Friday, September 28, 2007

UAW-GM: A more holistic perspective

IWJ Executive Director Kim Bobo wrote a letter to the editor in response to a September 26 Chicago Tribune editorial titled “Striking Failure” but the newspaper chose not to publish it. (While the paper has limited space in the printed version, they post numerous letters on the “Voice of the People” page of their website.) In her letter, Kim highlighted the need to address the national health care crisis as a way to save manufacturing jobs.

They did print one letter, which stressed the problem of executive greed, noting that the UAW president’s total compensation is $158,530 while GM’s chairman and CEO rakes in an excess of $10 million.

Here, so as to salvage it from the memory hole to which it would otherwise be consigned, is the letter Kim submitted:

Today’s editorial (“Striking Failure,” September 26) on the United Auto Workers strike (now halted) against General Motors presents a one-sided and inaccurate picture. The company, not the union, is to blame for not investing in new fuel saving technology and designs that would make its cars competitive. The nation's leadership is to blame for its failure to address the national health care crisis (which makes cars more expensive to produce) and to create a plan for preserving and investing in manufacturing jobs, not the union.

The “settlement that would shift retiree health-care obligations off the company balance sheet,” which the editorial breathlessly characterizes as “groundbreaking”—even “revolutionary”—is hardly flawless. In a far more sober assessment, The Nation magazine describes GM’s plan as an effort to “discharge its benefit obligations onto a poorly funded trust vulnerable to market fluctuations that the union will have to underwrite to a significant degree.” If this sounds a lot like the Bush administration’s proposal to privatize Social Security—which fell flat on its face when it proved wildly unpopular with the public—that’s because it’s based on the same bad ideas.

Although the strike has now been called off and a tentative agreement had been reached, the issues that led to the conflict remain very much unresolved. We need companies that invest in technology and commit to finding new ways to employ U.S. workers. We need a national health program that makes American industry more competitive. And we need a plan for creating and preserving good-paying manufacturing jobs.

The readers of the Tribune’s editorial page deserve a more holistic perspective on such important issues.

Kim Bobo
Executive Director
Interfaith Worker Justice

Monday, September 24, 2007

Workers organize in Mobile

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been talking to some folks in Mobile, Alabama, about a campaign by 111 workers at a factory owned by New Era Cap Company. The workers organized a union in response to conditions they reported including low wages, forced overtime, and racial discrimination against the predominantly African American workforce. However, over the course of the organizing drive, 20 workers were fired, and the company is refusing to negotiate a just contract with the workers.

I’m amazed at the courage of these workers, who are continuing to organize despite this intimidation and harassment. Several ministers have already begun to get involved by showing up at the workers’ organizing committee meetings to offer prayers and support. I’m going down to Mobile next week to talk to other religious leaders and help organize a religious support committee. Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, September 7, 2007


On August 29th, our Executive Director, Kim Bobo, attended the annual shareholders meeting of Smithfield Foods, the largest hog processing plant in the world -- whose hugely controversial labor practices are at the target of a sustained organizing campaign. Kim has written a lively and illuminating account of the contentious meeting, which she calls "both interesting and disturbing," for the next issue of IWJ's print newsletter, Faith Works. You can sign up here to receive the newsletter and thus be sure to get Kim's report as soon as it's available.