Autoworkers rally for good jobs

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SAN FRANCISCO — “I don’t know but I’ve been told, Wall St. got bailed out with gold,” and “What kind of jobs? Good jobs!” they chanted, as they circled the entrance to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office, a giant United Auto Workers union banner floating overhead.

The scene was a Dec. 6 rally by over 200 autoworkers, other UAW members and their union and community supporters, urging Congress to protect workers’ livelihoods by approving a bridge loan to the Big Three auto makers: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

Asked what she thinks is needed to stimulate the economy, Mary Elliott replied, “Just help working people in America. Wall Street gets bailed out, but working people need help.” Elliott, financial secretary of UAW Local 2244 — which represents workers at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., the GM-Toyota joint venture plant in Fremont, Calif. — said she hopes the plant will start producing fuel-efficient vehicles.

Said autoworker Allen Schuck, “They want us to take further concessions, but Wall St. and its employees didn’t take cuts” in return for that bailout. Schuck said cuts could cause his eight-member family to lose their house and health benefits. He called for a national health care program like those in Canada and Europe, and emphasized that workers “can’t bear financial responsibility for everything in this country.”

Leo Garcia, a retiree and UAW Local 2244’s second vice president, shared Schuck’s concerns about workers bearing most of the burden. “Company executives claim labor costs are too high, but they’re only about 10 percent of the cost of making a car,” he said. “The companies need to cut executive pay and bonuses.” Garcia said rescue funds should be “put to good use, such as building hybrids instead of gas guzzlers. Once GM was a big successful company,” he added. “They can get that back but they will have to do things differently.”

As the workers paused briefly in their chanting, Alameda Labor Council head Sharon Cornu assured them of the Council’s support and pointed out that “nine out of 10” of the country’s most productive auto plants are unionized. “The criterion to save the industry must be fuel economy,” she added. “I know our union plant will set the pace.”

Newly elected California Assemblymember Nancy Skinner told the workers, “The economy depends on workers, not on ‘fat cats’ who come to hearings in corporate jets. Any one of them could be fired and it wouldn’t hurt the economy.”

As the rally wound to a close, hospital worker Doug Jones, a member of United Healthcare Workers West, observed, “The work autoworkers do, and their compensation, is the essence of middle class America. This fight is important for the economy now and in the future. It is entirely possible for us to win.”

mbechtel @pww.org