Tuesday, April 28, 2009

CAN I SELL YOU A NEW CAR TODAY?

Sam Smith

I woke up this morning to the startling news that I will likely become a part owner of the Chrysler Corporation, thanks to the curious fact that National Writers Union, to which I belong, is Local 1981 of the UAW, apparently slated to become the majority shareholder of the company.

Another sign of the strange and wondrous times in which we live.

Especially so for a guy who grew up riding in a 1936, 1941 and 1946 Plymouth, a 1945 surplus Army Dodge personnel carrier (in which I learned to drive at 14 - complete with double clutching), a 1947 Chrysler and a 1951 DeSoto finally abandoned when one of its wheels fell off on some highway. I carried on the family tradition with my own 1985 Plymouth minivan (a sister car is now in the Museum of American History) and its 1993 successor.

I have no idea of whether this is a good deal or not and I doubt, despite the aforementioned extensive company experience, they'll consult with me on it, but I'm delighted to find the concept of union ownership finally considered worth discussing and that the UAW has moved so swiftly from a social status somewhat beneath Bernie Madoff to representation in the board room.

Much of the public and media treatment of auto workers in the recent crisis has been disgusting. These are the folks who helped build an America in which 21st century liberals could sit in front of their 52" flat screen TV complaining about workers' health benefits and never raise a finger for single payer.

All you have to do is look at the economic improvement in the life of ordinary Americans in the fifty years before 1980, in which unions played no small part, compared to the forty years since to recognize that the viral anti-union rhetoric in the media and elsewhere is just more of the rightwing economics that have led us to our current miserable state.

Which is not to say that union leaders haven't botched their role badly. Like other forms of power they have regularly shortchanged and abused those whom they were supposed to represent.

Even more important, perhaps, they have shown little imagination as times have changed.

For example, while there has been some effort to create a complimentary organization for non-unionized workers, this has been pretty weak, which is one reason non union workers lack the power of members, says, of the AARP or NRA. In the end the solidarity should be between workers, not just amongst the unionized.

Another problem has been a long antipathy towards union ownership participation. Because of labor's history, it has been assumed that management and workers would forever live in two separate worlds. This, however, is not true in many cooperatives (a concept as little mentioned by the media as worker ownership) or in many business in Europe and elsewhere. And how could the original dreams of the union movement ever be realized if workers could never reach the board table?

One doesn't has to agree with the specifics of the Chrysler deal to recognize its importance and the importance of that seldom heard phrase that bears great repetition: worker ownership.

7 Comments:

At 6:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"worker ownership" is fine as long as the workers buy the company, just like anyone else.

What is ridiculous is giving workers and unearned ownership/decisionmaking stake just because they worked there. Not because they earned it, or paid for it.

In a free and fair market system (capitalism) workers can buy and own the company. Or not. It is up to those involved to work it out, and no one option (such as fascistic "syndicalism" or "soviets") should be forced on any.

 
At 6:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"worker ownership" is fine as long as the workers buy the company, just like anyone else.

What is ridiculous is giving workers and unearned ownership/decisionmaking stake just because they worked there. Not because they earned it, or paid for it.

In a free and fair market system (capitalism) workers can buy and own the company. Or not. It is up to those involved to work it out, and no one option (such as fascistic "syndicalism" or "soviets") should be forced on any.

 
At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Posting something twice does not keep it from being pure and udder BS.



Chris

 
At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The double-posting was a mistake.

But.... what was BS? Do you have any specifics? Probably not.

 
At 7:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, your Associated Press post has comments disabled. Clicking comments takes me somewhere else, unrelated.

You made a lot of excellent points there.

 
At 11:36 AM, Anonymous NoBAWC said...

Not to nit-pick, but "worker-ownership" need not necessarily mean worker-control. Nor worker-participation for that matter. The Employee Stock Option Program (ESOP) was set up by the Feds 40? years ago to create a situation where workers could purchase stock in their workplaces. But this stock ownership didn't automatically mean voting stock. And where it does (ESOPs can have varing By-Laws) the voting block of workers is established as a permanent minority block.
Much better is a system of true worker participation. And while there are a few ESOPs that are set-up as democratic enterprises, the most obvious example of democratic control by workers are worker-cooperatives.
For more info see the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives (www.nobawc.org)
-az

 
At 7:50 AM, Blogger JerryZ said...

Anonymous,

You wrote:

"What is ridiculous is giving workers and unearned ownership/decisionmaking stake just because they worked there. Not because they earned it, or paid for it."

You forget that the 2 most important groups for any business are the workers and the customers. Many businesses fail because they forget this. Management tends to become self-serving and delusional.

I would like to address employee ownership. Although it usually misses miserably, stock options are a good start in that direction. What we also need are more democratically run corporations and corporate governance which serves the shareholders, the community, and the welfare of workers.

"In a free and fair market system (capitalism) workers can buy and own the company." That's a theoretical dream. Most market systems exist in plutocracies, autocracies and oligarchies. "Free and fair markets" are only illusions at best. Furthermore, corporate governance is usually set up to benefit upper management.

 

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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

BACK TO INDEX

Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal