If Honda Ruled The World (Letter to the Editor)

New jobs and new opportunity, but at what cost? A generation of temporary workers is the catalyst of a temporary nation.

There isn't much talk anymore about the Honda transplant or the "new jobs" and the "opportunity" that Indiana was supposed to get from it. Indiana gave $141.5 million in incentives to Honda, which included tax credits and abatements, training assistance, and a promise to expedite the long-sought interchange upgrade at U S 421 onto I-74. The Indiana plant will be Honda's sixth North American plant.

Historically foreign companies, like Honda, often speculated about building up North in States like Indiana then typically built down South in the end. After stirring the pot a little with States that are for sale to the highest bidder and spinning big business economic rhetoric to the masses the majority almost always moved down to where majority of all the other foreign corporations are, in the South. And for good reason, there are no unions.  Right To Work (for less) laws have played a role in this too.

Nowadays though, it is not that much of an issue for foreign companies as it was in the 1980s and the 1990s. When was the last time you heard of a Toyota plant being organized into a union? Indiana, Alabama, North Carolina, Michigan, it is no difference.  In 2005, American Honda sold 1.5 million Honda and Acura cars and light trucks, and North American counted for half Honda's annual global sales. The ninth straight year of record annual sales.

To avoid unionization and to control wages and benefit levels these transplants generally match the unionized Big Three production wages. But they have a brutal policy of contracting out all the work that is not directly tied to production. What we need to realize is not only that but, nearly a quarter of all the transplant production workers in 2006 are "temporary workers" who do the exact same job as the old "permanent workers" but for half the pay and no benefits. This number of  wage and benefit tier structures are increasing every year in industries around the United States as the unwavering desire for more profit increases. One generation is being sacrificed on the alter of capitalism for the other.

The pensions of workers at transplants are also similar to the Big Three, but their legacy is immeasurable. Foreign companies moving to the United States have no healthcare or standard retire costs due to their government providing these services to its workers in their home country. Here in America companies are not so fortunate and we remain the only industrial nation without national healthcare making them "uncompetitive" and millions of citizens without insurance.

What we must understand is that very few transplant workers in the United States even last long enough to even collect a pension at foreign companies like Honda. Without an organized work force and a union contract they have a monstrous injury rate in the United States. As a result of this injury rate these "temporary workers", our neighbors, are simply fired for the injuries they received while on their job.

Honda was hailed by Governor Daniels and business leaders as a great opportunity for Indiana. Honda boasted about how they make the most profits per vehicle in the auto industry. What they did not boast or hail about was Honda's industry wide record for worker injuries. Honda, according to reports from the United Auto Workers Union, injured workers at four to ten times the rate of comparable union represented plants.

According to another report in 2002 by UAW organizers, Honda accounted for over one percent of all reported ergonomic injuries in all industries in the United States from 1998-2000, peaking at 1.25 percent in 2000. Does that sound like a good "opportunity" for hard working Hoosiers and their families? The dread of mommy clocking in everyday not knowing if she will lose a limb in the factory or be fired as a result of it does not sound like a company with Hoosier values.

According to the same report, Honda produced one in 80 ergonomic injuries while employing only one in every 7,500 workers. It is not just Honda though, Nissan, Toyota and most over foreign auto makers moving factories to the United States have similar reports on them.

As wages, experience and work rules decline at the Big Three through buyouts and plant closures we can all expect these foreign transplants to follow suite. Without union contracts and representation in place workers like those that Honda will employ in Indiana will suffer the blunt of these policies and changes.

Union leaders would tell us that we need to "buy American" as the solution and that every foreign vehicle on the road is 10 lost American jobs. Unfortunately the strategy of nationalism and protectionism has failed. It has not only failed but, it continues to hurt organized labor around the world from uniting together. Unionism needs to reformulate our strategy if we are to ever organize transplants or any workplace in the United States. Building a union hall across the street from every foreign factories in the country might be a good start. But we are going to need to first put people in the ones we have built already.

The ultimate problem and challenge of organized labor isn't anti-worker laws, foreign companies in the South, worker apathy, or big business politicians. The ultimate problem, its own policies and strategies.

Until workers begin to understand their collective interest in organizing themselves then worker rights will obviously continue to erode. As we have seen at Delphi Corporation it only takes a few loops holes in the law and a 4 million dollar hit man to pillage a company. Laws just like politicians serve only to divide and neither one can unite workers to their common collective interests.

The first step must be for workers around the world to dismantle their top down bureaucracies into real democratic organized bottom up fighting machines.

If unions continue down the road they are on then Americans, injured or not, like the rest of the world will continue to see foreign companies like Honda and the means to which they build their products  as the only "opportunity" this generation has to offer to their children.


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