Thursday, July 19, 2007

UAW & The Big Three

This week, the United Auto Workers start negotiations with the Big Three automakers. By all accounts, the UAW are expected to offer massive concessions to help the Big Three survive.

Yet again, working class people are expected to suffer all the burdens of American economic choices. Among the expected declines--a pay cut of $25-30 an hour. That is a huge amount. Now auto workers are decently paid, although this story severely overinflates how much the average auto worker makes. But a decline of that much! And for what? If these cuts succeed (highly unlikely), will workers see their wages rise to match the profits? Of course not!!!

UAW president Ron Gettelfinger is probably not the man for the job. He is known as a business-first leader who has a long history of caving in to company demands. He will do so here as well. As a UAW member said on All Things Considered this evening, why even have a union if they are going to cave like this. That is a great question. What's the point anymore? This is a big part of why unions collapsed in this country. All too often, they do very little for their average members. Even though there are unseen benefits, like representation and the (increasingly limited) protection of a contract, unions also need to fight for workers when it is time. Gettelfinger has never shown any sign of doing this.

One might rightfully say that the Big Three are in serious financial trouble. That's true, no doubt. But what do companies give back to workers for these concessions? Nothing. If companies want major concessions, they need to give more than just letting them keep their jobs until they demand yet more concessions and eventually move all the factories to Honduras anyway. Give workers seats on the board. Ensure in the contract that increased profits will lead to rollbacks of concessions, or free company stock, or some real tangible benefit. Guarantee that any new jobs at factories set up to save money, whether in the US South, Mexico, China, or where ever, will be union jobs that the UAW can organize with company approval. Something real so that workers know that they might be screwed now, but at least the companies aren't trying to screw them forever. Of course, this will never happen because the companies ARE screwing over workers.

It is too bad that so many unions are still in bed with big business after all these years of talking about reform.