From a July 5 2006 audio column.

The war against
the elders

By Mumia Abu-Jamal on death row

Something amazing has been happening lately, amazing, not only in what’s happening, but the ease and quiet with which it is happening.

It’s the recent announcement of GM (General Motors) that it intends to buy out (or should we say, “sell out”?) the contracts of its workers and retirees.

Even more amazing, it seems, is the recently broadcast announcement of UAW (United Auto Workers) head, Ron Gettel finger that seemed to quietly acquiesce to the company’s plans.

At the recent UAW Constitutional Convention in Las Vegas, Gettelfinger told attendees, “In the not so distant past, when the U.S. economy grew and productivity increased, we could expect wages to rise as well. That’s no longer true.” The UAW chief added, “The challenges we face aren’t the kind that can be ridden out. They’re structural challenges, and they require new and farsighted solutions.”

It was stunning to hear a labor leader sound like a corporate honcho.

There was resignation, a quiet acceptance of the inevitable.

Those proposed “solutions” are little more than stop-gap measures, and hoping that the elections of more Democrats will result in changes for the lives of working people.

The essence of Anglo-American law is the right of contract.

In business law, there is no higher principle. And yet, when corporate CEOs are making 300 to 400 times what an average worker makes, how can there be serious rap about pending bankruptcies, failing markets, or threats from overseas competitors? The formerly “sacred” principle of contract that “a deal is a deal,” passes into the mists of history.

From the top floors of the company suites, things are looking OK.

It’s not like the UAW is a weak or small union. It has around 750,000 active members, with almost two-thirds as many retirees.

Now, with buyouts booming, the economic war shifts to pensions.

That’s because GM’s PR firms (otherwise known as the corporate press) have argued that “legacy costs” (newspeak for “pensions”) have made the mega-billion dollar company falter. But according to none other than the Wall Street Journal (no friend of labor!), it’s “executive benefits” that are “playing a large and hidden role in the health of America’s pensions.” Indeed, unlike many corporations, which have ignored or badly underfunded pension funds, GM’s pension fund is “over”-funded, to the tune of $9 billion more than necessary to service the needs of retirees for years to come. Moreover, assets in the fund have returned some $10 billion in investments for GM in 2005 alone.

The “hole in the bucket” it seems, isn’t the retirees, but the corporate tops, CEOs pulling in 300 to 400 times the average Joe or Josephine.

Givebacks, which have littered the labor movement since at least the nineties, have clearly not worked.

What we are seeing is the dark side of globalism, with the implicit threat of corporations to flee their home countries, to seek cheaper labor elsewhere—contracts be damned.

When it comes to capital, there is only one law they respect—the law of profits.

Globalism, as praised and passed by [former U.S. President] Bill Clinton and pushed by those who came after, has shattered a century of deals between labor and capital. For while labor’s interests were national, capital’s interests were global.

When workers join across the false borders of nations, workers everywhere will begin to fight back against the greed and gluttony of capital.

Source: UAW leaders promise more of the same,” The Spark (June 26-July 10, 2006), p. 8.

Mumia Abu Jamal is a member of the National Writers Union, which is affiliated with the UAW.

To hear Mumia’s audio columns, go to www.prisonradio.org.