FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The UAW-GM Strike

by DAVID MACARAY

Before the UAW strike against GM was, literally, ten minutes old, the long knives were already out. Pundits went on record predicting that the union had overplayed its hand, that calling a strike under these market conditions was not only a reckless gamble, but a betrayal of the membershipís trust and loyalty. They predicted the union would lose.

Someone should have reminded these commentators of a simple but inexorable truth known to every union officer, shop steward, and rank-and-file member in the country: You always lose in a strike. You lose the moment negotiations break down. You lose the moment you walk off the job. Indeed, you lose even when you “win.” Thatís why strikes have been called “the cure thatís worse than the disease.”

The arithmetic says it all. Hourly workers earn 100% of their annual wages over 52 weeks, which calculates roughly to 2% per week. Each week of work missed–all things being equal–represents approximately a 2% loss of income. Thus, if you strike over a 2% wage differential (the company offers 3%, the union holds out for 5%), and you stay out for a week, all youíve done, even if successful, is barely break even.

So, why strike . . . ever? Why volunteer to drink the Kool-Aid? The short answer is that you have no choice. Not if you have any investment in the long-term future, and not if you have even a passing familiarity with that principle our parents taught us–being willing to fight for what you believe in.

Collective bargaining is not a group-friendly activity; itís a ritual as masculine and self-absorbed as a Viking funeral. Despite what management and union PR people say to the contrary (forget those platitudes about “working together”), a negotiation is nothing more than a horrible argument over money. And because a strike is the only tactic that cuts directly into managementís ability to make money, itís the only tactic management fears.

As to the anticipated length of this GM strike, there are two reasons it will last longer than the few days or week that have been predicted. First, to punish the union for shutting them down, management needs to inflict a minimal level of pain. Being out of work for a week feels way too much like a vacation; being out for a month (when medical benefits run out) is a whole other deal.

Second, if being out for only a couple of days is all it takes to settle this thing, it means the differences werenít significant. But if the differences werenít significant, the parties would have settled already without forcing a shutdown. So, unless someone woefully misinterpreted opposing signals, the strike will continue until major concessions are made by one or both parties.

A reminder: The next time any of us thinks about crossing a picket line, we should note that these strikers are engaged in a delicate form of self-destruction, making the type of sacrifice none of us ever hope to make–taking a dangerous, principled stand with no discernible up-side.

DAVID MACARAY was president and chief negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672, from 1989 to 2000. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

May 02, 2016
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail