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Autoworkers Versus the Media, an Interview with John Wojcik
Wednesday, 24 October 2007 18:22
by Joel Wendland

Who expects the corporate media to project anything but sympathy first and foremost for corporate America? Certainly in its coverage of the negotiations between the autoworkers and the Big Three, the coverage has been generally skewed to favor the interests and aims of the companies, while disparaging the workers as either irresponsible or ignorant of their best interests.

John Wojcik, labor editor of the People's Weekly World, has another view. The media backlash against the autoworkers, says Wojcik:

"...has been "insulting to the people who shut down two big nationwide companies in a matter of minutes."
Wojcik says the corporate media have "described the strikes as Hollywood strikes and show strikes," downplaying the power and resolve of the workers to see that they are treated fairly.

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"I would hope that our coverage by contrast," Wojcik says in reference to the articles he is working on for the People's Weekly World, "shows that this was something new and that from here on out workers are really ready to fight."
And while the mainstream media has applauded the outcome of the negotiations at General Motors and Chrysler, suggesting that the concessions made by the union at the bargaining table are responsible and are needed to save the companies financially, Wojcik sees the contract provisions as a major setback for workers.

In other words, while the corporate media applauds contract arrangements that will likely see the wages and benefits of autoworkers cut in half within just a few short years, Wojcik and the People's Weekly World are and will be scrutinizing the negative impact the wage and benefit cuts have on workers and on the communities in which they live.

Wojcik specifically talks about what is called a "two-tier wage system." According to details of the new contracts with General Motors and Chrysler released to the media, the UAW has agreed to new wage scales that will see wages for new, young workers almost halved: from about $25 per hour currently paid on average to about $14 or $15 per hour.

The New York Times and other pro-business media have estimated that the obligations for each current employee at the Big Three agreed to by the the auto manufacturers totals about $73. This is a deceptive figure and is thrown about by the corporate media without much analysis, implying that each current autoworker makes that much money.

In fact, the number covers the wages and benefits of active employees as well as the contractual agreements made by the companies to pay for the health care benefits of retirees. In other words, active autoworkers do not make $73 per hour in wages and benefits. The figure lumps in the benefits paid to retirees who number in the hundreds of thousands.

But according to Wojcik, the actual number is not the point here. "The pro-business media would not support the idea that people should renege on the bills they owe, as far as working people are concerned. If you run up credit bills you have to pay them."

"But, when the companies make commitments, make promises, the media portrays them as less important. They don't really have to pay their bills," Wojcik says the corporate media seems to be suggesting.

New contract arrangements will see that per active worker figure shrink to about $25.

In addition to distorting the details of the conflict between workers and the Big Three, "they miss some of the most important issues."

In Wojcik's view the corporate media fail to put their stories about the auto negotiations into a thirty year context "of very strong corporate attacks on labor law and on worker's rights."

"And particularly what they leave out," says Wojcik, "is the fact that this happening at a time when capitalist globalization has really stepped up its exporting of capital, of jobs, and money."

This shift toward corporate ascendancy has been aided by the right-wing, free market ideology of the Republican Party. From Reagan on, the financial, health, and safety needs of working people have taken a back seat to corporate profits in the name of the free market.

Combined, the developments of the last 30 years have weakened the leverage and maneuverability of workers and their unions to protect the gains they have made previously.

In 1980, for example, Wojcik points out, there were 400,000 union workers at General Motors in the United States. There are now less than 75,000. Many thousands of those jobs have moved out of the country. Right-wing pundits insist that the way to save those jobs is to force workers to accept less and less.

While mainly ignoring the point of view of working people, sometimes the mainstream corporate media simply attacks workers. "They portray autoworkers as greedy, as wanting too much," Wojcik points out.

Meanwhile, the corporate media has ignored the fact that General Motors is making incredible profits overseas. Wojcik adds, "The company doesn't even have to open details about its overseas income up. When they sit down at the negotiating table they are not required in anyway to open the books and show those profits."

And working people can't do the same thing. "We can't hide the majority of the money we make when we're paying our taxes at the end of the year," Wojcik notes with a sarcastic chuckle.

And the media refuses to do its job and dig up the details about the billions GM is hiding overseas to force concessions out of the autoworkers and the retirees in this country.

Some in the media even have suggested the companies have not gone far enough in extracting concessions from the workers. "naturally, they have a class position," Wojcik points out. "They believe that the workers are supposed to make all of the sacrifices not the companies."

Wojcik says his job is to represent honestly the views of the workers who have been slighted or ignored by the corporate media.

For example, the People's Weekly World, instead of praising the concession made at the bargaining table as a victory, Wojcik has been covering the impact of the loss of wages and benefits on communities that depend on auto jobs.

Wojcik traveled to Belvidere, Illinois where workers at the Chrysler plant make Dodge Calibers, Jeep Compasses, and Jeep Patriots. There he spoke to autoworkers who have been living under the only two-tier wage system instituted at a Big Three auto plant prior to the contracts currently being negotiated.

Under the system, not only do workers doing the same job get paid differently and newer workers see fewer health care benefits, but when lay-offs roll around, higher paid workers get sent home first.

Wojcik predicts that if the two-tier system becomes standardized, by the end of the four-year contract, the lower pay and benefit scale will be the industry standard and the higher-paid workers will simply be bought out or retired. "The second tier workers will become the main tier," Wojcik says.

"All for one and one for all" will be a thing of the past, he says.

This will have a big impact on younger workers and their ability to provide for themselves and their families. "This is particularly bad because manufacturing jobs have been a path out of poverty for not only a lot of workers but in particular for African Americans, Latinos, and women," Wojcik reports.

There will also be a ripple effect throughout the economy that links the fate of entire communities to that of autoworkers, Wojcik insists.

In contrast to the corporate media's pro-business outlook, "we want our readers to understand," says Wojcik, "and we know the workers understand, that their fight is part of a bigger fight that really involves the whole working class."

Wojcik sees the strengthening the Democratic majority in Congress and electing a Democratic president as only a starting point for winning that fight. The 2008 elections will be a key turning point in the class struggle.

"What autoworkers have lost at the bargaining table, we're not going to allow it to be lost forever, and they're not going to allow it to be lost forever. These can be won back in the political arena," Wojcik argues.

Wojcik states that national health care, the Employee Free Choice Act, and real investment in the manufacturing base have to be on the political agenda of the trade union movement. And he feels optimistic that these things can be won with a big effort by working people.

"Our coverage is going to continue to focus on what the labor movement is doing and needs to do to reverse this. We're not just going to throw up our hands and say there's nothing we can do," Wojcik promises.

The People's Weekly World is an 80-year old weekly paper that enjoys "a special relationship with the Communist Party USA" and can be found at www.pww.org.
--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net. 
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