FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Late, Great UAW

by DAVID MACARAY

By now, most people know that Detroit’s beleaguered automakers were able to squeeze out an eleventh hour, multi-billion dollar loan package from the U.S  government.  But how many are aware that, as part of the deal, the United Auto Workers (UAW) were required to forfeit their right to strike?

It’s true.  According to a filing by the Securities Exchange Commission, the Treasury Department may legally declare GM and Chrysler to be in default and revoke the nearly $18 billion in loans the companies received, if “any labor union or collective bargaining unit shall engage in a strike or other work stoppage.”  The money boys are watching this deal very carefully, and won’t let anything as obnoxious as an employee shutdown interfere with these loans being paid back

If, as expected, the terms are approved by the UAW’s hapless 140,000 autoworkers, this no-strike stipulation would remain in effect until the companies clear their debts.  And because those billions won’t be paid back before the UAW’s 2011 contract negotiations begin, it means the union will face the company with zero bargaining power.  Take away a union’s right to strike—its right to withhold its labor as a last resort—and you’ve taken away its only weapon.

Worse, this no-strike agreement comes on the heels of the UAW’s already anticipated massive layoffs and huge cuts in wages, benefits and work restrictions—reductions that are intended to bring these union contracts in line with the wages, benefits and working conditions generally provided to non-union workers.  How bizarre is that?

Typically, the exact opposite used to occur.  In order to discourage employees from flirting with a union, companies would offer very close to the same goodies a union shop provided its members.  Keep your workers happy, keep ‘em well compensated, and they’ll have no reason to bring in a union.  That was the rationale.

Of course, that meant you had non-union employees (“free riders”) profiting from organized labor’s formidable presence in the economy without having to join up, put their butts on the line, or pay monthly dues.  While it was a constant source of heartburn to organized labor that so many of these yokels were either too naïve or too dense to realize they weren’t making it “on their own,” the net effect was beneficial to all working people.  So be it.

What we’re witnessing today is a world turned upside down.  We now have union workers being asked to emulate non-union workers.  Union workers being asked to give back everything they fought for.  And these aren’t just any old union workers; these are members of the vaunted UAW, which was once regarded as the greatest union in the United States.

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that, during the 1960s and 1970s, rank-and-file union members across the nation believed that anything worth getting first had to emanate from the UAW.  That’s how prestigious they were, the gold standard, plain and simple.  Established in 1935 (the same year the landmark Wagner Act went into effect) the UAW was the first big-time union to implement across-the-board overtime premiums, paid vacations, health care, personal holidays and job safety language.

Admittedly, it’s easy to blame current UAW president Ron Gettlefinger (whom labor radicals have called everything from “sellout” to “traitor” to “management dupe”) for having put the union in this humiliating position.  But the closer you examine the trajectory of the problem, the more complicated, confounding, and frustrating it becomes.

First, you have the immutable, but stubbornly under-acknowledged First Law of Labor Relations, which states:  As much as unions like having generous bosses, understanding bosses, enlightened bosses—what they need, more than anything, are smart bosses.  Bosses smart enough to make sure their businesses remain viable.

In that regard it’s clear that Detroit’s executives weren’t near smart enough.  Obviously, they had the technological expertise to design a sleek, efficient, and economical car,  and just as obviously, the American worker is capable of assembling one.  Indeed, Japanese and German carmakers have seen fit to have American workers assemble their products, albeit in low-wage, non-union states such as Alabama and Tennessee.

What happened was more like a Greek Tragedy than an economic downturn.  In a word, the UAW fell victim to Detroit’s hubris.  While union workers will gladly build any vehicle—car, truck, van or tank—you ask them to, they don’t get to decide what that vehicle will be.  That’s their bosses’ decision.

And for the last several decades, Detroit’s decisions have been woefully short-sighted.  Instead of anticipating or following customer demands, auto executives believed they could dictate them.  Because long-term thinking required planning and discipline, they went after the glitzy, short-term score.  Moreover, these bosses got locked into some time-warp where they thought they deserved to be treated like princes.  And that mindset ultimately sank Detroit.

Unfortunately, it sank the UAW along with it.  When a union lowers its wages, benefits and working conditions to non-union levels, and then voluntarily relinquishes its right to strike as the price of doing business, it’s hard to consider that entity a “union.”

Again, you can’t pin this calamity on UAW leadership.  The problem goes way beyond that.  Blaming some recent union decisions for this mess is like blaming backyard barbecues for global warming.  In truth, the UAW’s only “crime”—stretching back some 70 years—was believing that America’s working people could belong to the middle-class.

But that’s history.  In the wake of the 20-year, post-Reagan, worldwide money-grab, the UAW has been left mortally wounded. And all we can do is hoist a glass, and lament the passing of a great American institution.  Let’s leave it at that.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright (“Larva Boy,” “Borneo Bob”) and writer, was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail