On Tuesday, General Motors announced plans to cut its workforce world-wide by 47,000, with 26,000 jobs to be slashed in Europe alone. The main German engineering union, IG Metall, and its shop stewards organized in works councils at GM’s German subsidiary Opel, reacted to the announcement by rejecting any joint struggle by GM workers in Europe and North America.
Since the UAW has chosen to yield to the market, including accepting a no-strike agreement, one could expect a militant union to be wary of joining forces with it’s members. The question, then, is IG Metall a militant union as far as the auto cutbacks in Germany are concerned? Well…
The joint works council at Opel is instead demanding the separation of GM’s European factories from the parent company headquartered in Detroit, while it collaborates with Opel management and the German government to impose massive concessions on Opel workers.
Hmmm. Sounds like IG Metall is selling out it’s members, too. It looks like a pair of instances where the unions have forgotten to fight for their membership. Perhaps it’s time for autoworkers in the US and Germany (and probably worldwide) to look for new unions.
Many workers are angry over the stance taken by the union and works councils. One worker wrote on an Internet blog of GM workers, “It is outrageous the way in which Franz… ensures on behalf of management that other plants are closed. I sympathize with the plight of the Belgian colleagues, they have my solidarity.”
Workers around the world should be angry. In the US, unions have pretty much gone along with downsizing since the Chrysler bailout years ago. IG Metall is working with the governments of Germany and the various German states where plants are located, to have massive layoffs. In both cases, the union bureaucracy is in bed with the bosses (not a pretty mental picture).
The actions of the shop stewards and IG Metall bureaucrats exemplify the reactionary logic of economic nationalism, to which the unions are wedded and which is bound up inexorably with corporatist collaboration with big business and the state. It seeks at every point to split the working class-including workers employed by the same transnational company-along national lines, in order to subordinate the workers to the requirements of each national group of capitalist owners.
And the unions are oblivious to the tactic, or is that complicit? It’s time that workers take their careers into their own hands. Autoworkers around the world should be in solidarity with each other, and with workers in other fields.
The global integration of production has provided an unprecedented objective foundation for the international unification of the struggles of the working class. There is virtually no other branch of industry where workers are so closely linked in the production process as the international auto industry. At the same time, the revolutionary developments in telecommunications and computers make possible a degree of united action greater than in any previous period.
Rippert writes that workers should not allow this worker splitting to go on. Indeed, allowing it to continue plays right into the hands of the bosses. It is clear that this is not a good thing for workers.
The warning is clear. If the bosses succeed in splitting the autoworkers, on whatever basis, they’ll go after the rest of workers in all professions. Even those who are doing fairly well as a result of the neoliberal policies of governments and the bosses face the same threat. Until workers, no matter what level of economic class they are in, join together, the bosses will win. Period.