Gordon Everett, who has worked at West Mifflin 25 years, told the Militant his predicament is shared by many in the plant of a similar age and seniority who dont qualify yet for retirement. We have yet to hear anything from the company on what is to happen to us, he said.
People were surprised when the closing was announced, said Everett. We thought wed always get another contract.
The West Mifflin stamping plant largely makes replacement parts for repair shops. The closings were announced as workers at GMs former parts division Delphi, which the auto giant spun off as a separate corporation, face attacks on their wages and benefits as the parts supplier has filed for bankruptcy. We will be competing with Delphi workersGM wants to whipsaw workers against each other, Everett said.
Delphi, the largest U.S. auto parts supplier, announced October 8 it had filed for bankruptcy protection. The auto boss said it would seek to cut wages of production workers from an average of $26 per hour to between $10 and $12. Cost-of-living allowances would be eliminated. Vacations would be cut from six weeks to four, and holidays reduced. Health-care payments by production workers would be increased. A jobs bank that currently pays the wages of workers on long-term layoff would be eliminated.
Everett noted that GM officials say the company has $19 billion in cash and that it is not going to go into bankruptcy. But US Airways did it, the steel giant LTV did it, a number of mine companies did it, Everett said. Whats to stop the auto industry from doing it?
Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) president Basil Hargrove said these cuts come on top of another 2,500 other job losses the CAW had agreed to during recent contract talks.
In a statement published the same day, CAW officials put the blame for the job cuts on the one-way flood of imports, in particular from Europe, Japan, and Korea, that is undercutting the Big Three sales in North America. Arguing that the Oshawa no. 2 plant, where nearly 3,000 workers will be laid off, is one of the most productive auto plants in the world, and that GM benefits from labour costs that are at least $10 (U.S.) per hour lower than in the U.S., largely thanks to our Canadian health care, CAW officials are trying to convince GM to maintain operations in Oshawa.
Im not too worried, said John Chipman, a maintenance worker at the Oshawa GM plant with 30 years seniority, expressing a view held by many workers here. By 2008 they will have another car. We have been in this situation many times.
Others point out that younger workers will bear the brunt of the company attacks. They have a long-term plan to consolidate [the Oshawa] assembly plants 1 and 2, said Dan Golber, who has worked more than 28 years on the assembly line. With robots theyll get the workforce down to less than 5,000. It wont hurt the guys with high seniority like me. But the young guys with mortgages will get it.
This is a point well taken by workers like Jason Butler, who has less than two years seniority in the plant. He said, 2008 is a long way away. Anything can happen. Ill probably lose my job.
Many workers are blaming the company. If we look at the big picture, they havent changed their culture on big cars compared with the rest of the world, said José Salazar, a 28-year veteran of the Oshawa truck plant not slated to lose his job in the announced cuts. Theyre going to do it whatever we do. I believe the union did good under the circumstances. Down south they had to take concessions.
Arrogance, said Greg, a worker in the paint shop with 22 years seniority, who asked to be identified by his first name only, referring to the announced layoffs and plant closings. They are antiunion. They seem to think that the blame falls on the workers shoulders. They praise the high quality, but when they have problems it comes our way again. They are a very arrogant company that should have seen this coming. They overextended on acquisitions. It comes down to corporate greed.
John Steele contributed to this article.
Defend entire working class
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