The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

UAW-Big 3:
A partnership 100% in favor of the companies

Aug 11, 2003

Local leaders of the UAW (United Auto Workers) met during the last week of July to prepare for contract talks. The national UAW contracts end on September 14.

The meetings, in a posh hotel on Ford property in Dearborn, Michigan, produced a stream of "we don't expect a strike" statements. A GM local president was quoted saying, "Most of the people here know we have to get along with the companies. A strike would be devastating to us and to the company."

Even a local president at a Ford plant soon to close told reporters, "None of us really think there will be a national strike."

There's nothing like giving away your game plan to the opponent! But the top UAW leadership has devoted years to persuading its members and its local leaderships that the big companies are in fact more like partners rather than opponents. "Jointness" plans are everywhere. The union shamelessly joins in advertising the products of its "partners." The UAW's website includes "Bargaining for corporate responsibility" in which President Gettelfinger praises the "legacy of fairness and cooperation between labor and management that has benefitted both sides."

But the UAW's members – and its far more numerous ex-members – have little to show for this so-called "fairness and cooperation." Is it fair and cooperative when CEO salaries soar into the multimillions, while workers' wages have lost to inflation over the past 23 years? Is it fair and cooperative when companies make productivity gains by eliminating tens of thousands of jobs and then force the remaining workers into a relentlessly faster and faster pace? Or perhaps it is fair and cooperative to exhaust workers' lives in years of mandatory overtime, and then propose to chop their pensions and health care?

The officials' anti-strike statements simply express the trickle-down policy they have pursued for decades. They claim that workers cannot do well unless their company does well first – but then when the companies do spectacularly well, the union does not demand that the workers' previous concessions be returned, nor that the eliminated jobs be restored.

This policy of "partnership" has never been so open as in the years since Chrysler threatened bankruptcy and the UAW capitulated to massive job losses, plant closings and speed-ups beyond any living worker's experience. Then, upon Chrysler's miraculous recovery and its repayment of the government's loan years ahead of schedule, the UAW's "partnership" was limited to accepting as permanent all but a tiny fraction of the workers' sacrifices.

With this type of "partner," Ford and GM rapidly received their own equivalent gifts from the union. Doubtless the union was trying to be "fair and cooperative." However, due to the great "fairness and cooperation" of the companies, the UAW's Big Three membership has plummeted from almost one million in 1979 to 302,000 – if you count the 50,000 working for Delphi and Visteon. Yet the number of vehicles produced today is more than in l979!

Due to the "fairness and cooperation" of the UAW, industry productivity has grown by leaps and bounds – as high as six% just in the past year. Productivity means it takes less labor to build each unit. The benefits of productivity growth could be a better life for the workers. If it takes less work to build each unit, then the amount of work on each job could be reduced. The amount of break time, vacation time, and days off could be increased. The wages could improve.

If the workers were truly in partnership with their companies, then the workers should get the lions' share of the productivity benefits. It's only the workers' labor that produces any vehicles at all! But let us suppose, unfair as it might be, that the "partners" agreed to a strict 50-50 split of the benefits. Simply by receiving only half the benefits of the last 25 years of productivity increases, workers' work loads would have been far easier, injuries less, vacations longer, wages higher, and hours worked per week fewer.

Reality is just the opposite.The companies – along with their executives, stockholders and financiers – got not just the lion's share, but everything. Executives continue with multimillion-dollar salaries, perks and stock options. Their high-rolling stockholders continue to receive the dividends they have come to expect. The corporate waste and corruption continues on its usual grand scale.

No, workers are not partners with their companies, not in any sense. Partnership is simply the modern cover under which the usual massive exploitation of workers continues.

What can slow down this exploitation, roll it backward is the very thing the UAW leadership renounced in advance – the determination to fight.