The workers at American Axle are doing all they can. Their cause is just, they are united in battle and unions from all over are coming to this plant on the Detroit-Hamtramck border to lend support. For seven weeks now, 3,650 workers have been on strike, resisting a very profitable company’s efforts to drastically reduce their wages (by as much as 50 percent) and benefits. However, the balance of forces in this fight is anything but even and they sure could use some help from high places.
Autoworkers are fighting two enemies at once: the company and a far-right Republican government in Washington whose agenda is to make workers suffer and sacrifice for corporate profits. While Democrats are not without blame, the lion’s share of the mess we’re in rests with the Republican Party.
Of all the wrongs to make right in the November elections, those faced by labor should be put on a fast track. For 30 years, the Republican right wing has hit hard at the trade union movement —Reagan’s firing of air traffic controllers was just the beginning.
The scales of justice have been so tilted toward employers they have almost fallen over. Just think about what has taken place: Tax laws that reward companies for moving production out of the country. A National Labor Relations Board that should be called the National Corporate Get-Rid-of-Your-Union Relations Board. An Occupational Safety and Health Administration that has reduced staff and closed its eyes to dangerous work conditions. Free trade agreements that have made it easy for companies to set up production all over the world, worsened poverty and inequality in every country where they have been implemented and led to a massive loss of jobs here in the United States.
In this political climate workers are supposed to feel lucky just to be working and have no right complaining about corporate salaries and the halving of their wages and benefits. “We have the flexibility to source all of our business to other locations around the world and we have the right to do so,” said American Axle CEO Dick Dauch. Work for what I say or I’ll give your job to someone else, he’s saying.
Workers can win under such conditions, but why should it be so difficult? Isn’t it about time to send the Republicans packing?
In addition to the unity and solidarity being shown on the picket line, labor needs a Democratic landslide in the November elections — a landslide that sends a message to the next president and Congress that relief for working people is needed, and a landslide that will give labor the leverage to stop and even reverse the corporate attack.
The AFL-CIO’s “McCain Revealed” campaign shows him to be no friend of labor. His voting record is dismal. He’s voted to block the Employee Free Choice Act, voted to give Bush “fast track” authority on free trade legislation and voted to block a bill to protect overtime rights. McCain continues to be a strong supporter of the Iraq war and there is no way the needs of working people are going to be met while we’re spending three trillion dollars on the war. In other words, a McCain victory will be a continuation of Bush’s policies.
On most issues facing labor, Senators Obama and Clinton have both pledged policies opposite from McCain’s. A huge anti-McCain vote in November will be a defeat for the far-right and at the same time strengthen the hand of labor, the whole working class, women and youth. A big turnout by autoworkers in November will make battles on the picket line a lot easier.
John Rummel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Michigan correspondent for the People’s Weekly World.