“To conclude with Chrysler's offer in Britain is justified only because its crisis shows again how the capitalist project can be ten times more daring than the 'utopian' planning of the Left. In Britain however the Chrysler workers told management to stick their offer and demanded more money instead. Money, no longer the "defensive economic" demand of social democratic ancient history, is power. It was the demand that catapulted the international cycle of struggle ten years or so ago. Chrysler's offer of profit-and management sharing is a desperate attempt to maintain the illusory separation between power or politics and cash or economics.”
One such element was auto capital's remarkable mobility on an international level in search of geographical areas which not only would provide cheap and fresh sources of labor power but would also guarantee the stability of accumulation. Another element, particularly in the industrialized areas, was auto capital's access to fresh supplies of labor power whose characteristics made it prone, at least in the short run, to high levels of exploitation.
In Europe during the Sixties immigrant labor performed this function of expansion for the auto industry. As the Economist's Intelligence Unit (second report) explains,
The plentiful supply of relatively undemanding labour, young and hard working, has favoured a degree of economic development that would not have been possible without them. They have increased productivity by removing labour bottlenecks and have encouraged capital investment by being more prepared to work night shifts. They have kept wage levels from rising too fast and at the same time have enabled European workers to move into higher skilled jobs. They have been less demanding on the social services because of their age structure and have been prepared because of their mobility to move in and out of short-life jobs.
While we cannot say that the struggles of autoworkers everywhere in the Sixties operated as the mass working class vanguard, organizing and unifying struggles in other sectors, nevertheless to one degree or another in different national settings the manpower planning that led to the exploitation of fresh labor power in autos quickly backfired detonating struggles which bypassed capital's development plans and established an international cycle of struggle. Iberian, Arabic, African, and Yugoslavian workers at Billancourt broke the impasse of union/skilled-mechanics control established in the French auto industry after 1968. Mediterranean and Finnish migrant workers imposed the deadlock in Sweden's auto industry that capital sought to escape in its "worker's self-management" project. At Fiat Mirafiori and at Alfa Romeo in Milan the Hot Autumn (1969) found its material basis in the labor migration from the South. West Indian, Pakistani, and Indian workers in British Fords have provided a basis for the renewal of struggle following the defeats (1971) in the English motor industry over grading standards, manning levels, and measured day work.
In North America manpower policies in the auto industry were not as clear cut, but the correlation between productive expansion and exploitation of new labor supplies was equally operative. For the tens of thousands of youth, blacks, and women who throughout the 1960s flocked into the auto industry, getting a job in a car plant meant in many cases entering for the first time a stable wage relation. It was a forced route to put an end to their state of wagelessness and its price was extremely high, first for the workers and later for capital. This political dynamics — i.e. a wage relationship in exchange for intense exploitation — lies at the root of the attitudes of these workers toward work and of the content of their struggles. What capital had characterized as "undemanding and hard-working labor," would soon reveal its quality of insubordination and refusal, increasingly taking the form of a class strategy for more money and less work, for less productivity and more income. The wage ceased to be a relation of exchange and became a lever of power. At first imposed by capital as a necessary condition of accumulation, the wage relation was overturned by workers into a material basis which allowed them to struggle against work and productivity. In the United States the combination of fresh labor power in the auto factories ("niggermation") and the formation of concentrated labor reserves ("the Inner City") found its political expressions in the municipal insurrections on the one hand (Detroit 1967, etc.) and the organization of an autonomous struggle in the plants (DRUM, FRUM, etc. 1967-1969) on the other.
In a very real sense, the struggles of black auto workers in Detroit have much in common with the struggles led by young immigrant workers in Turin or Cologne. Their subversion of the wage relationship has been the overwhelming expression of their refusal to accept auto capital's despotic control, and has clearly revealed the international dimension of this cycle of class confrontation.
Throughout the late Sixties and the early Seventies the relations of power between capital and workers in both North America and in Europe pivot around this class dynamics — a dynamics which is not broken by the periodic contractual solutions which capital seeks to force upon it. It will be the crisis of 1974 which will provide capital with the means to impose a solution through the strategy of mass layoffs and terrorism.
"We stand on the brink of an historic crisis for American capitalism, and the brink is crumbling." Thus announced the chairman of the board of Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, and Smith to President Ford's Financial Summit Conference on Inflation of September 1974. George Bach told the same conference that "although special developments like the recent food and energy crises may temporarily dominate price movements, the fundamental cause of inflation in the U.S. (and most other major industrial countries) is 'excess income claims.'" It is a fact that all capitalist planners recognize. The International Economic Report of the President (February 1974) made it clear that neither the basic material shortages nor the food crisis were primary causes of the crisis: it is one of "excess demand over supply."(2)
In classic terms we might say that the crisis is characterized by an unprecedented decline in the rate of exploitation, and this, like "under-consumption" and "over-production," is obvious in the auto sector as it is always an aspect of the appearance of crisis. Two aspects of the current crisis, however, are worth emphasizing. First, the worsening drop in social productivity is accompanied by the continual rise of income demands. Second, a corollary to the first, the traditional mechanisms of global and national planning are no longer adequate to assure accumulation as they were during the Keynesian recessions of 1957/58, 1960/61, and 1969/70.
The failure of traditional mechanisms (fiscal policy, monetary policy, and incomes policy) was reflected through 1974 by the disruptions of traditional relationships. Unemployment and output failed to maintain their expected ratio as real GNP dropped more sharply than employment. The question that troubled economists was not why employment held up but why it didn't plummet. Neither average weekly hours worked nor the size of the social labor force explained the discrepancy. During the first two quarters of 1974 the unexpected mildness of unemployment was attributed directly to the decline in productivity. At the same time the six year plateau of average percentage wage increases (6% per annum) jumped to 9.6% in the second quarter of 1974.
"As a consequence of the highly structured and institutionalized nature of the labor market, wages respond with a relatively long lag to their economic determinants," said Michael Wachter in The Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 2 (1974). Workers power is revealed in "The nonlinear response of wages to unemployment." The workers' struggle ceased to appear merely as a factor of demand management, guaranteeing development. Raising its head among the councils of economic planners, its voice becomes inexplicable to them. One of Ford's advisors characterized the demand for income as a "divine right." The decline in American social productivity has attributed to what a former head of the Conference Board could only call "intangible forces."
The capitalist solution to this power was clear at least in principle: more work and less money. This was the advice of Gaylord Freeman (First National Bank of Chicago). In the face of inflation and stagnation planning must be designed to "1. stimulate productivity and 2. moderate consumption." Arthur Okun says the same: "you have to push the economy down far enough to create enough idle labor and enough idle capital to hold down prices and wages." Within this necessity the moment is fraught with opportunity and danger. "While few doubt," another economist told us, "that a sufficiently long period of high unemployment will eventually dampen inflation, many fear the social consequences."
A sixth of U.S. jobs, a sixth of GNP, a sixth of every retail dollar is locked in the auto industry. A fifth of American steel, a third of zinc, a tenth of aluminum, two-thirds of rubber is tied to autos. The auto industry and its suppliers have integrated within a single circuit the social division of labor. Organized as a working class in the struggle against capital, it has thrown the "auto sector" into crisis. On the surface the crisis appears as a problem of the market. The demand market is disturbed by changing purchase patterns that dislocate long term growth. The supply market is upset as the balance of forces between Detroit and its suppliers (oil on one hand, parts suppliers on the other) shifts in favor of the latter. Federal environmental safety and pollution standards interrupt pricing and profit expectations. Or, the crisis appears as an historical irrationality of social planning that has produced an infrastructure of bad air, bad cities, and bad country: a Paradise Lost.(3) In fact, it is a crisis of capital and this is but an expression of a strategic leap in workers' struggle.
The most spectacular route that auto capital has found in its search for the re-establishment of the wage/ productivity relation is at the international level. By the late Sixties this had become dazzling in its possibilities. Auto executives spoke of "the Latin American market," "the Pacific market," and with growing confidence of "the socialist market." Here they saw accumulation without the limitations imposed by the power of the American or European working class. Seeking to escape those limitations they sought to manipulate forms of struggle at an international level that could propel development at a national level. It is within this perspective, not that of the organizational novelty of the ‘multinational corporation’ nor that of its financial supersession of the nation-state, that the problem of "global reach" should be seen.(4) By 1972 the international deployment of capital is characterized by accommodation to the most varied of political settings and by the international integration of production outside of the traditional market.
Perhaps nowhere is this illustrated as well as in Latin America. Though its plants are under military protection and "instability" threatens the future, Ford is able to maintain a 37% rate of profit in Argentina. The Brazilian path to development has been spearheaded by autos. "The automotive industry [having] managed to overcome the political difficulties of the early 1960s," as the Economist Intelligence Unit reported, output has increased since 1966 at an average rate of 20% per annum. In 1971 GM earmarked $1.1 billion for investment in operations for N. E. Brazil. GM production increased by 24% in 1974 over 1973. VW, the leader of Brazilian auto production, had by 1974 transferred its engine and transmission operations, even for the German market, to Brazil. In September 1974 Automotive News reported the rumour that VW intended to transfer its entire German market production to Brazil. Business Latin America, the "Weekly Report to Managers of Latin American Operations," reported that the rate of return on investment (ROI) was higher in 1974 in Latin America than in any place in the world.
A low ROI is the form in which the crisis of Soviet growth appears to its planners. Thus last year Brezhnev rapped the knuckles of Soviet industrialists for the "ever lower rate of return on investment." Technological imports and detente is their response to the "factor productivity losses" of the late Sixties and early Seventies. Togliatti exchanged a Fiat built factory for a Russian built city. The Kama river truck plant, a $4 billion facility with a $1 billion city, follows the same pattern: Russian planned variable capital and Western planned constant capital. U.S. foundry designs, furnaces, vats, gear-making machines; German forge presses and transmission machinery; French welding and paint lines; Italian conveyor systems; Japanese press lines: thus international capital organizes the under-employed agricultural workers of the Tartar plains. Already, in the inflation of imported components the Russians begin to import the Western crisis: the opportunity for each is that through detente and the crisis accumulation can be re-established.
The organization of fresh labor power (Tartar plainsmen, Brazilian Indians) can no longer be approached merely as the exploitation of the "Third World." The threefold division of the world is long obsolete. On the one hand Agnelli plans in response to the removal of $60 billion from the industrial circuit of the West to the Mid-East, and on the other hand, the Economist speaks of the "Latin Americanization" of Europe and "Banana Republicanitis" in America.
Spain illustrates the extraordinary rapidity with which capital can respond to the struggles within a particular political setting. In the early Seventies Spain was Ford's weapon against Britain: straighten out "industrial relations," Henry Ford told Edward Heath, or we move to Spain. And indeed construction began for a stamping and assembly plant in Valencia for operation in 1976. However, capital soon learned that raw Spanish labor power is one thing in North European factories and quite another in Spain. Mini-strikes, slow-downs, and sit-ins attacked accumulation throughout 1973 and 1974. Arson shut down production in Leyland's plant in Pamplona and at Renault's plant in Valladolid. By the summer of 1974 the Economist reported that the "outlook for labour relations is not sunny." At the end of the year Automotive News said that Ford and GM were "having second thoughts" about Spain. While in Britain it was rumored that the Shah of Iran wanted to buy Leylands (something the government had to do eventually), Leylands' negotiations to sell its Spanish subsidiaries to GM collapsed. Fiat, established longest in Spain, attempted in '74 to retool its Barcelona plants for higher productivity while simultaneously importing North African labor. This strategy, the basis of the north European boom of the Sixties, now has limited prospects.
A certain naiveté of capitalist planning in the Sixties has passed. Business Europe, the "Weekly Report to Managers of European Operations," at the end of 1974 featured an article "How to Assess Developing Areas." It advised: 1) "make generous allowances for absenteeism" and 2) "be realistic about local productivity levels." Capital can no longer count on new labor power in “less developed countries”: it can attempt at the international level to manipulate various national working classes. Within a couple of years it learns that Spain cannot be auto's window to North Africa and the Mid-East.
Of Ford's and Fiat's European operations Turkey suffered the least in 1974. GM announced agreement in Iran in 1973 for the establishment of distribution and assembly plants in Teheran. Production began in 1974. GM production in Saudi Arabia is scheduled to commence in 1976. Assembly plants in Zaire have begun operating. The flexibility of auto's international planning cannot be anticipated from the appearance of particular regimes. In "industrial" South Africa for example there are "deep rooted problems in shortages of white skilled labor." Non-white workers at low wages "are far from being cheap labour when productivity (and mistakes) are taken into account." Increased income and productivity for non-white workers, this is "the cross roads at which the whole South African economy now stands," according to the Economist's Intelligence Unit.
One response in the crisis, then, has been this attempt to re-establish an adequate level of accumulation by the deployment of capital in space. The second is the reorganization of capital in time.
"The rising costs due to the levels of absenteeism, labor turnover, wasteful work practices and sabotage," the heritage of the working class offensive of 1964-69 as described by the National Commission on Productivity, has resulted in a growth in output per man hour in manufacturing in the U.S. that is lower (1971-1972) than that in Japan, France, Germany or Britain. The Nixon Commission on Productivity, the Nixon 1971 Labor Day address, the 1972 Kennedy subcommittee on "workers' alienation" make it clear that the "quality-of-work" discussion is the ideological representation of capital's desire to seek a larger room of maneuver for the intensification of labor.(5)
The attempt to re-impose the wage/productivity relation through job design and the intensification of the working day has taken two forms. One of these is represented by Lordstown under GMAD management and anther is Sweden's Saab and Volvo modular production units. Each of these forms not only represent solutions to the same international "bottleneck" but attempt via the increased "organic composition" of capital to establish discipline by intensifying work. Amid some quarters of the "left" each of these two tactics of a single strategy takes on the appearance of the "capitalist problem" and the "socialist solution." Alienated labor on the assembly line finds its answer in workers' control of production.(6), While the technological imposition of productivity only intensified the struggle in North America (as we shall see) its Swedish variation was an unprecedented, expensive, response to an unprecedented problem, and as such it is unlikely to be generalized. Nevertheless, it is important that it be clarified if only to remove any lingering mystifications that it is still able to produce.
Pehr Gyllenhamar, Volvo's director, summed up the crisis of the Swedish auto industry during the late Sixties as "nothing less than the probability that most people would refuse to work at all." One third of Volvo's payroll had to be recruited annually. By 1969 turnover reached 52%. One seventh of the workforce was carried as a reserve against unannounced absenteeism. Manpower policy alone was insufficient to the crisis. 80% of Saab's workers at its engine plant were women. 60% of the workers in the industry as a whole were Finnish or Yugoslav. Yet "absenteeism with pay," as Gyllenhamar bitterly remarked, was the working class answer. The companies were forced to a deeper strategic answer.
The de-fractionalization of work whose ideological garb — job enrichment, job rotation, modular production — has provided the dress not only of countless personnel schools but of sections of the "left," was gradually imposed in salient sites of production. Workers' power based on the long assembly line (mechanical cooperation) was removed by the installation of shorter lines guaranteeing that the flow of production could be maintained despite breakdowns or interruptions. Group piece work at the Lunbyverken truck assembly plant with some group flexibility in the determination of production standards has been established. Variations in the average speed of groups of workers ("balancing losses") and variations in the average speed of the individual worker ("system losses") are reduced by the shorter lines, separated by buffer stock areas, and group payments methods. Workers' informal organization became the basis of the capitalist re-organization of work to reproduce the value relation within the labor process. The counter planning on the shop floor of the Sixties becomes capitalist planning of exploitation in the Seventies.
The great expense of this strategy was long a drawback to its implementation. At Volvo's Kalmar assembly plant, the largest and most daring commitment of capital, plant construction under the modular production design is estimated to cost 10% more than conventional design. 90% of all tasks will be automated.
The second variation of the technological imposition of productivity is in part the history of working class struggles in North America during the last three or four years.
Despotism in the market and anarchy in the plant, the inversion of the traditional capitalist relationship, summarizes the industry's problem during the early Seventies and expresses in part an aspect of victories obtained by the class during the Sixties. George Morris, director of GM's Labor Relations Department, attempted to bring despotism back to the factory. Arguing in 1971 against an incomes policy on the grounds that it would eliminate "management's responsibility to manage," he restated the relation between income and work in the context of industrial bargaining. "The more control there is from the outside on wages and economic matters," he wrote, "the more pressure there is from the union on all the other issues." (7)
In 1970 faced with 2500 non-wage demands by the international union and 39,000 demands by locals, a victorious settlement on overtime, productivity, and the maintenance of "efficiency and discipline" presupposed freedom in wage bargaining. The contract of that year contained a provision of the first importance to GM. "We insisted that an organized effort be made to improve employee job attitudes and reduce absenteeism, which in our industry has doubled in the past nine years." An "orientation" program, jointly administered by the union and management, was introduced to encourage attendance and quality workmanship. Here is a first step in the introduction of the Union within the strategy against the workers' refusal to work.
No longer merely the institutional organ of variable capital the company is forced to invite the union to join it in the direct management of the enterprise. This becomes the cornerstone of GM's position in the 1973 negotiations. Its statement to the Union (26 July 1973), even before the summer and fall wildcats, is extremely important:
The mutuality of interest between the employee, the UAW and General Motors is more apparent as we enter these 1973 negotiations than at any time since the beginning of our collective bargaining relationship in 1937.
The rest of the statement spells out that "mutuality" and provides the specific terrain upon which the struggle had been fought in the previous years. It is expressed in a terminology that need not be "spelled out" but only inverted in order to see the class accomplishments in the collective refusal.
First, it complains of "restrictive practices" against changes in equipment and technology, practices organized at the local level. Between 1963 and 1972 the number of written grievances doubled from 138,000 to 264,000. These must be settled without "disruptions" of the "production process." The workers' use of "other forums" for settling grievances must end and union control established. Committeemen must take an active role with supervisory personnel in grievance settlement at the moment the complaint is made. Second and Third step grievance meetings must be held more regularly.
Second, two issues of union representation must be settled. Union work centers (provided since the 1967 contract) have been used "by unauthorized persons for improper purposes." The liberalization of representation, high wages to committeemen, increases in representation time, and an increase of representatives, all allowed since 1970, have failed to reduce grievances or to expedite their settlement.
Third, disputes about production standards, the collapse of efficiency of operations, and the disintegration of quality threaten to destroy both union control and company power. In "certain plants" disruptions have caused "deterioration of collective bargaining" and "virtual breakdown of the grievance procedure."
Fourth, neither the company nor the union benefit from the turnover rate. Only their cooperation can discipline the "transients who float from job to job." A longer probationary period and a greater differential between the "hiring rate" and the "job rate" can attack this problem.
Fifth, the workers' use of the social wage has become a method of generalizing the refusal to work and an attack on wage-planned discipline. "Increased utilization" of HSMD (Hospital-Surgical-Medical-Drug) benefits is a "serious and growing problem." Costs between 1970 and 1972 have increased by 29%. The duplication between company benefits and state compensation has resulted in the provision of an income without work and an income during retirement that is greater than the income of working years. 52% of contested claims in Michigan involve retirees. 75% of voluntary retirees in Michigan also filed for workmen's compensation. The increase of allegations of accidents and injury, as well as the payment of benefits to "employees who are well enough to work," has spread the workers' enforced separation between income and production to the older, traditional sections of the class.
The invitation to the union to join with the company in the reestablishment of their joint control, "the mutuality of interest," came after the company's unilateral failure to establish 'the despotism of the workshop' or management's responsibility to manage.
The GM Absenteeism/Turnover Task Force (1969-1972) was a failure. Absenteeism cost the company $50 million in fringe benefits alone. Turnover, at a conservative estimate, cost the company $29 million, "Social attitudes," tax exemptions, the increase of accident benefits, the increasing number of women employed, "job hopping," different values, "refusal of hard work," medical restrictions, the straightjacketing of the foreman's flexibility in "manpower assignments," these produced the crisis. The response was twofold and a twofold failure.
In pilot programs the company tries to manipulate workers' collectivity and then to individualize workers. Sensitivity groups and rap sessions, organized as PRIDE ("Personal Responsibility in Defect Elimination"), were successful among Oldsmobile workers only insofar as workers participating in the program could get paid for rapping and "sensitizing" but not working. "The importance of treating the new hire as an individual" resulted in SPEC ("Supervisors Personal Employee contact"). The "Buddy System" was successful in reducing absenteeism and turnover among probationary hires but at the prohibitive cost of assigning one supervisor to every new worker.
"To end managing by fear," this is the Wall Street Journal's formulation of the policy of Gene Cafiero, a Chrysler executive. In the fall of 1972 at Dodge Main in Hamtramck he introduced in the trim department "planned absenteeism," a pilot group of 350 workers were allowed to take a day off without penalty if it was cleared in advance with the foreman. At the Eldon Avenue axle plant 2,700 workers were regrouped into three independent units in order to "create the environment" of three small plants. Chrysler's 1969 turnover rate was 47%; its absenteeism 8%. If new environments or planned absenteeism renewed Chrysler's control Cafiero failed to tell the Wall Street Journal. It was within the context of these failures that the congruence between the Union's demand "to have a greater say in production" and the Company's "responsibility to manage" was discovered. The '73 wildcats was the workers' answer, an answer that almost put Chrysler under, that more seriously than ever before undermined the union's position, and that resulted in the workers' capture of a principle salient of auto production in Detroit.
Of course many of the stoppages that occurred in August and September were anticipated by the Company. A.F. Link of Chrysler's Profit and Investment, Analysis Department, wrote, "industry, through production standard techniques, generally plans for reduced efficiency in certain operations such as foundries during summer months." However, the '73 walkouts were complicated by other elements beyond anticipated production planning: with mounting orders and a record year of sales any interruption of the circuit of productive capital struck immediately at sales and turnover. The one-day Pennsylvania Central strike, the Canadian railworkers strike, and the plastic and petroleum-derived parts shortages were as serious as the stoppages, at least from the point of view of the circuit of productive capital.
However, the political threat to power relations within that circuit extended beyond the loss (in Chyrsler's case) of 135,000 cars and trucks. For the first time the class struggle in autos was militarized outside the plants with the Union providing the advance guard of capital.
Some months earlier Woolsey was assigned to the spot welding section to tighten discipline and speed up production. The feeder line in the section was running at an average of 100 jobs per day behind the scheduled rate. Woolsey was well-known as a militant cadre in the productivity drive that started in 1972. At that time plant-wide line speed increased from 56.5 jobs per hour to 65.5 while manpower increased from 5400 to 5900. In the arithmetic of productivity this meant a speed-up of 7% (production up 16%, manpower up 9%) which was translated into a loss of four seconds per worker per job. Everyone was put in the hole.
Individual rebels against this got the I-T-D treatment: interview, threat, and discipline. Post-Christmas disciplinary firings were answered by walkout in the motor line department. The Local and the International ended the four day strike with Woolsey's help as finger-man. Weeks later the second shift in the metal shop sat down and refused to work. Woolsey was sent to the metal shop. In the summer, when he was sent to the welding line, Carter and Shorter replied.
Within hours Chrysler capitulated to the demands. Carter and Shorter were re-instated. Woolsey was fired.
The industry and the union were shocked. Ford reprimanded its sister company: "We believe very strongly there is no virtue in rewarding a resort to self-help." Fraser told Chrysler: "if you surrender to this type of blackmail there is no end to it." Within days the Union announced (what had been suspected for months) that it had chosen Chrysler for its '73 target company. In the months ahead the union will scramble madly to regain control over the auto workers, for what was unprecedent by the Shorter/ Carter incident was the Company's decision to deal without Union mediation of the struggle: management's responsibility to manage supersedes the union's management of the struggle.
At Lynch Road 1500 workers were out threatening the layoff of 40,000 other Chrysler workers. In the second week of August only the combined efforts of a Federal Court Injunction, the mobilization of the Local union, and the direct intervention of Doug Fraser brought the forge workers back to work.
At the Mack Avenue, as at Lynch Road and Jefferson Avenue, the struggle must be placed within the history of struggles since the 1972 productivity offensive. Since that time plant conditions deteriorated in direct relation to productivity drives. The press room was forced on a seven day schedule. Others were on a six day week with long hours. The presses leaked oil. The roof leaked. Hi-lows drove with faulty brakes. Scrap accumulated in the aisles. The high-pressure air-lines screeched through the plant as leaks were left unrepaired. In late '72 when a die setter was killed by a bolster plate blowing loose cutting off his head, the flash point was provided that set up an unofficial safety committee. On 7 June 1973 a walkout of the second shift in the press room protested the conditions that removed two fingers from a woman working a bad press. On 10 August, four days before the sit-in, workers organized pickets around the Local Union Hall. The occupation of the framing department, the result of Chrysler's decision to close the plant, was easily cleared by a neat and efficient police operation. But the Union, its credibility already seriously weakened, needed a show of strength and above all to re-establish its position over the struggle.
Despite this historical show of force the movement rapidly spread. One quarter of GM plants were closed in August and September. Three of fifteen Ford assembly plants closed in August. Walkouts shut down three American Motors plants. Warren truck, Dodge Main, and Windsor car, truck, and engine all closed. To be sure it coincided with changeover, but during this boom year the struggle was no longer contained within "production standard technique planning."
Militants during the summer sought and found a practice that transcended the limitations of the 'union opposition caucus.' As Shorter said, "sometimes we'll use the union, sometimes we won't." But even the traditional Union opposition, or at least its social base within the skilled trades, found new strength in the general summer mobilization. The "skilled trades problem" brought to the surface the second overt form of militarized struggle. When Local 160 (the technical center local) and the skilled trades of the River Rouge complex failed to ratify the '73 contract the Union had no choice but to renege on the 1967 agreement giving them veto rights and to bring out pistols to enforce a new vote. They were excluded from the early retirement benefits negotiated in the contract. Their position was further eroded by the 'secret letters of understanding' between the union and the companies that permitted sub-contracting and unlimited 'up-grading,' in cases where skilled tradesmen refused overtime. Indeed the much touted limitations on overtime were in fact attacks upon workers' collectivity, "voluntary overtime" being permitted only "separately and individually, without collusion, conspiracy or agreement with, or the influence of, any other employee or the Union."
The skilled trades massively rejected the contract. This was the first time in the history of the UAW that this had happened, a contract rejected at ratification. The Union of course sought to impose its will in a re-vote. When an official of Local 600 drew a pistol against a Dearborn millwright, Canadian TV recorded for the world this new union violence against the working class.
Violence itself was not new. With 65 deaths a day in the American auto plants, violence during the Sixties was mainly a question of the violence of technology. But the growing armament of both the working class and the union within the plant is new. Pistols were brandished at the meeting between the International and the local leadership at River Rouge. The president of a Michigan Casting Center Local shot a militant during a re-vote. The International established control over the St. Louis local after a show of arms. Walter Reuther's picture was torn from the wall at a local Michigan union hall. The locks were smashed at Solidarity House in an attempt to gain entrance. The submerged guerrilla warfare present in the plants broke out in the open during the summer of '73. A tool and die maker told the New York Times: "Before they tied us up with rope. Now they tie us up with chains. It's a dictatorship. Forty years ago you could lead people around by the nose. You can't do it anymore." He was referring to the Union.
Ever since the secession threats by the Skilled Tradesmen during the 1955 settlement, the Union had continually attempted to appease their demands. Union thinking was especially concerned with this because it had become clear that the basis of Union growth in the future would have to depend on its ability to organize not just the traditional skilled metal workers but the growing ranks of engineers, technicians, and office workers. Indeed, the union in '73/'74 won several small machine and plant design workers in enterprises. The President of one of these, Solar Engineering, an independent Michigan company of auto product and machine design, welcomed the unionization of designers and draftmen. The higher costs would result in increased competitiveness and the improvement of design quality. The presence of the Union, he told Automotive News, will improve "flow" among shop services and stabilize the high turnover of manpower.
The outburst of autonomous struggle, the collapse of union authority in mediation, its attempt to regain control by terror, and the transformation of traditional opposition centers these were the events that immediately preceded the "crisis" of 1974, its speed-ups and lay-offs at the plant, its inflation and uncertainty at the social level.
An external chronology of strikes during 1974, though necessarily incomplete, is an adequate representation of the fact that the economists' "lags" and "nonlinear responses" are only capital's tags indicating that workers' power has burst through the stop-go syndrome and Keynesian management. A partial list follows:
|March||New Haven, Michigan||Wildcat at foundry against local contract, racism and speed-up|
|25 March||Warner Gear||Strike slowing national truck production, closing Toledo Jeep and damaging International Harvester|
|5 April||St. Louis||"Sick out" at GMAD Corvette against speed-up|
|April||Kanasas City||GM Leeds plant, Chevrolet, local strike over local grievances|
|13 May||Detroit||Fisher Body Fleetwood struck closing Cadillac and Oldsmobile as plroduction schedules increase|
|June||Chicago||Stamping plant struck over 1000 grievances about speed-up, layoffs, discipline, and safety|
|June||Kalamazoo||Checker Motors struck|
|11 June||Warren, Michigan||Wildcat at Dodge Truck|
|28 June||St. Louis||GM Corvette struck|
|12 July||Lordstown||6 week strike begins over 11,000 grievances|
|August||Budd Kitchenor||1,600 wildcat for 3 days at body and wheel component plant|
|August||Cleveland||Junking, shipping and sabotage greet speed-up at stamping plant|
|1 August||Wanwatosa, Wisconsin||Briggs & Stratton, auto machine tool plant, struck over local contract|
|6 September||St. Louis||End of 9 week GMAD strike|
|16 September||Kenosha, Wisconsin||17,000 American Motors workers strike through month|
|September||Milwaukee||A.O. Smith, auto and truck frames, struck, closing Jefferson Avenue|
|23 September||Franklin, Indiana||Arvin Industries struck, makers of tailpipes, mufflers, catalytic converter, interrupts production at 3 Chrysler assembly plants|
|26 September||Anderson, Indiana||4 day strike at GM Delco, producers of starters, ignitions and generators|
|28 September||Gary, Indiana||Slowdown and sitdown at Ford Galaxy|
|29 September||Oakland, Freemont||Women workers sue GM for discriminatory layoffs|
|30 September||Oakland||Wildcats protesting overtime|
|4 October||Long Island City||Wildcat against Standard Motors|
|October||Framingham, Massachusetts||GM Buick and Oldsmobile assembly truck|
Clearly, the empiricism of the struggle based on the Union's Solidarity or the industry's Automotive News barely scratches the surface of the breadth of struggles through the North American plants.(9) Reports of militants in Windsor, Oakville, Cleveland, St. Louis, make it clear that much of workers' subversion of productivity occurred on a departmental basis whose appearance in broken production quotas at the plant level the industries conceal from public accounting. Globally, the struggle appears simply as "crisis", and as such is interpreted as a problem of markets or "demand." A brief discussion of some individual strikes makes it clear that the workers' infiltration against productivity belongs to a struggle to which the crisis is an answer. It continues to remain unresponsive to both Union management and government planning.
The wildcat was preceded by a sick-out on the 31 May when the second shift metal shop phoned in sick. This, and the strike, must be set against the background of the productivity drive begun in 1972 and the changed character of the workforce at Warren. Its second shift became younger, more 19-22 year olds, more Viet Vets with a history of fragging their officers behind them, more women and more blacks. During the '73 negotiations this working class rejected the contract, but Local 140 threatened to call a Christmas strike and that put the lid on the contract centered strike. Against the passivity of the Local, the workers replied with absenteeism, sabotage, running junk and violence against the foremen. Local 140 had undergone a change in leadership the previous year; the white bureaucrat, Mahaliek, was replaced by "black, fast-talking Willie Stoval." Yet it is Willie Stoval who in June 1974 lines up with the police to finger the "leaders" of the wildcat strike. Willie Stoval calls the police to organize the ejection of the workers from their Union Hall.
On 17 October 1974 at GM Corvette in St. Louis the workers on final trim sat down and refused to work because their pay check did not include "show-up" time for the previous Wednesday when the Company called them to work and then dismissed them. In twenty minutes the management capitulated and the checks were adjusted to meet the workers' demand. Nate Mosely a militant at the plant was fired. The workers responded with what the company termed "bad morale" or the shipping of work, and running junk, which lost the company $1.2 million over the year. The plant's reject area overflowed and Mosley's firing was changed to a temporary disciplinary lay-off.
The extraordinary swiftness of both these victories has to be seen against the accumulated failures of the Union-led struggle at the plant.
As a result of the 1970 contract GM consolidated its Chevy assembly and Fisher Body divisions creating the General Motors Assembly Division (GMAD). The separate divisions allowed far more relative independence to local strikes and organization. It was these local strikes that had been the single greatest obstacle to productivity in GM. Throughout GMAD the results of the new organization quickly materialized. At Norwood, Lordstown, and St. Louis grievances accumulate, the local leadership is put in crisis, and speed-ups and lay-offs occur with little resistance. At St. Louis the same production is maintained after laying off 1000 of the 9200 workforce. The crisis at the locals takes the form either of direct intervention by the International threatening to place the local under trusteeship or in long strikes (as at Lordstown or Norwood) without international backing.
In 1972 when the Union announced its "Apache strategy" it called for a decentralized struggle, staggering the attack on GMAD with mini-strikes, at a time when militants in the locals called for a unified massive strike against the division. Where GM wins centralization, on its side the Union calls for decentralized struggle.
12,300 grievances piled up at St. Louis by 1972. By the end of 1973, 1500 fewer workers than in 1971 produced the same number of cars. GMAD's productivity drive was accompanied by a political personnel policy that sought to divide the night and day shifts by race, by the selective favoring of overtime, short-time, and speed-ups. In April 1974 GMAD attempted a line speed of 25% greater than the day before. A couple of days later the second shift called in sick. In June with 18,000 unresolved grievances the local membership called for a strike. The International crushed the strike, though it went on for weeks. A long strike as those at Norwood and Lordstown a couple of years before would, the Union expected, discipline the local. When the Zone Committeemen, Willie Morganfield, and Irving Bluestone are sent to St. Louis at the end of August they settle the strike without getting anything. Morganfield draws a pistol against Nate Mosely the local leader. The International leaders don't dare use the union hall but instead settle the strike at a downtown motel. The independence of the local, however, was not crushed: the October 17 sit-down dispelled any illusion that the International had regained its authority over the class.
Neither the Warren strike nor the St. Louis strike were atypical: similar accounts might be found in the 1974 history of struggle at Windsor Chrysler, Ford Oakville, Chevy Gear & Axle, and doubtless throughout the industry. The "auto crisis" of overtime/lay-off is international.
In North America, thanks to the existence of the SUB mechanism, the current waves of layoffs have not involved thus far any major change in the automakers' wage policies. What is significant in fact is the extent to which the SUB mechanism which was originally designed to cope with minor restructurations related to model changes has so far lent itself to a major process of restructuration in the crisis. In countries where similar mechanisms were lacking, automakers have resorted to policies involving substantial changes in the wage relation. In France, Italy, and Germany the outline of this strategy has become clear: ensure a certain degree of stability of income for the workers as a cover to restructuring policies aimed at obtaining the highest mobility of labor.
What characterizes these layoff policies is their short term aspect. In Italy, Fiat and Alfa Romeo have reached lay-off agreements with the trade unions covering most of the 1975 period. In Germany, VW guarantees the equivalent of one year's pay to workers who agree to be laid off indefinitely. In France the October 1974 agreement between the Industrialist's Association, the Trade Unions, and the Government entitles workers who are laid off on account of industrial reconversion to get up to one year of pay.
What further characterizes these layoffs is the combination of wage and manpower policies that they embody. Thus:
—reduction of employment levels
* Fiat, by stopping new hirings, has reduced throughout 1974, its workforce by 20,000
* In Germany where the annual rate of turnover in the auto sector is quite high due to the transient character of many auto workers, the separation allowance policy will allow the auto companies to control this process by programming the mass resignation of a substantial section of their work-force.
* At Fiat, the recent agreement on layoff pay entitles the company to transfer workers not just from one plant to another, but also from one sector to another, from one geographical area to another. Given the material hardship that transferred workers encounter, this policy amounts in effect to a 'forced resignation.'
* Recent estimates show that in 1974 European car manufacturers reduced their work-force by 9%, and predict that the reduction for 1975 will be around 13%.
—The resort to a 'temporary guaranteed income' has the effect of softening the impact of capital's attack on the terrain of wages.
—The policy involves a deeper integration of the State and capital
* In France, although the funds for the layoff pay come almost totally from the companies, the intervention of the state has made the policy possible by paying a contribution of 1.71 billion francs—an amount that will cover the first year of operation.
* This integration is more clearly visible in Italy where not only layoff pay funds come from the state (2/ 3's of it), but also the union have a direct role in the management of this policy (they codetermine how many days of layoff the company must resort to, on the basis of inventory levels, and are responsible for providing the "extraordinary labor force" which the company deems necessary to work during layoff days.)
Layoff/ pay policies are therefore the tools capital is using to discipline autoworkers'
struggles. It allows capital to maintain the wage relationship within politically tolerable
limits, and at the same time push through a major process of restructuration, whose short-term goals are:
a) reduction of the domestic production base
b) the forcing of a major increase in the mobility of labor—inside the plants, within the industry, and in the labor market generally.
c) increase of labor productivity, through the terror of "losing the job".
d) undermine the practice of "paid absenteeism."
In North America the indications are already apparent that these goals are being effected only with difficulty. The SUB cushion is in tatters. In Michigan the State Police guard unemployment offices. The union-organized marches for "More Jobs" is met by workers' cynicism (UAW) or disruptions (AFL-CIO). What can we say in conclusion?
In North America, perhaps the most significant development of this period is the weakening position of the Union in its mediation of the struggle. There are external 'political' signs of this in the growth of opposition caucuses within the International, the emergence of "rank and-file" organizations on the plant level, and the proliferation of the "Left" within the plants (calling, as often as not, for the rationalization of the crisis—save jobs, spread the GNP, form "unemployment committees"). More symptomatic is the reaction of the industry which is now willing to circumvent the Union's mediation of the struggle since it has become obvious that the Union can no longer rely on even its 'historical' authority. Most serious is the arming of the struggle, within the plants and by the Union.
In North American plants wage and manpower planning attempts to re-establish the income/ productivity relation. Militants—blacks, women, hippies—are laid off or removed from the line, and probies, some fifteen years old, are sent on the line. With no rights to call committeemen, working at 85c an hour less pay, ready for job rotation—this is a last effort to regain control of workers' power in production. It is doubtful whether the manipulation of the sociology of the work force can overcome the crisis: it backfired in 1970/ 71. In June 1975 The Detroit Free Press reported that "both the company and UAW officials are surprised by the paradox of relatively high absenteeism at a time when most workers, nervous about the future seemingly would be working every hour they could."
The Economist is fond of asking "When will Detroit start closing Britain Down?" and Business Week asks "Has Detroit Learned Its Lesson?" The question is no longer the Blue Collar Blues or experimentation in the technical organization of work. Doubt and uncertainty characterize all aspects of capital's relation to the working class as it struggles to regain its command. Everything from the wage (amount of reserves in the SUB fund, the size of the Automatic Short Week payments, medical benefits, Food Stamps) to lay-offs (temporary, permanent? & what department? what division?) even the site of struggle in the auto industry itself is in doubt. This may be the panic that the enemy seeks to provoke prior to combat or it may be an actual reflection of the disarray in the strategic headquarters of capitalist planning. Despite the atmosphere of uncertainty, some elements are clear.
Capital must integrate its institutional components—the firm, the union, and the state—in order to determine both the terms of struggle and the site of struggle. The income/layoff policy is designed to reestablish the job as the terrain of contention hoping that the demand for work can be separated from the demand for money. After one year it appears clear that this strategy cannot be accomplished by traditional means. This is why the problem of social command must be presented as the problem of "law and order" and "crime in the streets," and not only as a problem of jobs and unemployment.
Preparing for the next war on the basis of the lessons from its previous defeat, capital poses the question of the removal of a site of struggle. When will Jefferson Avenue close down? In January, in June, or next year? When will Chrysler go under? When Detroit? Union planning of the struggle seeks to rationalize transportation, that is, it plans for mass transit and small clean cars.(10) The latter, on the vanguard of the productivity attack in the last four years, precisely means the intensification of work throughout the North American industry. "Mass transit," whether or not it is developed by existing corporations, will mean the reorganization not only of exploitation in the plant but the removal of the city as a terrain of struggle: there can be no repetition of the insurrections of the Sixties. "Mass transit" of course still sits in the attaché case of the urban planners, and other tools must be brought to play. In Hamtramck urban renewal means the relocation of the black working class vanguard. To effect this more than three-quarters of Federal funds "shared" with the city last year are remitted to the police corps.
While it would be foolish to attempt to describe a timetable for the removal of the working class from the powerful salient it conquered in the Sixties, the assembly line of big autos and its neighboring Inner City, it is clear that not only is something like this envisaged in long-range terms but that the first steps have already been taken to put it into effect. Flexibility of plant location, freedom of plant restructuration, massive labor relocations, the erosion of the city as workers' terrain, a "union say" in "management's responsibility to manage," here already is capital's attempt to both maintain its power and recapture its hold on a working class that has extended its room of maneuver within and against it.
Industry's plans must be seen internationally. Of course horizontal and vertical integration are intensified throughout the world and concentration and centralization of firms accelerate within national frameworks. State planning of social capital, "socialism in the auto industry," is afoot throughout Europe, clear for a number of years in France and Germany, now also in Italy, in Britain where the Labour government must underwrite Leylands, and even in Sweden whose government controls an increasing number of Saab and Volvo shares. Each process doubtless is considered by the American industry for home. In board rooms throughout the world attention is on Chrysler, and not because it is once again sending panic through auto's financiers or that it may be ripe for plucking. As the weakest, Chrysler loses least in the experimentation that is necessary for the industry as a whole if it is to recapture its position. At Chrysler foreign and domestic operations are united under the authority of a single vice president, that for "planning and development." The international division of component manufacture for American assembly, an international factory, has been forced on Chrysler. The New York Times writes, "When future products are considered, therefore, the resources and products of Chrysler's worldwide operations will be analyzed to come up with the most economic package." Ford Europe has practiced a policy of double sourcing for several years now, allowing it to circumvent bottlenecks created by faulty "industrial relations" at one component source by having recourse to another. In the Pacific Ford wishes to generalize this strategy in its policy of "regional complementation."
Chrysler's flexibility in the manipulation of international struggles is greatest exactly because it has least to lose. Its recent initiative (June 1975) in Britain is a case in point. It was not the Ryder Report on British Leylands with its coy glance over one shoulder at the workers' control people and its face of determination over the other at "inefficient management practices" that pioneered the Labour government's hesitant steps to "industrial democracy" and the integration of the shop stewards' into management planning: it was Chrysler, "the American multinational giant," that offered profit sharing, joint steward-management control, industrial democracy, and the rest.
To conclude with Chrysler's offer in Britain is justified only because it illustrates again how the capitalist project can be ten times more daring that the 'utopian' planning of the Left. In Britain however the Chrysler workers told management to stick their offer and demanded more money instead. Money, no longer the "defensive economic" demand of social democratic ancient history, is power. It was the demand that catapulted the international cycle of struggle ten years or so ago. Chrysler's offer of profit-and-management sharing is a desperate attempt to maintain the illusory separation between power or politics and cash or economics. The disappearance of this separation allows the question of revolutionary organization to be posed once again.
1 We have found the following books useful. William Serrin, The Company and the Union (1973), Emma Rothschild, Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age (1974), Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, Detroit I do mind Dying (1975), Huw Beynon, Working for Ford (1973), and John Mathews, Ford Strike: The Workers’ Story (1972).
2 In addition to the works cited in the text, this section relies on material supplied in Business Week (5 October 1974); National Commission on Productivity, 2nd Annual Report (1973); The Michigan State Economic Record (November-December 1974); Edward Gramlich, "The Distributional Effects of Higher Unemployment," American Economic Review (September 1973); and Arthur Okun, "Unemployment and Output in 1974," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (1974).
3 This for example is the point of view of Emma Rothschild in Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age (1974).
4 We refer to Richard Barnet and Ronald Muller, Global Reach: the Power of the Multinational Corporations (1975). This section relies on information contained in the annual reports of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Here as elsewhere the industry's Automotive Age is more informative that the Union's solidarity. Fortune (November 1974) contains important articles on capitalist accumulation in the Soviet Union. Motor Business, a publication of the Economist Intelligence Unit, maintains an international perspective.
5 Harry Baker, "Job Enrichment and Job Satisfaction," Personnel Practice Bulletin (June 1974); N.V. Philips's Psychological Department, "The Influence of Assembly Line Organization on Output, Quality and Morale," Occupational Psychology (1964); and "Job Redesign on the Assembly Line: Farewell to Blue-Collar Blues?" Organizational Dynamics (fall 1973) have been useful from the point of view of describing capitalist planning
6 S. Aronowitz, False promises: The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness (1973) is the clearest elaboration of this viewpoint. "Young auto workers have neither challenged the object of their labor (the production of cars), nor have they transcended the inevitability of submitting to the old methods of production" (p. 409). In fact, the latter has become a minor part of the capitalist project during the crisis precisely because of the previous success of the auto workers' assault on productivity
7 George Morris, "Controls or Collective Bargaining—Restraints and Realities," The Conference Board 1971. See also General Motors Statement to the UAW, 26 July 1973; the "GM Personnel Development Bulletin," 3 February 1972; and GM Oldsmobile Division, "Absenteeism and Turnover: Control Program Report" (November 1971).
8 In addition to the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Detroit Free Press which relative to their usual practise gave the wildcats a broad coverage, the newspapers of militants were fundamental for news of that summer: Challenge, The Call, and Workers’ Vanguard. Jack Weinberg, Detroit Auto-Uprising 1973 is also important.
9 In addition, The Newsletter (Toronto, April 1974), Network: Voice of UAW Militants, number 1 & 2 (1975), and the pamphlet, Wildcat: Dodge Truck June 1974 are not only informative but part of the on-going struggle.
10 Aronowitz (p. 428) finds the failure of auto workers to engage in this type of social planning evidence of the "defensive", "non-revolutionary" character of their struggle.