|Written by Zé Maria*|
|Monday, 06 August 2012 17:12|
It has been headlines around the country, the deadlock arisen the last few weeks between GM and the Steelworkers Union of São José dos Campos (São Paulo state, Brazil), facing the threat of the company to lay off over 1,500 workers and close the factory sector known as MVA (Light Vehicles Assembling). The workers were mobilized as from the Union call, carrying out meetings, demonstrations and strikes demanding the maintenance of employment.
In order to face the company’s intransigence in negotiating any alternative that would keep the jobs, the Union, besides organizing the workers’ mobilization, has also required a concrete action from the federal government towards preventing the layoffs. While reaffirming its position against the transfer of public funds to the companies, the Union has drawn the government’s attention to the fact that the support given to these companies using public funds (IPI exemption – Industrial Products Tax), makes the layoffs even more unacceptable. And, while helping the company with tax cuts the government is more than obliged to help the threatened workers.
Given this polarization and the widespread request for solidarity called by the Union and the CSP-Conlutas (the trade unions and popular federation to which the local union is affiliated), we have received nationwide support on the workers’ struggle to defend their jobs . Recently the national labor federations CTB, UGT, NCST and CGTB, issued a statement where they “repudiate GM’s attitude whose purpose is to lay off 1,500 workers” and “offer solidarity to the workers and Metalworkers Union of São José dos Campos”. The CTB and the Labor Force (Força Sindical) sent a representation to São José dos Campos to provide solidarity. I highlight, among others solidarity actions received, the manifestation of these Trade Unions Federations for two reasons: First, because we (the Union of São José dos Campos and Conlutas-CSP) have several important political disagreements with them, which further enhances the symbolism and importance of solidarity provided by them. Second because their manifestation further highlights the nonsense of the position adopted so far by the steelworkers trade unions of São Paulo state, linked to the CUT (Central Única dos Trabalhadores), the main workers organization of the country.
The national leadership of CUT has not yet officially expressed about the conflict in São José dos Campos. However, the leadership of the ABC Metalworkers’ Union – the most important of this Central – and all the São Paulo state steelworkers section of CUT, effectively expressed their opinion, and they have spoken out against the Union of São José dos Campos. They haven’t issued a single criticism against the company! According to this sector, the responsibility for the layoffs falls upon the union, which does not know how to negotiate with the company. This is the contents of all manifestations spread by the Metalworkers Union of Taubaté/SP leadership (affiliated to CUT) and this is the contents of an article published in Tribuna Metalúrgica, the newspaper of the ABC Metalworkers’ Union, in its issue of July 25, 2012.
And the most unfortunate throughout this situation is to notice the similarity between the arguments used by these CUT trade union leaders, and the arguments used by GM to criticize the Union of São José dos Campos in their attempts to justify the layoffs. These CUT’s leaders look more like the company’s spokesmen than trade unionists who are supposed to defend the workers. They argue that this situation is raised by the “inability” of the Union to “deal with the company.”
The union subordination to the companies’ interests
The plants of GM in Brazil are the most profitable of the whole company in the world. And the São José dos Campos factory is the one that ensures more profit for the company, accounting for approximately 35% of GM’s sales in our country. Yet the company claims that it is unprofitable to go on producing lightweight cars in São José dos Campos because the labor cost would be “very high,” the wages “too expensive.” They prefer to produce vehicles in units where the workers’ rights flexibilization negotiated by the unions turned the workforce much “cheaper”.
We note that the company does not claim it is making losses (nor could it, once it is making huge profits). What it says is that the profit will be higher where labor is cheaper.
It is awesome that in such a complex context like this, there is no unanimity in the trade union movement in repudiating the company’s position. It is not even true that the union has refused to negotiate as the company alleges, referring to the conflict in 2008. In fact there was negotiation and an agreement was reached, at that time. The agreement was not the one that the company wanted. Nor was the agreement that the union wanted, but the union tried to make it as close as possible to the interests of workers at that moment, all that was possible taking into account the relation of forces at that time. But the union did not accept the labor flexibility intended by the company.
When criticizing the São José dos Campos Union “inability” to negotiate, the ABC Union leadership assumes the company’s methodology, which says that a successful negotiation, or a negotiation done “cleverly,” is one that meets the needs of the company. This is the complete denial of what CUT was once, when it was clear that in collective bargaining, the union represents and defends the workers’ interests. The companies’ interest would have to be represented and defended by the Federation of Industries.
It is not difficult to understand the ABC Steelworkers Union (SMABC) position as this was one of the trade unions that negotiated the flexibilization of rights of their constituents, making the workforce costs “cheaper”. In fact, SMABC was a precursor of this kind of negotiation within CUT and a precursor of this practice in the country. However, instead of criticizing the São José dos Campos Union, CUT comrades should reflect: If workers’ rights were not made more flexible at the ABC plants and elsewhere, for example, the GM (or any other automaker) could not count on this resource to attack and blackmail workers in São Jose (or in any other plant). Being so, wouldn’t we, all workers (and their unions) be stronger to face these multinational corporations’ greed for profits?
The position of this CUT’s sector before the GM onslaught to lay off workers and to impose the flexibility of the working class’ rights as standard shows how, politically, these unions are increasingly subordinated to the logic and to the interests of these large multinational companies. They are increasingly becoming the assistants of these companies in their efforts to restructure themselves, reducing costs in order to be market-competitive and increase their profits.
The Union as a tool for companies to increase their profits
An article published by the newspaper Valor Econômico (31.07.2012) is quite illustrative of this situation. As the reporter Marli Olmos informs us, companies, particularly automakers, have adopted as criteria to set the location where they will make their investments: the presence of a docile union, willing to accept a collaboration role to ensure the company’s labor costs to be increasingly lower.
The clarity and unceremoniously with which the subject is treated in the article shows how highly this idea is accepted as natural, the idea that workers must accept an increasing deterioration of their living conditions so that companies are able to profit even more. The ability to “negotiate” (best would be to say, collaboration) of trade unions is “praised” as if it was a good quality. It means the elimination, reduction or the workers’ rights flexibilization to “attract investment” as if this was desirable for our working class.
None of it would be possible without the complicity and helping hand of the unions, particularly the country’s major unions. And from trade union centrals as CUT (from the other major trade union centrals, no one has ever had the expectation that they could be a counterbalance to these employers’ ideologies).
It is not reasonable to believe that these leaders do not know that this is a “bottomless pit”. When companies do manage to reach “Chinese standard” for the working conditions in Brazil, they will try to lower the standard in China even more. Merely to later downgrade again the working conditions here in our country. It is a vicious cycle which has no end. Depending on the greed of these companies, workers will return to be treated as slaves, gaining in exchange for their work just enough to feed and keep working.
The proposal for changes in CLT to create the ACE – Special Collective Agreement
It is part of the same context the proposal submitted (not coincidentally) by the leadership of the ABC Metalworkers’ Union / CUT, of changes in the CLT (Labor Code) aimed at creating the so called Special Collective Agreement – ACE. Its purpose is to establish conditions for another round of flexibilization, elimination and reduction of workers’ rights through negotiation and collective bargaining. This proposal does not meet the workers’ interests. Not only because we are against flexibilization, but also because the current legislation does not prevent employers and employees from reaching and approving agreements that establish better conditions than those guaranteed in the law.
The only interest in this type of proposal is of the companies that really need to overcome barriers (few, it is true) that still exist in the legislation to downgrade even further the workers’ rights, to undermine and degrade even further the working conditions of our working class. This need has become increasingly worse in face of the crisis which involves the whole world economy. What for? To increase their competitiveness or, in other words, to preserve and increase their profits.
The whole situation only highlights the sad fate that these leaders have imposed on CUT ABC Metalworkers’ Union, which was once an important reference of struggle for all the Brazilian working class. On the other hand, if we add all that to the increasingly stronger linkage of CUT and of these unions to the Workers Party’s (PT) governments, it will become clear to everyone the nature of the organization in which CUT has been turning in recent years.
Sao Paulo, July 31, 2012.
* Ze Maria is Director of the Democratic Federation of Metalworkers of Minas Gerais and a member of the Executive Secretariat of the National CSP-Conlutas