Is America’s labor force stepping up for a fight against manufacturers?
Judging by the angry and righteous tone at a labor rally held Monday in front of Hamtramck’s City Hall, we might be on the verge of a 1930s-style labor movement.
We’re not talking about bomb-throwing anarchists, but workers uniting politically to save their jobs and families.
And already there are some heavy hitters signed up for the struggle. At Monday’s rally, which was organized by a new group called “Keep it made in America,” civil rights pioneer Jesse Jackson spoke along with actor-activist Danny Glover, longtime Congressman John Conyers, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Congressman Sander Levin.
As expected, Jackson electrified the crowd of about 200 union members, starting off with a call and response chant, “Save the workers, Save the families.”
The rally was part of bus caravan visiting 36 cities in 11 states that have been hit hard by the closing of auto plants and related manufacturers. Stabenow pointed out that by the end of this year, America will have lost over 900,000 decent paying manufacturing jobs.
Those jobs have largely been shipped to overseas plants and plants in Mexico where American companies pay only a fraction of what American workers earn.
The rally could not have happened at a more appropriate time for Hamtramck. Recently, American Axle & Manufacturing announced it will shut down 85 percent of its production and slash 500 union jobs out of a workforce of about 700. Those jobs, American Axle said, are going to a plant in Mexico.
Those job cuts come just a year after union workers ended a three-month strike and grudgingly agreed to a 50 percent pay cut in salaries and benefits. Workers there are angry.
And their anger is aimed at one guy, Richard Dauch, the CEO of American Axle.
“He (Dauch) doesn’t care about the community,” said Pat Haggerty, who has worked for the company for 12 years and expects to be unemployed in the next month or so when layoffs are made official.
Haggerty was holding a sign that said:
“American (which was crossed out) Axle
Dick Dauch $200 million
The anger and passion was thick in the afternoon air. Several speakers used the word “bullshit” when pointing out the hypocrisies and injustices of auto companies and Wall Street banks getting federal bailouts and then turning around and closing plants for cheap labor overseas and banks refusing to lend money so those who still have a job can buy American made cars.
“What we’re saying is we have had enough of this crap and we have to quit kneeling at Wall Street,” said Leo Gerard, the president of the International Steelworkers Union.
Gerard also ruefully noted that it appears Wall Street and the auto companies are benefiting from an American style of socialism via the bailouts while workers are forced to suffer the consequences of capitalism’s philosophy of being left behind in the ever-shifting world of the open market.
A number of workers at the rally called for universal health care coverage and chided congressmembers in attendance to support bills calling for a national single-payer plan.
Actor Danny Glover (of “Lethal Weapon” fame) called on workers to unite and confront lawmakers.
“We are going to be the world we create,” he said, paraphrasing Gandhi.
Sen. Stabenow, who has been a staunch supporter of labor, warned that the American economy is now in a “race to the bottom.”
“We can’t have a middle class living on 50 cents an hour,” she said.
She also compared the state of Michigan’s economy to what happened in New Orleans after it was hit by Hurricane Katrina.
The economic winds, she said are battering the state and the water is rising.
“The bottom line is, keep it made in America,” she said.
Perhaps the fieriest of all the speakers was Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who has tangled with a national Fox television reporter over union concessions.
Bernero said he is a proud union supporter and pointed out that because of the union, his father, an Italian immigrant, was able to carve out a middle class life and pay for his education.
Bernero said the unions have given up enough while manufacturers are given tax breaks and then turn around and shut down plants in exchange for foreign labor.
“Are you tired of being screwed?” he yelled out. “I see a lot of double-standards.”
He said the hypocrisy goes even further.
“They (manufacturers) get bailouts but it’s bullshit for the working man,” he said.
He added that the upcoming struggle to save American jobs is a “battle to be waged by the blood, sweat and tears of union workers.”
After some two hours of fighting words, those at the rally settled in for an old-fashioned union barbecue. For some, never has a barbecue tasted so sweet.