Republic workers show the way

December 17, 2008

FOR THE first time in over 70 years, workers in the United States took over a factory--and won! Not only did Republic Windows & Doors workers win against their immediate bosses, but they also shamed Bank of America into extending enough credit to the defunct company to cover the severance pay to which the workers were legally entitled.

This could turn into a clarion call for workers all over the country. As the economy worsens--and it will do so for a while even according to mainstream apologist economists--it will be imperative for the workers of this country and around the world to hold their ground.

Case in point: The recent Republican refusal to go for the bailout of GM, Ford and Chrysler. The Republicans took this as an opportunity to attack the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

Now, I am not in favor of a bailout of any corporation. The Republicans in this instance, however, turned this situation into an attempt to win massive concessions from the workers.

The opposition was based on the supposed discrepancy between what UAW workers make and what workers at plants run by the likes of Toyota and Honda. According to GM, however, its UAW workers average $29.78 an hour, while according to Toyota, its workers average $30 an hour.

The big difference comes when one factors in so-called legacy costs--that is, the cost of pensions and health care for current workers and pensioners. When these costs are factored in, the total for GM rises to about $69 an hour and $48 an hour for Toyota.

However, starting in 2010, the UAW is picking up the majority of the costs for health care and GM just dumped health care for white collar pensioners and their spouses and widows/widowers. (This group includes my grandmother, by the way.) The point being that the costs for GM, Ford and Chrysler would be dropping very soon, anyway.

Even more to the point is that any profits seen since the formation of the Big Three automakers have been on the backs of the men and women who have worked in these factories, often in very dangerous conditions with deadly results. They have earned every penny that they receive in pay, health care, vacation, pensions and sick time.

Actually, they have earned even more than that. As Marx proved 160 years ago, profit is not a result of the bosses' intelligence, "hard work," or guidance of their respective companies (large and small), but of the labor of the workers themselves.

Indeed, if history is any example (and it usually is), we can expect that workers will be used as scapegoats in the ensuing years of crisis under capitalism. Thankfully the workers at Republic Windows & Doors have given us a glimpse of the true power of workers when they act democratically and in unison. The workers, united, will never be defeated!
Alex Read, Toledo, Ohio

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