Though the United Auto Workers union is emphasizing certain aspects of the strike -- nationalism and xenophobia can be exploited to get the rank-and-file agitated enough to strike and to march under Amerikkkan flags -- they do not tell the whole, or, from what I can tell, the real story.
The real story is how the strike originated: with the stampers, whose jobs are NOT being exported to places like Mexico. (Stampers make the car bodies; stamping facilities must be near the assembly plants, which remain in the States; it is the small parts that are increasingly manufactured outside the USA and shipped to the assembly plants because labor exploitation in places like Mexico is still allowed to be completely brutal.)
The stampers' story is this: stamping is an incredibly debilitating job: the noise is deafening; the vibrations are intense; the possibility of injury or death is always there; retirement has to come early. Back when GM was in its heyday, the stampers had been required to produce a daily quota: so many stamps per eight-hour-work day. Because eight hours days were literally killing the workers, they unofficially banded together and agreed to double their output, get the quota done in half the time, and then leave early, go home, go to a bar or a library. (This is incipient socialism, folks: workers organizing unofficially amongst themselves to get the job done better, more efficiently, and more safely than under capitalist conditions. Cf. Cornelius Castoriadis, "Collected Social and Political Writings" Volumes 1 and 2, if not the SI). Eventually, this new unofficial organization of production became a union demand, and was "officially permitted" after-the-fact by management, who had no choice. No manager or scab is EVER going to step in during a strike and run the stampers themselves.
Management -- after nearly running General Motors into the ground in the 1970s and 1980s -- is now demanding that the workers pay for these mistakes and for the CEO's multi-million dollar salaries. (All this talk about keeping GM competitive in the global economy is pure horseshit. GM management and the UAW are simply trying to keep capitalist production itself "competitive" on a planet that is ready to dispense with the whole stinking system.)
In particular, the "lazy" stampers -- imagine, only working four hours a day! what an outrage! -- have been asked to "work a full day" for their money; they have been asked to work eight hours a day AT DOUBLE SPEED -- not the old speed -- thereby doubling the workers' "productivity" (profitability of labor exploitation), without having to pay them anymore money, or only slightly more. The stampers said "FUCK NO" and walked off. The other strikers -- who have their own "local grievances" -- walked out in sympathy. Today, 90 percent of GM plants are down.
For GM, the key to breaking the strike is isolating the radical stampers, who management will never be able to defeat directly. And so GM and the union talks of the global economy as so forth -- things that have nothing to do with the stampers' demands, which concern workplace conditions and the speed of production, not exported jobs -- when the real issue is elsewhere, at home, at the point of production. (There are some similarities here to the situation in Poland in 1970: see the excellent ICO pamphlet in translation on the subject.)
If anyone lives in Michigan, get in touch with us, so that we might collaborate on a joint statement, which could be distributed both nationally and internationally. (Linking the GM workers' strikes to those taking place right now among Hundai workers in Tijuana is *crucial*.)
Awaiting responses from those capable of engaging in this project quickly and productively.
Little Billy not de Bored
22 June 1998
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