It has come to light that the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler approved last month by the Bush administration with the support of the incoming Obama administration includes a stipulation that effectively bans strikes or work stoppages by autoworkers.
The clause, which was revealed in a Security and Exchange Commission filing by GM last week, coincides with government demands that the 139,000 workers at Detroit’s auto companies agree by February 17 to accept mass layoffs, plant closures and sweeping wage and benefit concessions.
According to the SEC filing, the Treasury Department could declare GM and Chrysler in default and revoke $17.4 billion in loans, throwing the automakers into bankruptcy, if “any labor union or collective bargaining unit shall engage in a strike or other work stoppage.”
The effect of this provision is to revoke the legal right to strike, an achievement won by the American working class in bitter struggles against “criminal conspiracy” laws used against striking workers in the 19th century. It was only with the 1935 passage, in the depths of the Great Depression, of the National Labor Relations Act that federal law recognized the right of workers to strike. This concession to the working class was not some freely given gift of the Roosevelt administration. It followed general strikes that erupted in 1934 in Toledo, Minneapolis and San Francisco. Without the strike weapon, workers are reduced to the status of industrial slaves, legally compelled to accept the most brutal conditions of exploitation without any recourse to collective resistance.
Several commentators have questioned the legality of the anti-strike provision in the auto bailout bill. Nevertheless, under the terms of the bailout, the strike ban remains in effect as long as the auto companies have outstanding loans from the government, setting the stage for contract negotiations in 2011 in which workers would not have the slightest leverage to reject demands for even more draconian givebacks.
And it begins! The Battle Of The Collars.