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UAW/GM Negotiations

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The latest in the United Auto Workers’ negotiations with the Big Three is pretty interesting. As I discussed earlier, the UAW forged an agreement with Chrysler that at least rolls back the despised two-tiered wage system instituted when the car companies were near death at the end of the last decade. The union has now negotiated a deal with General Motors. But there’s a lot of rank and file grumbling about this pact. There was at Chrysler too, and in fact the membership’s rejection of the first offer did lead to a better one.

Today ends the voting on the new contract. It looks like it will narrowly pass. UAW leaders are telling members that if they reject this, the only option is to strike. I always hate to see union leaders use the threat of a strike they don’t support as a negative. Maybe they do believe that GM won’t give a single inch more, I don’t know. But a strike led by union leadership that doesn’t want to do it in the first place is probably unlikely to succeed. In any case, it isn’t going to happen, which is probably a good thing.

Upcoming is a real bear for the UAW, with Ford opening using capital mobility as a threat against the union if it is forced to agree to the same terms as Chrysler and GM. The use of capital mobility has been a common threat against unions for decades now, and it’s real enough that labor has to take it seriously (as do those who criticize labor for not being militant enough). There’s plenty of examples of companies leaving because of unions forcing them to treat workers with dignity and respect. There’s plenty of examples of companies already choosing to leave and looking to blame it on unions. And there’s plenty of example of this sort of threat being pretty empty. With Ford, I’d guess that it’s somewhere between all three, with the company probably moving more production to Latin America anyway but certainly not all, largely because the political implications would be bad for the company.

And don’t think that workers don’t know this. One example from one of the linked pieces above:

Jennifer Sanders is a recently hired worker at GM’s Flint Truck Assembly plant.

“I’m pleased with the health care changes, but mostly I see job security as our biggest concern,” said Sanders, who was laid off earlier this year from the Orion Assembly plant because of declining sales of the Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano. “I’d like to get to the full Tier 1 wage right away, too, but if you give me a raise today and then send my job to Mexico next year it doesn’t matter.”

So long as unrestricted capital mobility is a threat, working-class people will never have security in this country.

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