Tuesday, April 9, 2013

USA: A PR Campaign for Austerity—A More “Flexible” System of Layoffs in the Offing for Workers

We publish this text from  Internationalist Notes ( Internationalist Communist Tendency) because we are totally in agreement with its contents even if we have no organizational link with ITC.

Internationalist Communists – Klasbatalo

USA: A PR Campaign for Austerity—A More “Flexible” System of Layoffs in the Offing for Workers
The Illusion of popular participation in austerity and restructuring programs can be particularly nauseating for those conscious workers who have the stomach to sit through one of these staged public relations sessions. Across the US there are such events being held in the City of Detroit to mediate the sell-off of all city assets. For the Chicago public schools the CTU President Jesse Sharkey even speaks of the need for the union to be included in deciding which Chicago Public School, out of the 100 schools now slated for closing by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The University of Wisconsin System like the City of Detroit is putting forward public hearings to give a democratic veneer to a process that is intended to victimize and divide workers. It represents a continuing attack on wages and working conditions that demands an organized response.

Since the official demise of unions as bargaining agents beginning with Act 10 in Wisconsin has created a push among the management of the UW Madison to separate from the state civil service system so as to have greater say over the management of their workforce. Seniority rights are threatened with a new recognition of organizational need in layoffs thus paving the way for the layoff of expensive employees and their replacement with cheaper employees, eroding basic seniority protections.

But with every stick comes a carrot. This carrot is that all the lowest paid employees who are starting at $11.24 per hour, approximately 1600 workers will see their pay increase to what is determined to be the local “living wage”. Initially this was to be $12.19 per hour, but as the Human Resources PR sessions drag on this seems to become more vague as the July 1st date approaches. While the promised cost of living increases for employees who are further up on the pay scale are being pushed forwards for another fiscal year of further deliberations. The UW Madison administration has been given a great deal of power in determining what to do with their workforce.

For many who protested there are some who are willing to work with the employers on their new “engagement teams” with labor and management sitting together in the pretense that labor is being listened to. There are many who accommodate themselves to this new reality rather than attempt to struggle to build something new.

As the University of Wisconsin-Madison Administration under Chancellor Biddy Martin became separated from the rest of the Wisconsin State Civil Service the idea came to be sold to many that this was the only way for any improvement in working conditions and pay would ever take place. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the larger consideration was to divide the University employees on one end of State Street from the State Government employees on the other.

Traditionally the state civil service locally in Madison was divided into classified non-exempt employees, classified exempt employees. Those not covered under union contracts and those workers in positions covered under union contracts respectively. Now only the blue collar and building trades remain with certified unions actually engaging in negotiating contracts with the state employer.

After July 1, 2013 the new policies will finally begin to be implemented fully. Classified non-exempt employees will be called University Staff, and Classified Exempt employees will be given a choice as to whether they are classified as Academic Staff or University Staff. What this means in terms of impact on workers is that the university as employer will then become a separate civil service system apart from the state system. Thus pay scales for similar work will be able to differ more widely from one department to the next for jobs that are essentially the same.

Pay increases can now include the element of favoritism as employers can now give raises to those they deem to have done work that merits a pay increase. In reality, this is a popularity contest. In practice this means few raises will be given and labor costs will thus be lower. The last pay increase seen by many workers in the lower pay-scales at the UW Madison was in fact a pay increase only on paper as it was coupled with increases in “employee contributions” to benefits that caused the net increase in pay to actually be a “negative increase” in take home pay, that is to say a reduction in pay. Since that time workers have seen further increased “employee benefit contributions”, more pay cuts.

For any conscious worker sitting through one of these events involves trying to stay awake through professional hiring and management jargon to try to determine what is going to happen to one’s fellow workers. More absurd still is that employees are sucked into this “process” via employee “engagement teams” in hopes that some minor concessions can be made in exchange for compliance. This allows the employers to pretend that this austerity process was decided with workers input. The outcome is determined entirely but the necessity of reducing labor costs in an institution that pretends to be devoted to education when its’ primary purpose is to act as a corporate contracting gravy train. Anywhere austerity is undertaken and the capitalist class makes a pretense of democratic inclusion it is the proletariat that gets to choose which knife gets to cut their throats. Only when workers take it upon themselves to create their own assemblies and put forward their own demands that they won’t simply be subjects to any bourgeois parody of democracy.


Monday, April 1, 2013