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As a leader in the recent midwest Bus Tours and Rallies,
United Steel Workers has broken from the pact of
organized labor in addressing the destruction of job
losses throughout the ‘Rustbelt,” particularly in the
auto industry.

By Claire McClinton

As GM headed into bankruptcy June 1, the United Auto Workers (UAW) agreed to enter into binding arbitration for the 2011 contract negotiations which means giving away the right to strike until at least 2015. The soul of organized labor was handed over in order to “save” the auto industry (Not since WW II has the UAW agreed to a “no strike pledge,” and even then the United Mine Workers refused to give up this right). Healthcare also took a hit, with the elimination of all Dental and Eyecare benefits for retirees. In 2007, a VEBA trust fund was negotiated which promised to ensure retiree Healthcare for 85 years. But alas, the benefits didn’t last 85 days. (The auto companies only recently contributing to the fund.)

  At some locals, workers sat in the explanation meetings with total shock and dismay. At other locals, workers expressed anger and fear. What does taking away the right to strike have to do with restructuring and saving the companies money? VEBA was supposed to be our retirees’ Healthcare salvation—now what? Are we supposed to sit around and hope the VEBA trust fund doesn’t dry up like our 401(k) and PSP recently did? Why shouldn’t UAW and the rest of the labor movement take the lead in fighting for Singlepayer not-for-profit Healthcare legislation, rather than playing with our lives with a risky trust fund? Weren’t we told that we need to compete with the transplants, Toyota, Volkswagon, Honda, etc., who have National Healthcare in their home countries? Why hasn’t the Auto Task Force mentioned this? Why hasn’t the Congress acted on this so called “edge’?

Autoworkers are beginning to fight on their own to resolve the problem. For instance, while the fight to save manufacturing jobs heats up, retirees, particularly in Detroit, are mobilizing for support of singlepayer legislation, HR 676. They, along with smatterings of workers from Flint, MI and other areas, refuse to lay back while their Healthcare benefits evaporate.

Ann Patterson

Belinda Brown of BANCO, a Benton Harbor, MI, community group, told the People’s Tribune that because of the economy, joblessness and the corporate redevelopment sweeping this small town, that the need was so great that 1000 people or more recently waited in long lines to be put on a waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers.  “Some came the day before to wait in line. Things were chaotic. People on medication needed food to take medicines but if they got out of line, they risked not being able to apply.  Some found out too late that a criminal record would disqualify them,” said Brown. “The Housing Commission provided no organization, restrooms or food. Landlords have raised rents because of the redevelopment. One woman said that even though she worked a full time job at Walmart, she still can’t make ends meet.” The City has turned the town and its lake front property over to developers who aim to build a high-end resort town out of the area. BANCO saw the need of the people standing hungry with kids and set up a grill to feed people. The long-term question is: what is to become of the people in this town as the development proceeds?

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