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Please Launch Workers United Against Mass Layoffs

Above photo: UAW President Shawn Fein with NYS Elected Officials & UAW Region 9A Reps. Informed Images.

Memo To Shawn Fain:

Dear Brother Fain,

It’s time for a new organization to protect working people from the plague of mass layoffs. Let’s call it, for now, Workers United Against Mass Layoffs.

Given the United Autoworkers’ growing prestige, this seems like the ideal moment for the union to lead the fight against needless mass layoffs everywhere and for everyone.

The United Autoworkers know all about mass layoffs.  Currently,  GM is laying off 1,314 workers across two plants in Michigan, and another 322 UAW members are losing their jobs at Missouri Central School Bus.

They are not alone.  More than 30 million working people have suffered through mass layoffs since 1996. In January of this year, 82,307 workers lost their jobs.  Even those working in the booming high-tech sector are also going through a tsunami of mass layoffs. Last year more than 262,000 workers in high tech firms lost their jobs, with another 57,000 shoved out the door so far this year.

Tragically, most of these layoffs are entirely unnecessary, having nothing to do with market forces, or efficiency. Rather many are the result of corporate stock buybacks and/or private equity/hedge fund activity — financial tactics that enrich executives and stockholders.  As wealth is transferred to the few, the many lose their jobs to cover the costs.

Layoffs are among the most traumatic events that a worker can suffer. Health studies confirm that losing your job severely undermines health and well-being.

Fortunately, for the laid off UAW members, they have the UAW to fight for them. But who is going to bat for the tens of thousands of non-union workers?  With only 6 percent of the private sector in labor unions, the other 94 percent of workers are out in the cold, growing increasingly bitter about the failure of the economy to provide stable employment.

Remember this: Donald Trump’s intervention to stop the Carrier Air Conditioning company from moving to Mexico was widely popular across the political spectrum. All the more reason for the UAW to empower unorganized layoff victims to fight back against Wall Street’s willful destruction of their jobs.

What if the UAW used its well-honed technical and political skills to create a new organization that intervened in these layoffs?

Imagine a small but nimble organization that:

1.        Investigates the origins of the layoffs and exposes the role that stock buybacks and private equity/hedge fund machinations play.

2.        Determines whether companies are receiving public funds, either through state/federal subsidies or contracts.  Taxpayers should not be funding mass layoffs of other tax payers.

3.        Organizes pickets and publicizes how a mass layoff is likely to cause great harm to workers, their families, and their communities.

4.        Forms a legal team to file headline-grabbing motions and enjoin companies from conducting mass layoffs.

5.        Creates a set of demands based on the idea of “no compulsory layoffs,” and brings into the battle local and national political leaders, as well as local labor leaders, to support those demands.

6.        Collects the names of every worker at a facility who might lose their job.  Win or lose, these workers will remember what the UAW tried to do. These workers might be a key to future organizing campaigns and other political activities.

7.        Uses the publicity from these interventions to get a plank in the Democratic Party platform calling for the end to stock buybacks.

Workers United Against Mass Layoffs could start relatively small by focusing on a few critical states, like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  The WARN notices (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) in the those four states show the official layoff tally at 8,700 workers so far this year, and growing. These threatened workers would surely welcome intervention on their behalf by the UAW.

And doing nothing may pave the way for authoritarianism.

Mass layoffs may be tarnishing the entire idea of democracy is tarnished. What good is democracy if workers can’t find stable employment to support themselves and their families? Why should I vote at all, workers might say, if no one in government ever intervenes to prevent the destruction of my job?

Working people are hungry for a union like the UAW to help them fight for a better life and to stop needless mass layoffs.

In solidarity,

Les Leopold, Executive Director of the Labor Institute and author of Wall Street’s War on Workers: How Mass Layoffs and Greed are Destroying the Working Class and What to do about it (2024)

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