Labor's Voice for Change (37) May 21, 2009

Steelworkers’ Chief, in 34-City Bus Tour,
Calls For Campaign to Save Auto Industry

By Harry Kelber

A “Keep It in America” bus tour rolled through 34 cities in 11 states with the same urgent message to the public and elected officials: 7.2 million jobs are connected to the domestic auto industry, and the nation cannot afford to see it fail.

In addition to the United Steelworkers (USW), sponsors of the four-day tour, which began the week of May 11, included the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) and the Mayors and Municipalities Automotive Coalition,

Leo L. Gerard, USW international president, told worried townspeople in the nation’s heartland: “This job crisis goes deeper than auto companies and assembly workers in Detroit. Reducing U.S. auto manufacturing drives down employment, from the people who make auto catalogs and shipping boxes to workers making glass for windows, rubber for tires and other materials.”

“We all have a stake in a strong domestic automobile industry. That’s why we will put forward a plan to straighten the automotive supply chain and get America back to work,” said Scott Paul, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a labor-management partnership. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was among the major speakers during the tour.

As a windup to the tour, a gathering of national labor leaders, business executives, mayors, federal lawmakers, economists and union members went to Capitol Hill on May 19 for a day-long teach-in on the impact of the automotive supply chain to communities.

Gerard said the government could use various ways to stimulate domestic demand for autos; spend tax dollars to support domestic jobs, investment and innovation; reject offshoring as a path to profitability for General Motors and Chrysler, and change health-care policy to eliminate problems for the domestic auto industry.

A Big Target for ‘Buy American’ Is ‘Outsourcing’

Workers are sick and tired of seeing hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs going overseas, while factories in the U.S. shut down and mass layoffs occur.

For many years, labor leaders have allowed the outsourcing of jobs to continue at a fast pace, while doing very little about it, except to complain. We don’t have to be submissive. We can find many ways to make it difficult for companies that outsource their work by taking actions that will cut down their domestic sales

President Obama has said he favors incentives to encourage business firms to keep jobs in the United States, But why not a law that would deny government contracts to companies that use outsourcing to increase their profit margins?

The “Buy American” campaign will be attacked as “protectionist,” a dirty word in the lexicon of international trade, but union leaders say they have a moral obligation to protect the jobs of working people.

Meanwhile, the government, that handed out hundreds of billions of dollars to major banks and $185 billion to A.I.G., is playing tough with Chrysler and General Motors, demanding more concessions from the United Auto Workers. There is not as much concern about preventing the failure of the auto companies, as there was about saving the financial institutions of Wall Street.

The Steelworkers and their “Keep It in America” bus tour have sent a wake-up call to union members everywhere that the jobs of millions of workers — and possibly theirs —are at stake in what happens to the auto industry.

Right now, it is the Obama administration that is shaping the terms on which Chrysler and General Motors will operate in the future. Shouldn’t the auto workers and those in related industries have a voice in how the two companies are restructured? They know more about the operation of auto plants, than the financial managers who are making the critical decisions. Why have they been left out of the picture?

Article 38 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on Thursday, May 21.