Asian Auto Companies Lead Race to Bottom

The Senate Republicans favorite Auto companies are leading the race to the bottom – not in their Asian sweatshops but right here in the United States.  See this important article in the Detroit Free Press.
I warned about the impact of the takeover of GM’s Fremont plant by Toyota back in 1985 in a letter that appeared in the New York Times:
A Dark Day for U.S. Workers Is Dawning at Toyota-G.M. Plant 

To the Editor:

A. H. Raskin heralds the opening of a new era in labor-management relations in the start-up of production at the Fremont, Calif., auto plant jointly managed by Toyota and General Motors (”An Industrial Breakthrough,” Op-Ed, July 23).

But those familiar with both Toyota and G.M. as trade unionists have a different view. Is the price of cooperation the permanent loss of jobs to speedup and automation? Of the original 6,000 workers employed at the plant, the new company, New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., will hire only 2,500. And those only after careful screening of attendance records, disciplinary incidents and attitudes toward labor-management relations. Nummi has pledged only that a majority plus one of these 2,500 will come from the old union shop.

A company rule book promises dismissal of any worker guilty of poor housekeeping, immoral conduct or indecency. Defining those concepts is to be left up to management.

The new arrangement is, in large part, the result of the United Auto Workers international going hat in hand to Toyota and General Motors. The union was willing to dissolve the original Fremont local with its long tradition of democratic activity. Old union activists must run a gantlet to return to their old jobs, and they have given up much of their former input in the new contract. The local no longer has the right to strike over work standards, there is no guarantee of time off for shop stewards for plant-floor representation, and everyone must participate in a work-group structure imported by Toyota from Japan.

If the labor record of Toyota in Japan is any indication, management will be able to take every advantage of the new labor structure. Despite persistent rumors on this side of the Pacific, job security is the privilege of a few who work at final assembly plants. Those who work for the thousands of subcontractors that provide up to 70 percent of an assembly line’s inventory are subject to brutal working conditions, irregular work and no effective union representation. Even the lifetime jobs have forced overtime, a pace that results in high illness and injury rates, and company housing compounds reminiscent of those in South Africa.

The teamwork system serves not to widen the skills of auto workers but to absorb from them as much information and loyalty as possible. The result for management is valuable: a constant hold over the work force 8 to 10 hours a day.

It was once thought by many of those who proudly defended the traditions of the trade-union movement that an independent and democratic organization was the single guarantee that workers’ interests would be protected. It was this principle that influenced the original Wagner Act and has motivated the American trade-union movement for a century or more. Now we are to toss blithely aside this tradition of democratic dissent, for cooperation, consensus and joint participation. These ideas seem more like Stalinist emulation campaigns than the principles of Eugene V. Debs and Samuel Gompers.

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