What the hell is this?

Mother Muckraker is an internal newsletter at the now defunct New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) in Fremont, CA. The newsletter seeks to debunk the lies and misinformation spread by Toyota and their "company activists"; and more importantly, inform NUMMI union employees about the real reason why Toyota closed their award winning auto plant on April 1, 2010. NUMMI is dead, but Mother Muckraker lives on to serve as a testament to the greedy machinations of Toyota management. Stay tuned for updates.



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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Micheal Moore: Capitalism – A Love Story

A movie review of Michael Moore’s latest documentary out on DVD now

In Trucks, there’s a huge banner by management saying, “Quality Saves Jobs”. We did everything right. NUMMI had the fewest defects in their latest internal audits of all Toyota plants and is continuing to post record low defects day after day; yet, Toyota is shutting down NUMMI eliminating thousands of jobs across the state. “Quality Saves Jobs”? The hell it does. They lied because you are unemployed. The income we earn here at NUMMI will not be replaced. Many of you will eventually lose your home. Our kids won’t be able to go to college without incurring a huge debt. We will not get adequate health care and some will die because of it.

It wasn’t always like this. In the film, Capitalism - A Love Story, Michael Moore takes us back to his childhood. His father worked on an assembly line. His dad got 4 weeks paid vacation, free health care, mortgage paid off, one income family, Michael went to Catholic school, and his dad had a pension. Michael had a great childhood. It was a good life for blue collar folks back then. How did we get from making a decent living to this?

Back when Michael Moore was kid in the 1950s, the marginal tax rate for people earning over $1 million was 90%. All that money from rich people built an economic infrastructure that allowed the middle class to flourish. Highways were built. Schools were built. Things that we needed were paid for from that money. Living well allowed the civil rights movement to grow. Money allowed us time to learn about what is going on and confidence to fight for our rights. Even with a 90% tax rate, rich people were still living well, but many running big corporations did not see it that way. They wanted to keep all their wealth.

So in 1980, the greedy capitalists got one of their guys in the White House, Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was a B-movie actor and a corporate spokesmodel on TV and print ads selling products in the 60s. Ronnie was a salesman. Ronnie served as a corporate propaganda figurehead telling folks that unrestrained capitalism was the way to wealth, heath and happiness for everyone. Ronnie’s right-hand man, Don Regan, CEO of Merrill Lynch, was always at his side telling him what he should do. Don Regan was caught telling Reagan, the President of the United States, “you’ll have to speed it up.” when Reagan stumbled over a few words and took a little too long making his speech. The President wasn’t calling the shots. Don Regan, the CEO of Merrill Lynch was telling him what to do. This country was to be run like a corporation with the production of profits at all costs. Hell with people, the capitalists need to make money.

So What Happened From 1980 to 2000?

GM started closing plants and laying off 10s of thousands of their workers. One of the casualties was our former GM plant here in Fremont which closed in 1982. GM was making record profits but they were closing plants all over the country. It was a union busting operation on a large scale. UAW membership was decimated. At the same time, productivity rose 45% during that time period. People who were left working were working harder.

As a result of these plant closings and forced concessions, blue collar wages went up only 1% during this period. The richest people had their taxes cut in half. Household debt went from 47% of our GDP to 111%. More people had to live off their credit cards. Bankruptcies went from 287,000 to 2,039,000 as a result. More people were incarcerated. It went from 503,586 in jail to 2,293,157 which gives the U.S. the distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. Healthcare costs jumped up 78% during that period. But the Dow Jones Industrial Average went from 875 to 15,000. The ratio of CEO pay to workers jumped 649% (from 1/35 to 1/365) In 2009, the income disparity is back to 1930’s levels. Hurray for capitalism!

During that same period, GM and Toyota decided on a joint venture, NUMMI. It had nothing to do with saving our jobs. They were both learning how to take advantage of the new “pro-business” Reagan administration. GM was learning the Toyota Production System. The foundations of TPS lies with timing each movement and filling in takt time completely with work. GM did not have this and many of their jobs back in the day were relatively easy compared with what goes on at NUMMI nowadays. Ben Hamper, who wrote “Rivethead”, documents some of his experiences working on a GM assembly line. Ben would often work only 4 hours and get paid 8 because he would rotate jobs with another guy doing 2 jobs. He would do 2 jobs while the other guy slept or went to the bar and then the other guy would come back and do 2 jobs while he went off to whatever he wanted to do. Working on an assembly line back in the day was pretty good. Imagine just doing ½ (or less) of a NUMMI assembly line job every day. Pretty good eh? But after GM started to time every element, there was no time left over and assembly line work became as brutal as any Japanese factory.

GM also learned how to form a company union from Toyota. In Japan, most of the Toyota workers are represented by a Toyota sponsored union whose union leadership are appointed by the company instead of being elected. The result is a very obedient workforce in Japan. People there will not speak up. At NUMMI, the success of the UAW cooperating with management led to the UAW doing the same at GM. They call it “jointness” at GM. To put it simply, management at GM asks for a concession and the UAW gives in without a fight. “Jointness” is nothing more than a company union.

Not much is discussed about what Toyota learned from GM as it’s assumed that Toyota had nothing to learn. Toyota learned something all right. Toyota watched as GM closed plant after plant in the 80’s while GM was still making a huge profit. Although Toyota had promised their workers job security, they eventually succumbed to the American way of putting profits over everything. Toyota knew that demand will level off and to keep their banker shareholders happy, they needed to keep profits high by lowering wages. They will just do it like GM. Toyota will close their only union plant to bust the union and pave the way towards lowering wages at their other plants even though they have been making record profits over the last few years and have a huge amount of cash to the tune of $39 billion (9/30/10)

But what can anyone do? There are too many people who think that you have to take whatever crap that comes your way which is false. In the movie, Moore gives examples of what people can do and already are doing with huge success. Some organized their neighbors to keep a family in their home. Some formed their own company in the form of a co-op and make $65k working in a bread factory. They are all forms of “democracy” where everyone has a say in how to run things.

One Person One Vote - Democracy

The richest 1% owns 99% of the wealth. The rich would have you think that you should “vote with your dollars”. But what if you don’t have money? Since the rich owns 99% of the wealth and you “vote with your money”, the rich have all the votes and you just have to take whatever crap is handed to you. But what gets in the way of the rich is “democracy” where 1 person equals one vote. The rich guy with a billion dollars still only has one vote. The people have 99% of the votes when you vote with democratic means instead of money. For example, if enough people get together and collectively vote to raise marginal tax rates for the rich back to 90%, that can happen because we have 99% of the votes while the top 1% only have 1% of the votes. Get how that works?

Corporations only know how to vote with their money. They can now give unlimited campaign contributions to buy off politicians to pass whatever laws that work in their favor. They use money to make enticing ads. They use money to bribe. But corporations can’t use democracy to further their cause because they still only have one vote. We can use democracy to win because we have all the rest of the votes.

Believe it or not, this plant closing was not inevitable. It did not have to happen. If there were enough of us exercising our democratic rights in the beginning, Toyota would not dare to close their best plant. If we had protested over including language in our contract that avoids strikes, we could’ve brought them to their knees by taking away their labor. But, the no strike clause is in our contract which greatly diminishes our power and allows the company to do whatever they want to us because they know they will still have our labor. We can’t take away their most valuable resource with a no strike clause.

But don’t think of this as a failure. Think of this as a learning experience. Learn what we did wrong as a union. Learn what democratic actions you have to take. Learn about who these politicians are and what their motives are. Learn about which laws hurt you and which help you. There’s a lot you can do. For example, getting the Employee Free Choice Act passed will help working people. It will make forming unions easier. More money will flow towards working people. But that won’t happen without your participation. If enough people raise the issue, we can outlaw the trading of derivatives which caused the 2008 financial crisis. But that won’t happen without your participation. Democracy requires you to get off your rear end and take action. You educate yourself. You discuss issues with people to find the truth. You speak up in protest. You write. This is not the end. It’s a beginning. Future generations are depending on you. Whether it’s the beginning of oppression and poverty or the beginning of a popular revolt designed to increase middle and lower class wealth is up to you. Michael Moore ended his documentary asking for people to join him in his fight for democracy. What are YOU going to do?

It’s class warfare, my class is winning, but they shouldn’t be.
--Warren Buffett, world’s richest person 2007

I sincerely believe… that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.
--Thomas Jefferson, 1816

9 out of 10 of Toyota’s top 10 shareholders are financial institutions.

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