benefits--but by the way that capitalism's endless drive for profits inevitably leads to chaos and crisis.

An investment binge during the boom years led to so much capacity in the airline industry that companies like United have to cut back to be profitable. And the problem has only been worsened by Washington's deregulation schemes, which exaggerated the cycle of booms and busts. The same factors are at work in telecommunications--where deregulation led to a massive investment boom followed by a catastrophic collapse--and other industries.

The priorities of the profit system itself are what caused the crisis. Fighting to save jobs means challenging these priorities--for starters, by demanding re-regulation and increased social spending to create jobs. When workers organize collectively, they have the power to do just this--as shown by the victories of the labor movement during the difficult years of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Today, unions are on the defensive as Corporate America steps up its attacks. Yet millions of working people are outraged at Corporate America's scandals--and they aren't buying the lies of the free-market con-artists.

No wonder a majority of workers say that they would join a union if they could--the highest percentage in decades. And that shows the potential to challenge the profits-at-all-costs agenda of big business.

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