GM and French trade unions force through wage cuts

Published on WSWS, by Pierre Mabut, August 14, 2010.

General Motors workers at the Strasbourg plant last month were blackmailed into voting for major concessions demanded by GM and the US government, which owns 60 percent of the carmaker, and backed by the French government and the trade unions. Workers were told they would have to accept a wage cut of 10 percent or the plant would be closed and production transferred to GM Mexico … //

… In fact, the role of all the unions has been exactly to bring down wage levels. At the same time they have promoted economic nationalism. All unions are engaged in wage cutting, as witnessed by the Continental Tyres where CGT pushed through an uncompensated increase from 35 to 40 hours a week in 2007 supposedly to “save” jobs, only to have workers lose them in 2009. 

Last year, the CGT betrayed the struggle of the Total oil refinery workers in Dunkirk. Workers at the New Fabris auto parts company in Châtellerault lost their jobs in 2009 after being betrayed by the CGT. At the time CGT plant representative Guy Eyerman acknowledged, “I have the impression of being abandoned by my trade union leadership, the CGT is dead…”

There are many other examples of CGT collaboration with employers and government, especially since it signed with the CFDT, the government and employers the “Position Commune” document, which abandoned the 35-hour week while enhancing union officials’ career prospects.

The complicity of the unions and their supporters in the middle class “left” parties derives from their full integration into corporate management and the state. The unions collaborate with the corporations based on their mutual drive for profitability and international competitiveness. The unions have also closely collaborated with President Nicolas Sarkozy in implementing austerity programmes, which are either openly or tacitly supported by the Socialist and Communist parties. Meanwhile the unions have isolated and betrayed every action by workers to resist sackings and the destruction of working conditions at Continental Tyres, Total refineries, Goodyear in Amiens and many others.

More broadly the unions in Europe have been vying with each other on a nationalist basis to keep a GM presence in their respective countries, or even regions, by bidding down wages and seeking to close the gap with the wages paid to brutally exploited workers in Asia and Latin America. Like its counterparts in the US and France, the German union IG Metall gave the green light for the shutdown of the GM plant in Belgium by cutting labour costs in the German plants by €265 million a year. This was the precondition for GM receiving the promised €1.8 billion subsidies from European governments.

Workers can only defend their livelihoods and rights by fighting with a perspective that rejects nationalism and the profit system. This will require developing a common international struggle against the transnational corporations and the governments that back them, based on a fight to reorganise the global auto industry on a socialist basis under the democratic control of the working class. The development of such a fight requires a break with all the trade unions and the establishment of new organisations of industrial and political struggle. (full text).

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