These have not been great days for the United Auto Workers. The recent closing of several GM plants, including the iconic Lordstown plant, is basically the end of industrial unionism in America. There just isn’t much left as these last unions wind down. Moreover, UAW leadership is corrupt and have been using union dues to fund lavish travel. I’d like to say this is surprising, but it’s really not, as power corrupts again and again, and certainly not just in unions. I’ll also note that if everyday business corporation got this much attention, we’d be in a much better place, but I digress.
In any case, I am happy the UAW is at least trying to go down fighting, by engaging in what the largest strike against a private sector company in 12 years, since it’s last strike against GM in 2007. The difference is that in 2007, the UAW had 72,000 members at GM and now it has 49,000. That says everything you need to know about the level of desperation here. After taking billions of taxpayer money in the bailout, GM has paid back the American people through rapacious profit-taking, the closing of union factories, and sending jobs overseas.
“We have given away so many concessions over the last eight-plus years, and this company has been ridiculously profitable over that time,” said Chaz Akers, 24, an assembler at G.M.’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which is set to close in January unless the labor talks can win a reprieve. “That’s why we’re here. We’re fighting to get everything that we lost back.”
The across-the-board strike, the first by the U.A.W. since 2007, began at midnight Sunday, a day after the G.M. contract expired.
In negotiations that resumed Monday morning and were still in progress Monday night, the company has offered to invest $7 billion in United States plants and add 5,400 jobs. It also said it was willing to increase pay and benefits, without offering details.
That’s not enough for Wiley Turnage, president of U.A.W. Local 22, who represents the 700 workers at the Hamtramck plant. “I don’t like where we’re at,” he said at the plant’s main gate Monday, a picket sign reading “U.A.W. on Strike” propped on his shoulder. “We need job security. Our plant doesn’t have production beyond January. We have a lot of young, growing families and we need work for them.”
Among autoworkers, there is a strong sense that G.M. is not only making enough profit to increase wages but should be obligated to do so because the federal government rescued the company in 2009.
“We literally gave up a lot during the bankruptcy and the American taxpayer gave up a lot,” said Ashley Scales, 32, a G.M. worker walking the picket line outside the Hamtramck plant’s main gate. “We gave up twice because we pay taxes and we gave up in the contractual agreement. And now the corporation is making more profit than ever and they still want to play games.”
It also does not sit well with workers that G.M. has chosen to make certain vehicles in Mexico rather than in American plants. For example, the new Chevrolet Blazer, a sport utility vehicle that years ago was made in the United States, was assigned to a Mexican plant when it was reintroduced last year.
When GM says it will add a few jobs, remember that it just shuttered several huge factories just a few months ago. GM is also trying to force workers to shoulder a lot more of their healthcare costs. Screwing workers on healthcare has become so normalized and common that almost no one knows that this was almost totally unknown in union contracts until the early 1980s, to the point that when Phelps Dodge decided to bust its unions and reopen its Arizona mines without any union representation, one of the utterly outrageous things it did was suggest that workers pay into their health care plans.
In any case, I am not overly optimistic that the UAW is going to force Lordstown to reopen, but why not try?
Also, a strike like this makes me briefly semi-relevant and so I did an interview for NPR’s Marketplace yesterday that was condensed down a single line in a story that was probably reduced to only a minute thanks to the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities. Such is the glory of being a BIG MEDIA FIGURE. But, hey, my wife really likes Marketplace so this built me some capital with her that I will surely burn by saying something stupid in the next 12 hours. Probably when she reads the Cokie post.