Tuesday, October 23, 2007

If this isn't blackmail I don't know what is...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Saving some Ford factories on table

If UAW compromises, plants could remain open.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

With contract talks between Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers poised to enter the final stage, the automaker is prepared to scale back plans to close six plants already targeted for closure in exchange for more favorable contract terms, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Ford has said it will close 16 factories in the United States and Canada by 2012 as part of its North American restructuring plan. Six have already been idled, and plans to shutter four others have been announced. But the automaker has not named the other six publicly.

Now, Ford has shared its plant closing list with the UAW. And it has made it clear to the union that some of those plants could be saved if the automaker can get better contract terms than those negotiated with General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.

Ford wants a lot -- more restrictions on its jobs bank program, a broader definition of "non-core" jobs that would allow more positions to be filled by lower-wage workers and more favorable funding terms for the union-run trust that is expected to assume responsibility for retiree health benefits.

But Ford is also prepared to give a lot in return, potentially sparing some of the factories targeted for closure. The closure list includes both assembly and parts plants.

Wayne Stamping and Assembly Plant is included, as is the Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake, but sources would not disclose the entire roster to The Detroit News. According to analysts, other plants on the bubble include the Chicago Assembly Plant, Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne and Ford's assembly plant in St. Thomas, Ontario.

The fate of these and other facilities could be decided at the bargaining table as early as this week in Dearborn. Many could come off the list if the UAW gives Ford what it wants. As The News first reported last week, Ford also is prepared to offer the union a new bonus plan.

"The union has got to give them some flexibility," said Ron Harbour, president of Harbour Consulting in Troy. "I think they will."

Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans declined to comment, saying the negotiations are private. UAW spokesman Roger Kerson also refused to discuss the plant list.

Factories on the bubble

Wayne Stamping and Assembly Plant might seem secure, given that it just began production of a redesigned Ford Focus. After all, the Focus is the only small car in the company's domestic lineup.

But the new Focus is only an interim vehicle. It is designed to bridge the gap between the last model and an entirely new version that will put the U.S. Focus on the same platform as its European counterpart, which is currently an entirely different model. The same architecture also will be shared with the Mazda 3.

Analyst Erich Merkle of IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, who expects the new vehicle to debut in 2010, said it is unlikely to be produced at Wayne.

"The fact that they were reluctant to make a significant investment in Wayne says something," he said. "Purely from a business perspective, I think it would make more sense to take it outside the United States."

Moreover, workers at Wayne have refused to ratify a local competitive operating agreement similar to those already approved at most of Ford's U.S. plants. Those plant-specific agreements, which cover issues such as work rules, are saving Ford $800 million a year.

The only other plant that has refused to ratify a competitive operating agreement is Chicago Assembly. It produces the Taurus and Taurus X crossover, as well as the Mercury Sable. Ford has made major investments in that facility to accommodate these products, as have suppliers who have built their own plants in a nearby industrial park. But that may not be enough to save the factory if workers remain opposed to a more flexible agreement.

"If they don't come to the party, long term, they could be on the list," Harbour said.

Workers at the Ohio Assembly Plant did ratify a competitive operating agreement, but a source said the plant is still uncompetitive.

Plants without products

Though not directly part of the contract negotiations between the UAW and Ford, Ontario's St. Thomas Assembly Plant is almost certainly one of those marked for closure.

The aging factory has seen little significant investment in recent years, and the cars it produces -- the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car -- do not have much of a future.

Neither do the Ford Explorers, Sport Tracs and Mercury Mountaineers produced at the Louisville Assembly Plant, at least not in their current form. Yet Louisville is the home plant of UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, and sources say the company does not want to embarrass him by shutting it down.

Analysts say Ford's Michigan Truck Plant, also in Wayne, is in jeopardy. It builds the gas-guzzling Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, two products whose sales have slumped dramatically in recent years.

"Those are vehicles you could probably build in one of the pickup plants," Harbour said, though Ford officials privately say the automaker would prefer to keep Michigan Truck open. "They know that they'll never sell 300,000 of those a year again."

Ford's other Michigan factories -- the Auto Alliance plant in Flat Rock and Dearborn Truck at the Rouge complex -- are probably safe.

Ford was producing F-150 pickups at three factories in the United States. However, as demand for these bread-and-butter vehicles withered in the face of rising fuel prices and a contracting construction market, the automaker decided to idle one of those facilities -- Norfolk Assembly Plant in Virginia -- and divide all F-150 production between Dearborn and the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Mo.

The Kansas City plant is also unlikely to be on the list.

Few product promises seen

With so many factories still slated to close, it would be hard for Ford to make the sort of far-reaching product commitments that were key to securing General Motors Corp.'s agreement with the UAW last month.

The tentative agreement reached between the union and Chrysler LLC on Oct. 10 contained far more modest commitments on the part of the company and has proved a hard sell at several key factories.

Ford's situation is further complicated by the fact that it is still trying to formulate a global production plan. CEO Alan Mulally wants to streamline the company's product portfolio so more cars and trucks are produced on fewer platforms worldwide.

The automaker already has constructed flexible plants in places like Brazil that could feed the U.S. market in the future, making its domestic factories less vital to future product plans.

"GM was in a better position than either Chrysler or Ford to make product commitments," said Michael Robinet, vice president of global vehicle forecasts at CSM Worldwide in Northville. "The more flexibility you build into your global production facilities, the more flexibility you have when you're sourcing products."

Keeping some of the Ford facilities open could go a long way toward convincing those UAW workers to vote for other contract changes the automaker needs to return its struggling U.S. operations to profitability.

You can reach Bryce Hoffman at (313) 222-2443 or bhoffman@detnews.com

Friday, October 19, 2007

Minnesota/Dakotas District of Communist Party USA


Rita Polewski, from Duluth, and I talked about this problem in the Party at great length this morning and we have met with others over the past couple months. After consulting with others we are issuing this statement:

For far too long Party organizing has been ground to a halt in the Minnesota/Dakotas region. Efforts at re-establishing a public presence and involvement of the Party around issues affecting the lives of working people have been undermined and sabotaged--- at the center of this dirty work have been Sam Webb and Erwin Marquit. The reasons are now becoming obvious for all to see.

For those of you who don't know Rita, her uncle was one of the longest dues paying members of the CPUSA in Minnesota until his death at 92. Rita and I have been working with several comrades on the Iron Range, two of whom are elected leaders of the USW and two members from North Dakota in re-establishing the Minnesota/Dakotas District of the CPUSA. It is our intent to throw this into the lap of the next National Convention to make a decision as to what Districts are officially part of the Communist Party USA... At this time there isn't enough left of the Communist Party in the Cities to constitute much of a club, let alone a District. In the Northern Minnesota/North Dakota District there are two dues paying members remaining... again, not even a club, let alone a district. We would stress that none of these remaining members in the Central/Southern District or the Northern Minnesota/North Dakota District have any ties to the mass movements, with the exception of Mark Froemke, the AFL-CIO big-shot known for his "2% a year raise is a good contract" as injuries and workers killed on the job in the sugar beet industry mount. Mesaba Co-op Park continues to muddle along with less and less participation every year.

Our Party has sprung to life around the issue of the Ford Plant/hydro dam issue; proving, once again, it is the "class" thing which stimulates working people to work with our Party and brings us into the struggles side by side with working people. Working people across this region instinctively understand the importance of the Ford Plant/dam issue... it is our responsibility to contribute the "Communist Plus." As we have found, Minnesotans have no fear of discussing public ownership as a solution to this problem.

We have concluded that the best way to resolve this is to continue to build clubs, be they some kind of discussion groups or action committees independent of the Party, but close to the Party so when things begin to be corrected we can move most of the people into Party membership and either convert the groups to clubs or establish clubs, with these other groups continuing to exist as forms to bring people closer to the Party.

All we can do is continue to explain to people what is going on through showing what these people are saying and writing; most working people with a left outlook will understand and appreciate our approach to this problem.

We will be distributing leaflets using the name and logo of the Communist Party USA. We will stamp copies of the PWW and PA with our addresses for people to contact us. We now have a person in the Cities obtaining the PWW's from stores, restaurants, and other places where the paper is dropped off. We encourage everyone else to do the same. Distribution of the PWW is most successful when handed out worker to worker, not simply thrown on a rack in some restaurant or coffee house. Where there are articles with serious problems, or articles that do not include all the facts, we will include a leaflet which includes the entire story.

This Party is as much our Party as it is Webb's or Marquit's. In fact, the only reason there is any kind of mass influence from the Party in Minnesota at this time is because of the activity of all of us who Webb now describes as "The Minnesota Problem."

That there have been distinct groups within the Party with some conflicting views for many years is nothing new. In the past an abundance of activity has held the Party together, united; most people are tolerant of others' views in the Party because they understand we have common goals and objectives; obviously Webb, Marquit, and Marshall lack this working class trait--- their answer is to silence, drop and expel while chasing the donkey's tail.

Webb, Marquit, Marshall and this faction have tried to remove the Party from mass activity which has exacerbated this problem. The correction is to become involved in mass work as a prerequisite to solving the problems.

We have agreed that Rita will be the District Organizer and Alan Maki will be the Secretary/Treasurer until this matter is resolved by the National Convention.

We want to caution people not to get too worked up about all of this to the point where things take on an anti-Party character... historically our Party has been very resilient and bounced back along with the upsurges in the peoples' movements, especially as the economy weakens. WE HAVE NO REASON TO BELIEVE IT WILL BE ANY DIFFERENT THIS TIME AROUND. The correction will come as we plunge into the mass movements providing our special "working class" perspectives and contributions to the peoples' struggles.

In over four years there has been no communication between these two phony Districts Webb and Marshall established in order to protect Erwin Marquit from criticism... make no mistake, this is the only reason the District was divided in the first place... neither Webb nor Marshall can provide any other explanation. The Minnesota/Dakotas District has served our Party well in the way it had been organized over the years. At this time there has been no contact with members in South Dakota... if they express an interest we are willing to take them in, too.

We encourage everyone to participate in the October 27 anti-war activities.

We are working on a leaflet that more fully reflects the situation with the closing of the Ford Plant/ownership of the hydro dam and the impact of all of this on the Iron Range. We believe this should be the focus of our activities for the immediate period ahead because it places our Party where it should be, at the center of the class struggle for jobs, peace, and social justice.

We will also focus our activities on the single-payer, universal health care issue from the perspective that it is a needed step on the way to socialized health care.

Our work will be done openly in full view so that anyone who wants to respond to what is taking place has the opportunity. We do not want it said that this little factional group led by Webb and company does not have the opportunity to respond to anything.

Rita Polewski, District Organizer,

Minnesota/Dakotas District Communist Party USA

Alan Maki, Secretary/Treasurer

Minnesota/Dakotas District Communist Party USA

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Communist Party Chair Sam Webb plans celebration of auto pacts in the Twin Cities... "Two Down, One to Go and It's A Done Deal!"

Sam Webb will be the featured speaker at the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant--- provided Ford Security and the St. Paul Police don’t object.

Stay tuned for complete details… please don’t bring any Communist literature or books… some people may find these offensive.

No t-shirts unless they have “Vote for Hillary”… anyone wearing t-shirts bearing the likenesses of Marx, Engels, Lenin or Che will be banished.

Come rejoice with our great fearless leader and more than 1,500 satisfied Ford workers who Webb advised to accept whatever Ford offered without making a stink or putting up a struggle.

Join us for a militant march from the Ford plant gate to the polls chanting, “Hillary, Hillary, Hillary… all out to defeat reaction and stop the war by funding it a little longer by electing Hillary.”

Please, no shouting “end the war now,” no screaming “Ford lies like Bush,” no chanting “Save the Ford Plant and Hydro Dam.”

Please, please refrain from all talk of public ownership. If you must talk of the “class struggle” please keep it to a whisper so as not to offend Democrats or Ford management… they might become angry and take out their wrath on Ford workers.

Scott Marshall will offer a prayer for St. Paul Ford workers.

Free beer will be distributed compliments of Mark Froemke.

Erwin Marquit will be collecting copies of Gus Hall’s “Working Class USA” for the bonfire on the Ford Little League Field where hotdogs will be smoked in arsenic and lead.

Dean Gunderson will distribute the new membership cards for the Communist Political Association.

Stay tuned for date and time.