Monday, April 13, 2009

The Auto Crisis: Placing Our Own Alternative on the Table

By Sam Gindin
ZNet April 10th, 2009
read full article here.

"Instead of waiting to see what else the corporations put on the table, workers need to put their own alternatives on the table...

This is an historic moment that challenges us to think big or suffer even worse defeats. Faced with immediate needs, workers and their union have too often shied away from taking on larger issues of social change that seemed too abstract, too distant, too intimidating. The lesson however is that if we only focus on the immediate, the options we have are always limited. We are all now paying the price of that failure to think bigger.

This is a moment when the elite - from the financiers through the Detroit auto executives and all those pushing the virtues of letting greed run free - have lost credibility. Yet it is the labour movement that is on the defensive and getting hammered. In this context, what is truly unrealistic is not new options, but the notion that stumbling through the present crisis will preserve past gains or bring new security.

Being realistic means resolving the crisis not so much in terms of saving the corporations, but as saving productive capacities and the economic base of our communities. And rather than speaking only (or at least primarily) for the members still working, it means also addressing the job needs of all those already, or about to be, laid off.

Being realistic means taking on a new and necessary fight - daring to put something new on the table. Rather than perpetuating our dependence on markets, competition, private corporations and the values and pressures they represent, this proposal builds on the first principle of unionism - organizing around our own, independent vision of how ‘progress' is defined. It means reviving the best of working class leadership: unions seen as not only negotiating for their members but raising the largest issues on behalf of their members and society as a whole.

Being realistic means taking hope out of speeches and putting it in the hands of workers. Workers have courageously taken over their plants only to end up 'winning most of the severance they were owed' (as a CAW press release put it); they should be encouraged and inspired to demand that the facilities are kept in operation and they be allowed to do productive work. And alongside this, it means that the need for work should not have to be traded off for accepting inferior working conditions - in fact, demanding social control over production might be a first step in going beyond defensive demands and thinking about what a truly democratic workplace might look like.

The alternative raised here will, as any significant change must, throw up new problems around democracy, accountability and balancing difficult choices. And it needs to be emphasized that this alternative is less a ‘technical' solution than a political one in the sense that it challenges the status quo of property rights in the name of democratic and social rights, and demands a cultural change in how we think of the economy and possibilities. It can't succeed, or even really begin, if it isn't part of the widest degree of discussion and debate from below, mobilization within and across unions, a clear identification of allies, and strategies for building new worker, union and community capacities."

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