Thursday, June 04, 2009

Economics: Labor USA: GM, a car company run by the government and the union

"GM’s New Owners -- USA and Labor -- Adjust to Roles" by Steven Greenhouse (Jun 1,2k9 NYT)

Labor activists marched in Lansing, Mich., Monday. In the past, the United Automobile Workers has been by turns a hard-charging adversary and a strategic partner of the automakers.
For decades, the United Automobile Workers had a simple strategy for getting what it wanted from the carmakers — it would go on strike. The tactic proved so successful that the mere threat of a walkout often won better wages, benefits and job security.

Now, with General Motors and Chrysler in bankruptcy and the union a major shareholder in both through its retiree health fund, life has become a lot more complicated for the United Auto Workers.

The union, which was born of labor strife, has pledged not to go on strike against the two companies before 2015, as part of the rescue plan hammered out by the Obama administration. Whether this brokered peace helps end the antagonistic relationship between union and management could determine the future not only of GM and Chrysler, but also of the UAW itself.

With the union’s health fund set to own 17.5 percent of GM’s shares and 55 percent of Chrysler’s, the UAW will both represent workers and be an owner, a novel dual role.
The entire article is worth your attention, but in his news report Steve Greenhouse is also largely bloviating a selection of facts, while missing entirely a structural analysis of GM and UAW during this period of restructuration.

First, let me say that I a have strong respect for the history of the union in the auto industry. However, UAW was from the outset, religiously and philosophically, a unitary autoworkers union, maintained as unitary in part by ideologizing solidarity in a majoritarian way, the slogan "solidarity" became a hammer to ensure a single union that could have no other goal than "getting what it wanted from the carmakers." It must be said in the union's favor, as far as I know, the secret ballot has always been respected by the UAW, while many unions today are trying to end secret ballots.

Unitary, faux solidarity. Repression of freedom of association, denying a multi-union system, in which several unions may be elected proportionately to provide representation and negotiate the new contract, provide a proportion of the union stewards on the shop floor. Instead, as each contract came to its termination date, the UAW would prepare itself for an annual contract-renewal strike. To get what it wanted this institutional enemy of freedom of association forced all would-be workers into its dues-paying ranks and then " — it would go on strike. The tactic proved so successful that the mere threat of a walkout often won better wages, benefits and job security.
The UAW has been part of the problem with the Big Three original members of the USA auto industry. Management has also been part of the problem. As to but one facet of management's culpability, the year-after-year cave-in to union demands for "getting what it wanted from the carmakers" was only a facet of the car-makers' managerial mismanagement.

I think the Christian Labor Association in the USA since 1934, and certified by the National Labor Relations Board, should be put on the ballot of a special restructuring of workforce/workplace representation by proportionality, each worker able to choose that union on the ballot which best appeals to his convictions, worldview, or maybe just curiosity. The point being that worker -- women and men, all races, religions, etc -- chooses which professional labor organization wil represent him or her. Along with the UAW, the CLA should be on the ballot competing for votes, and proposing an integral choice.

Reformational philosophy does not prescribe, but it very strongly supports in principle an endeavor like CLA-USA. American labor needs an inner reformation, even if it must be told so by some outside voices in the culture. Reformationals in the USA should realize what time it is in the country, in the American culture in regard to over-all labor relations. The reformational movement in the USA sometimes seems stagnant -- one could be overly bold to say, all it is now is philosophers, reverends, scholars, and electromagnetic digitators (bloggers and webs+ters). There is no visible support from American reformationals for the Christian Labor Association. Whereas in the Netherlands the CNV has an affiliate for artists, CNV-Kunstenbond

No comments: