By on July 28, 2009

This website has stood out front in condemning the pro-corporate cowardice of the paper car mags, and rightly so. But when they show some courage and get it right, they deserve a shout-out. In the proud TTAC tradition of recognizing all viewpoints, I salute Jamie Kitman’s latest column in Automobile. Kitman’s point: the United Auto Workers (UAW) make a handy whipping boy, but contrary to the new conventional wisdom, they are not the Great Satan that sank our auto industry. In fact, the money the UAW made for decades was a good thing. “Courage,” you say? If you’re like many here, that’s not the adjective you’d use . . .

You probably think about the auto workers union something more along the lines of “pinko Keynesian socialism.” We’re talking world-class wages for the lazy, shiftless louts who famously tied beer cans inside the fender as a practical joke on the buyer? The same bums whose panel gaps were so sloppy, it’s a wonder said can didn’t simply fall out in the second month of ownership?

Not so fast. Consider this: the heyday of the UAW just happened to be the heyday of the American auto industry, whose vitality we now mourn. It was Henry Ford himself who actively overpaid his workers by his era’s standards, so they could afford his company’s products. (Compare that to today, when Wall Street punishes Costco for doing the same.) For decades, the UAW was the mechanism by which America’s working class continued to share in the auto titans’ prosperity.

And what did those bums do with their ill-gotten gains? They became what those same corporate media organs (I’m looking at you, military-contractor GE employee Tom Brokaw) lionize today as The Greatest Generation. The generation that broke Nazism, built Levittown, beat polio, and put more of their kids through college than any generation before.

What made this generation of Americans so Great when they banded together to give up their bodies to the corporate war machine, yet such unpatriotic slobs when they banded together to resist the economic might of the corporate industrial machine? Perhaps the answer we’ve all accepted as gospel has something to do with the seven corporations who now own virtually every medium where you’ll hear the story.

But crack open a few dusty, pre-media-oligopoly history books. You’ll get a quick reminder that there was nothing casual—and a whole lot that was courageous—about the drive to unionize American factories. Workers in places like Haymarket literally gave their lives to get out from under rich industrialists’ thumbs. That isn’t the kind of passion that’s prompted by compulsive laziness.

So why did they do it? If you think this is a shopworn parable about an obsolete problem, consider how our largest retail corporation has made billionaires of its owners by selling us merchandise made by Chinese sweatshop laborers whose average—average—wage is 13 cents an hour.

Those owners have a choice, you know. They could make the choice Henry Ford made. The same choice Detroit’s workers enforced on their employers for decades, to the enduring benefit of the nation. The same choice Costco makes today. They just don’t want to.

Our economy is sinking in a deflationary spiral, precisely because the loss of jobs has sapped consumers’ buying power. Yet, as we slowly feel the quicksand rise past our chins, our last gurgled oaths are damnations cast on ourselves and each other for having ever greedily wanted to keep our jobs.

IM(not especially)HO, you can’t discuss The Truth About Cars without confronting The Truth About Car Workers. And like it or not, that truth leads you straight into the economics of class warfare.

The people who crucify this President for trying to keep America’s #1 middle-class job source alive are the same ones whose pet publications think nothing of trillion-dollar handouts to Wall Street. On the altar of this cold-blooded religion, they’re eager to sacrifice the easy target of a clumsy, mismanaged, uncompetitive Big 2-1/2. As for the millions whose lives dissolve into poverty, alcoholism and suicide when their sustenance is stripped away? Merely the collateral damage of some healthy “creative destruction.”

Ultimately, that’s where I can’t get on board with the gleeful UAW-basher crowd. All we hear today is that American citizens by the tens of millions can be fecklessly reduced to the gutter, but the artificial corporate entities we created to enhance the general welfare are somehow “too big to fail.” Pity is, the people pushing this pro-corporate groupspeak don’t realize their god is as uninterested in their faith—or their fate—as that funky bird-beaked statue Yul Brynner beseeches for plague relief in The Ten Commandments.

You know how that story ended, right? His son died anyway, and nobody cared.

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69 Comments on “In Defense of . . . the United Auto Workers (UAW)...”


  • avatar
    toxicroach

    My objection to the UAW isn’t that they beat back the corporate oligarchy or something; it’s that they seem to have forgotten that they way to ensure their workers good wages is to ensure the long term health of the company— i.e. not featherbedding and work rules and waste. Instead we hear about how Jed got killed by the Pinkertons in 1913, and so that’s why its ok that GM has $1500 more in labor costs per car (40 years after they should have been getting worried, btw). Qua? Jesus died on the cross for your sins, that doesn’t mean Jim Bakker gets a pass for robbing people blind just cause he’s in the same club.

    If these union workers jobs were turning a profit— as in producing more value than they were consuming, well, we wouldn’t be in this mess, would we?

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    They say that a company gets the union it deserves. Today’s lazy, self-serving union culture is a reflection of corporations’ greed – where executives take millions in bonuses as the companies they’re supposed to lead spiral into bankruptcy. It’s the whole system that’s broken, and until the politicians in power are no longer in the pockets of the executives, the cycle will continue. It’s hard to foster good will in unions when they’re – often rightfully – feeling screwed.

    Where are the leaders who will step down from their ivory towers and set an example in responsibility and grit for a common good? As long as they’re making more in a year than most people make in a lifetime, they cannot be expected to be taken seriously when talking about the need to sacrifice.

    Unions and executives have one thing in common: they won’t sacrifice a penny unless their backs are against the wall.

    Things will continue to get worse long before they get better.

  • avatar

    Jamie Kitman is a quisling in the truest sense of the term. He peddles anti-American claptrap to the Brits and socialist garbage to the Americans.

    With that said, I am not a UAW-basher. Most of the UAW-bashing, in my opinion, comes from spoiled-brat four-year-college grads who cannot understand why an autoworker who stands forty hours a week in dangerous, noisy, wearying conditions earns more than they are paid for staffing the information desk at Barnes and Noble.

  • avatar
    stevenm

    It’s rather disingenuous to tote out the usual “back in the day, when the eeevil rich factory owner worked his non-union slaves to death” shtick in the context of what the UAW, and its members, have become. The UAW has become as corrupt, if not more so, as virtually every other big labor union in the country today.

    The fact of the matter is, the manufacturing workplace has changed drastically in the last 60-odd years, and so have the unions. Dusting off the “history books” in an attempt to lionize the proud and noble factory worker in today’s workplace is, to be kind, a morally bankrupt distortion of reality.

    The UAW, like virtually all current labor unions, does not exist to protect the little guy. It exists to continue the racket that has for half a century ballooned to ever increasing degrees of bloat and corruption. You can attempt to conjure as much coal-hauling, metal-hammering labor-protectionist imagery as you like, but it’s not going to do much in the face of the boundless waste and corruption that is rife in the UAW and has played a major role in the slow demise of the American automotive industry.

    Please, explain to me how ridiculous bloat exemplified by things like the Black Lake Golf Course are helping the poor factory worker. Or how the ever more ridiculous entitlement mentality fostered by the UAW is in any way having a positive affect on the production of automobiles for a given car builder. You know, those evil, money-grubbing, mustache-twirling, top-hat wearing rich people who do absolutely nothing but rake in the billions and screw the poor factory worker. Oh, and employ everyone. And pay for all the R&D, testing, development, materials, and tooling required to actually build a car in the first place.

    The simple fact of the matter is that labor unions are obsolete, corrupt organizations that are hampering the ability of domestic auto makers to compete in their respective markets. Were it not for the billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars poured into said companies over the years, they would have all failed long ago if for no other reason than the flat out ludicrous UAW nonsense.

    “The Truth About Car Workers” boils down to exactly this: In the context of the UAW, they’re nothing more than pawns that have been exploited for decades by union bosses for their own personal gain and agendas.

  • avatar

    It was Henry Ford himself who actively overpaid his workers by his era’s standards, so they could afford his company’s products.

    No, no, no, no, no! This is a common myth.

    Paying your employees to buy your products is the same thing as taking money out of one pocket and putting in the other one.

    Henry Ford raised wages to $5/day and cut the work week to 5 days in order to increase productivity. In 1913 he had a 93% turnover rate on new hires. In order to keep workers, Ford had to pay more money. He eventually cut the work week from 6 days to 5 1/2 to 5. That let him run the plants on 3 shifts, 24 hrs a day, and still be able to run three full overtime shifts on Sat and Sun if need be.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    The success of any business enterprise can be measured by the preparedness to ask “Why are we here?” – owners, management and workers alike.

    If they can’t agree, co-operate, or make the business purpose sustainable but most importantly, adaptable through innovation, then they disappear.

    Any party (Owners, Management, Workers) that road blocks change to foster the sustainable enterprise will have failed in their duty to the other parties.

    Too often there is no balance and always the workers suffer, no doubt, but they are players too.

  • avatar
    stuki

    The UAW per se is not necessarily bad. For decades, they probably managed to extract more for their members than said members would have earned in their absence. Which was really their chief mission. The problem was, and still remains, that one of the, in fact the primary, means by which they achieved that, was by empowering government, both state and federal, to get involved in areas they have no business being involved in at all.

    As a result, US auto companies are about as well run, efficient and competitive as any other organization and industry with heavy government involvement; like health care, education and the DMV. Get the various governments out of the way, as in completely, and I’m sure the UAW and the automakers could figure out a way build worth vile cars for worth vile prices that people would again find it worth vile to buy.

  • avatar
    johnthacker

    The same choice Costco makes today

    Costco makes that choice because their target and average customer comes from a considerably wealthier household than their competitors, whether Wal-Mart or Target.

    Ford paid his workers more because he was being greedy and trying to make a profit and reduce turnover.

    Consider this: the heyday of the UAW just happened to be the heyday of the American auto industry, whose vitality we now mourn.

    Correlation is not causation. The UAW did very well when the American auto industry had large profits, because there were lots of profits to share with everyone. There are plenty of large corporations that give their biggest executive bonuses when the companies do really well (though they’re large all the time.) Does that mean the executive bonuses caused the company success?

    At least in Detroit there were nice jobs, and Michigan was the wealthiest state in the country. Not everyone could have a UAW job, though, and more expensive car prices and UAW jobs didn’t do a lot for people in the poorer states in the country, primarily in the South. Not everyone in the country can be employed building a car, and it would be wasteful if we did (and impossible to pay everyone high wages if we did). Did the UAW ever fight to bring some of those factories down to the South? No, and yet they hate the Southerners when the Southerners welcome foreign car companies, for even if those foreign car companies pay less than the UAW, they still pay more than most of the jobs in the area.

    The same is true about the Chinese factory workers for whom their jobs, as awful as they look like by our standards, are still better than their alternatives. If we’re supposed to feel sorry for the Michigan middle class and angry at the rich on Wall Street or rich executives, can’t we feel even sorrier for the poorer people of the South who never got a chance to get a UAW factory, and even sorrier still for the people of China?

    The people who crucify this President for trying to keep America’s #1 middle-class job source alive are the same ones whose pet publications think nothing of trillion-dollar handouts to Wall Street.

    Ridiculous. The same people who bailed out the Wall Street companies bailed out the car companies. The same people who voted against TARP voted against the car bailouts. I opposed both bailouts, so I’m tried of your tu quoque defense.

  • avatar
    johnthacker

    consider how our largest retail corporation has made billionaires of its owners by selling us merchandise made by Chinese sweatshop laborers whose average—average—wage is 13 cents an hour.

    At least Wal-Mart has a customer base that includes the working class in this country. Target and especially Costco have just as many Chinese made products, only they pass those savings onto wealthier Americans, instead of the poorer people who shop at Wal-Mart.

  • avatar
    johnthacker

    Look, the UAW sought a good deal for the UAW’s members. They didn’t help out the rest of America’s workers by doing so. They took a larger share of the Big Three’s profits from the Big Three’s shareholders and executives, which is fine so far as it goes, and also made products more expensive and decreased productivity. The negative effects of the latter far outweighed any other bonuses for all the American workers not directly connected with the auto industry.

    Their worst sin, which is also the fault of management certainly, is not paying enough attention to the long-term health of the company, partially because both labor and management decided that the good old days of the domestic monopoly would continue forever. If you say that that’s the UAW’s job, well, it is in the same sense as it is the Big Three executives’ jobs to get as large personal bonuses as possible.

  • avatar
    texmln

    So, name a few unionized American industries that have succeeded, prospered and improved their products over the years…

    Autos. Nope.
    Airlines. Not exactly.
    Education. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!
    Government. Bankrupt, corrupt, etc.

    Oh yeah, unions are a real blessing.

  • avatar

    Has there ever been a better illustration of golden egg laying goose murder than the UAW & their inept allies in Detroit Management? I can think of no better. Both sides of this situation sought only to serve themselves, at the expense of the other, and literally destroyed an industry in the process.

    –chuck

    • 0 avatar
      ridingthemoon

      The UAW is an organization that serves it’s members in negotiations and on the shop floor,offices of attorneys, other office workers,clerical and engineers. this union was organized by people who gave their life against corporations who had them killed! Walter Reuther probably the greatest president the UAW ever had negotiated first for his members, then the consumer and then the corporation.He had a vision not only for the UAW but also for workers who were not organized in labor. He was the person who led the change of auto companies to building wartime vehicles including planes! Why are you so against somebody who you never  met or never did anything to you. we are all in this together all connected in some way.

  • avatar
    galaxygreymx5

    While I disagree with the ideas proposed in this piece, I’m really glad that RF published it.

    It’s so refreshing to see multiple, opposing points of view represented here. TTAC is truly in its own league in this regard.

  • avatar
    zaitcev

    Union organizers are thugs who extort businesses and governments, and the myth about American workers who banded together to resist economic might is just that, a myth. As long as the basic justice functions in the republic, citizens join into political organizations and not criminal groups called “unions”. Naturally, the weaker the civil society becomes, the stronger unions get, and tighter they align themselves with the government. This is called “The European Model”, and it’s where we’re all flying in a handbasket.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “Union organizers are thugs who extort businesses and governments … ”

    Sort of like the money mavens at Goldman Sachs, eh?

  • avatar
    Ryan

    Modern Day Unions… Stupid is as stupid does…

  • avatar
    WetWilly

    Most of the UAW-bashing, in my opinion, comes from spoiled-brat four-year-college grads who cannot understand why an autoworker who stands forty hours a week in dangerous, noisy, wearying conditions earns more than they are paid for staffing the information desk at Barnes and Noble.

    Really? Ignoring the reference professionals-don’t-have-real-jobs-since-they-don’t-sweat implication of that comment, there are countless reasons to despise the UAW. The UAW Welfare Progam Job Bank. Or that people couldn’t be laid off if companies decide to automate these dangerous, noisy, wearying – aka human-averse – jobs by replacing people with robots. Or their defense of absurd absenteeism rates by workers. That’s not even touching the fact that that same work that the UAW’s autoworkers deign to do could be done elsewhere in the world for 1/10 the cost – or less.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    That’s a nice editorial. Perhaps I missed the part where he explains how the UAW leadership sat on the deck while 2 of 3 domestic automakers went down while demanding the same glorious package of pay and benefits few others (outside of Congress) have today. Their biggest concession consists of a 54B VEBA fund that sealed the fate of Chrysler then GM. Have a few more Viagra pills courtesy of the VEBA.

    Again, it’s the leadership that made decisions on contracts, bargaining, strikes, work rules, and still thinks there is a leprechaun and a pot of gold under every CEO’s desk. Didn’t see anything about the Jobs Bank either, I guess slaving away over a crossword puzzle all day long trumps Barnes and Noble since you don’t have to answer any questions from ignorant customers.

    Plenty of people worked hard and put their kids through college without having a union tell them how it’s going to be. Now they own a substantial chunk of these reorganized companies and have a sympathetic government to boot. If this does not bring prosperity then maybe we can all agree they really are part of the problem and not the solution.
    But we shall see the UAW raid these firms for the benefit of today with little regard for the future. In the end, unless the cars sell they are out of luck. Obama is not in a position to force the American public to buy Union Made.

    I guess you can lump me in with the anti union crowd. At least I belong to something.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Sixteen comments so far. Jack Baruth at 10:22 pretty well sums up my sentiments.

    @ RF… Well done! Proof that there is indeed two sides in any debate.

    @GS650G Right I was one of those that worked hard to put both my kids through university. I also made sure that both of them got summer jobs on the line. Contractual union negotiated vacation time enabled thousand’s of students to secure good jobs with great wages.

    It also give the kids a great deal of respect for those that get thier hands dirty.

  • avatar
    Adamatari

    I won’t defend the flaws of the UAW, but I will say that the modern social contract is usually played out in a corporation, and corporations act like feudal fiefdoms nowadays. CEOs in the early 80’s averaged around a 40:1 ratio of their pay to a worker’s. Now, that ratio has increased to closer to 400:1 – many CEO’s are making more in a day than their workers make in a year. Wal-Mart is an example because the heirs of that fortune are some of the richest people on earth. Imagine a world where instead of this they spread the wealth – wouldn’t that be a better world? The rich would still be rich, they just wouldn’t be obscenely so, the poor would be fewer, and the middle class would be much stronger.

    The purpose of the union, a purpose they served well, was to even out some of the power imbalance inherent in the hierarchical corporate structure and improve conditions for those at the lower rungs. The UAW did this pretty well. A lot of people were better off as a result. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, in fact it’s a concrete good.

    The problem begins, as some people here have already pointed out, when the greed and desire to “get yours” on any side comes before the good of the business. It seems to me that in GM’s case both the UAW and the execs on top screwed the pooch. It’s written out pretty well here at TTAC how that happened. In my eye the UAW is not the worst offender – they didn’t make the decisions that sunk GM and Chrysler, they just put the things together in a somewhat halfassed manner.

    If companies were a shared ownership deal across the board, or profits came down to workers in a more meaningful way, then unions would not be needed and we would have less of this sort of self-destructive behavior.

  • avatar
    dinkydoo

    Utter nonsense. The UAW is complicit in the demise of the American car industry.

    Why distinguish between corporations, unions, governments? These are all just organizations of people who pool their individual power together to exert power over others. Successful organizations grow until the power, authority, and self-respect of its constituents vanishes. After that point, the goal of the organization is self-preservation, leadership is assumed by instrumentalists, those leaders afford themselves their unearned spoils, and everyone else suffers from the disproportionate power wielded by the organization.

    Humans don’t scale. Organizations of humans scaled by centralization and collectivization are dehumanizing, whether they’re corporations, governments, or unions.

  • avatar
    Rday

    While the UAW is not solely responsible for the demise of detroit, they are one of the major reasons. I have know several UAW members and they are surly and think that they are special and deserve special treatment. They asked for the moon and the sun and the idiots managing Detroit promised them all of this. And they had no problems expecting us consumers to pay for all their inflated salaries and benefits. They are nothing more than mafia characters and deserve to be treated the same.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Good article.

    Jack Baruth, +1

  • avatar
    don1967

    The people who crucify this President for trying to keep America’s #1 middle-class job source alive are the same ones whose pet publications think nothing of trillion-dollar handouts to Wall Street.

    I tried to read this editorial with an open mind, but this line absolutely blew it for me.

    For the record, Tony, many people are equally opposed to both Detroit bailouts AND Wall Street bailouts. We see them as fundamentally the same evil. It is absurd to imply that everyone who opposes one bailout automatically supports the other.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    The U.A.W and the BIG THREE built what WE wanted!
    The U.A.W and the BIG THREE agreed to the wage/benefit packages!
    And Ill bet YOU (the best and brightest)would have too if you were an autoworker.
    Its no ones any everyones fault….lets move on..O.K?
    Great article!
    Thanks

  • avatar
    picard234

    I’m one of those “spoiled-brat four-year-college grad” engineers for an auto supplier. One afternoon, I got a request to update my part in a vehicle, which was parked in a union shop at the time.

    When I arrived and got set up, I was asked how long it would take to update my software. I said 15 minutes. It was 2:47 P.M. The UAW guys in the room acted as if I was trying to kill their first born. One actually cursed at me and said, “I don’t work for free!”

    Evidently their shift ended at 3:00 and their rules require them to babysit any stupid spoiled brat college grad non-UAW member who dares to be productive in their shop. They were irate – irate! – that they would have to stay at work for an extra 120 seconds. I could easily have finished without a babysitter and still found the exit by myself, but they’d have none of it.

    I don’t begrudge anyone their paycheck and the majority of auto plant workers do their jobs very well under noisy, dangerous conditions. Unfortunately, most UAW folks have an entitled sense of ‘where’s mine?’ and ‘get while the gettin’s good,’ and to hell with everyone else.

    Concessions? Shared sacrifice? We’re the ones who beat the Nazis? Gimmie a break.

  • avatar
    mikey

    If you show up on the line 120 seconds late at the begining of your shift you will be docked and subject to disciplin.

    So why would you stay 120 seconds at the end of your shift?

    The culture inside the plant took many years to grow. Management is responsible for cultivating it.

    I got docked one point{six minutes}we were helping/pushing the other shift people out of the snow.By lunch the trucks were stacked up at the dock door.

    Hey, then they expect you to work through lunch.The 22 year old superviser,with a great education and zero people skills has a temper tantrum. Us blue collars found it quite entertaining. Word got around that this kid had a short fuse. After a while everybody knew what buttons to push,to get the kid spinning.

    GM done the kid a favour and dumped him.

  • avatar
    mattstairs

    Most of the UAW-bashing, in my opinion, comes from spoiled-brat four-year-college grads who cannot understand why an autoworker who stands forty hours a week in dangerous, noisy, wearying conditions earns more than they are paid for staffing the information desk at Barnes and Noble.

    Actually, Jack, it comes from people who:

    Have spent 4+ years and tens of thousands of dollars getting a Bachelors Degree or better.

    Work at stressful jobs that don’t end at 5:00.

    Cannot understand why a line worker with a high school diploma gets paid better than they do for working (or not working if they are on layoff with sub pay or in the “jobs” bank) at a menial job.

    OR

    People who work harder at jobs that are just as menial and more dangerous and get paid less because they don’t belong to the labor monopoly, i.e. union.

    I don’t think there are many four year grads who staff the information desk at Barnes and Noble. That is another menial job staffed by high schoolers working for minimum wage.

    Dangerous, noisy, wearying conditions? Are we talking about farming or working in a coal mine or working in a clean, well lit, modern auto plant?

    I’m not saying that working in an auto plant is a walk in a park and that they should get minimum wage, they should get decent pay and benefits, but let’s be real.

  • avatar
    LennyZ

    Who designs the cheap interiors of GM cars? Who picks the materials and finishes of the hard plastic parts? Who designs the alternators and water pumps and transmissions that fail prematurely? Who designs the engines whose head gaskets fail prematurely? The UAW doesn’t. The UAW assembles the cars. The UAW put the parts together. Parts designed and engineered by non-union white collar workers. The UAW should take some heat for poorly assembled products but not for parts that fail prematurely. A crappy electric window motor that fails within the first year of use and replacements that fail as often aren’t designed by the UAW. Fault should be given to the engineers who designed the parts. Too often the UAW gets blamed for things out of their control. Poor design is not their fault. They assemble not design. I’ve owned Toyotas and Honda which all went over 100K with no parts failing. I owned a Ford that was shot by 70K. Alternator replaced, heater controls failed, leaky power steering, clutch, head gasket, radiator leaked, manual window mechanism binding, muffler, brakes, rotors, all bad before 70K. Whose fault? Not the UAW. All of the poor quality parts were assembled well. The parts were bad designs, poorly engineered.

  • avatar
    loverofcars1969

    Excellent article. I agree Jack and the author hit the nail right on the head. Most of the crying comes from people who could never work on a line to save their lives. I keep hearing about lazy workers blah blah. The bottom line is labor builds and management is supposed to forecast and create designs that people want to purchase. Because people like to always point a finger at the ignorant and uneducated UAW worker. It should be noted that all of the executives that have ruined the company (paid much more than any union worker will ever see) are from the top colleges in the country.

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    LennyZ :
    July 29th, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Who designs the cheap interiors of GM cars? Who picks the materials and finishes of the hard plastic parts? Who designs the alternators and water pumps and transmissions that fail prematurely? Who designs the engines whose head gaskets fail prematurely? The UAW doesn’t. The UAW assembles the cars. The UAW put the parts together. Parts designed and engineered by non-union white collar workers. The UAW should take some heat for poorly assembled products but not for parts that fail prematurely. A crappy electric window motor that fails within the first year of use and replacements that fail as often aren’t designed by the UAW. Fault should be given to the engineers who designed the parts. Too often the UAW gets blamed for things out of their control. Poor design is not their fault. They assemble not design. I’ve owned Toyotas and Honda which all went over 100K with no parts failing. I owned a Ford that was shot by 70K. Alternator replaced, heater controls failed, leaky power steering, clutch, head gasket, radiator leaked, manual window mechanism binding, muffler, brakes, rotors, all bad before 70K. Whose fault? Not the UAW. All of the poor quality parts were assembled well. The parts were bad designs, poorly engineered.

    Well put. I owned a Suburban that seemed to be very well assembled by whatever plant GM used but was filled with components that endlessly failed.

    Alternators, window motors, pinion/axle/transmission seals, intake gaskets, head gasket, air conditioning compressor/evaporator/condenser, transmission, wiper motor, heater switch, AutoTrac transfer case and on and on. Over $9500 out of my pocket in repairs until I sold it with 98k miles. I have no idea what the cost to GM was while it was under warranty. Replacing faulty instrument clusters alone hurt them much less the other stuff.

    Needless to say it was the last American car I will ever own. I can’t afford them.

    The UAW may be partly to blame but everything in a company comes from management, including the pay and benefits of employees, union or not. The good times were rolling and everybody thought it would go on forever. It didn’t and now we see the rats scurrying around on their sinking ship.

  • avatar
    troonbop

    Oh, yeah, the agony of working on the line. Sweet jesus, I dated cute women who worked on those lines, I had no idea they were so tough.
    It’s not easy? So what?
    Fact is, autoworkers are mostly unskilled and uneducated, yet they’ve developed a sense of entitlement that defies belief and reality. And its not enough to get the sweet deal; we’re expected to cheer like it’s a victory for western civilization.
    These companies are bankrupt and deserve nothing.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Those deficiencies with domestic cars, from reliability to bland design to rest of it, came almost entirely from management. Toyota proved with NUMMI and Ford proved under Peterson that the goodness of the product or lack thereof ultimately comes from management’s choices of what to build and how to build it, and that even the UAW can build a decent vehicle if they are given one to build. Arrogant companies make arrogant mistakes, and the role of management in destroying these businesses cannot be understated.

    The workers simply don’t have enough authority under traditional management to influence the outcome. It’s a copout to blame them, when they are basically just following orders.

    The domestics got the unions that they deserved. Had the domestics built their businesses around cooperative-team management approaches ala Toyota, rather than the command-and-control, top-down, our-way/ highway dualities favored in Detroit, you would have ended up with different attitudes from both management and labor.

    Run a ship the way that GM runs a ship, and you’re bound to either stifle or drive out most of those who would be creative or innovative if given a chance. The domestics squandered human resources just as they squandered everything else; if the managers don’t know how to manage, then you can’t be surprised if the results aren’t particularly good.

    Still, the union leadership did their membership no favors by failing to make a connection between the companies’ long-term profitability and their workers’ ability to continue to get paid. Since they were in a position to negotiate contracts, they could have at least attempted to modify the nature of the management-labor relationship. Labor may not have been at fault for the runaway train, but they didn’t make much effort to get off of the tracks, either.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Your second paragraph described them appropriately :)

  • avatar
    tyler1

    The UAW is not the blame for the auto industry problems. I believe that all of us realize that the whole world economy is in trouble. Just to set the record straight on legacy costs that go into American cars, that cost is 1600.00 per car. This includes hourly labor, benefits and the retiree benefits too. It is true that Detroit made huge SUVs at a time when gas spiked over 4.00 a gallon. The Japanese were making huge SUVs too. Americans and people throughout the world bought these vehicles because if you remember gas was 1.00 a gallon. The oil market based on consumption threw the cost of gasoline through the roof thus damaging the sales of these trucks and SUVs made by both American and Japanese manufacturers. Granted, Detroit car makers were short sighted on small car production but they WERE making the vehicles that the world wanted and still do in some areas because of the demand. The UAW does not make management decisions nor do they design cars. They represent the workforce in collective bargaining which brought into being the great middle class. They were brutalized for organizing their union and stood up for what was right and what was fair, for all Americans. They are proud of this accomplishment and rightly so. The unionized workforce competes against unfair trade policies and countries that have national health care such as Japan, China and Europe. Because of this, the legacy costs of car building is something that those foreign manufacturers do not have and they are able to compete better on the world market. We are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not have national health care and regardless of how you feel about that issue it ties into domestic manufacturing (not just cars). In World War Two, this same unionized workforce was cranking out bombers and tanks in record time to defeat our enemies. We should be proud and we should never forget this. The UAW represents aerospace workers within our defense industries too. Those companies are; Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Bell Helicopter, Honeywell and many others. The UAW workforce in those industries earn more than their auto counterparts. A typical skilled trade machinist or launch vehicle technician makes more on the hour than their auto counterparts. Why not bash them too. But seriously, bashing each other is not productive and big business justs loves the division. The playing field for one places the American worker at a disadvantage on the world market due to protectionist policies in Japan, Europe, Korea and China. They simply are not allowing our products into their markets as freely as we do theirs. Lastly, I own 3 American vehicles made in the USA with a lot of miles on them with no problems except for normal wear and tear. Please support American workers. Blue collar and white collar, we are in this together.

  • avatar

    Okay, I’m still laughing at that term, “reference professionals”. And I thought it was going to be a drab day here at the race shop. :)

    Allow me to expand on my comments a little further.

    A few years ago, I did six months of consultation for an auto company which must remain nameless. However, I live in Central Ohio, and I didn’t commute in a Gulfstream, so figure it out for yourself, okay?

    As fate would have it, I arrived at the plant at 6:15 every morning and had a chance to see the third shift, which is staffed by the most recent hires, leave as the first shift, which is staffed by the most senior people, begin.

    Every day, I saw beautiful eighteen-year-old girls walk out of the plant and wave at tired, faded forty-five-year old women coming in. I saw young men fairly bounce from the building and gun their shiny new pickup trucks down the road while their fathers trudged towards the lockers to start a shift.

    The plant steals your life, a day at a time. You finish your life knowing little more than when you started, doing a similar job, working around the same people. There’s little variety inside that building — and yes, those buildings are generally hell. For every clean, new, robotocized Spartanburg in this country, there’s a miserable, dark, soul-crushing Marysville Assembly Plant.

    Let me explain what life is like on the line. You don’t fucking dawdle. You do the job, against the clock, again and again until the day is done. Hungry? Too bad. Thirsty? Too bad. Food and drink don’t cross the yellow line. Have to piss? Wait. Feel sick to your stomach? Having a bad period? Too bad. Work your job. Are you injured? Hide it.

    Anybody — and I mean anybody — posting on TTAC from work has a better life than a line worker. I don’t care if you’re coding eighty hours a week. I’ve done that, and it’s pie compared to the assembly line. I don’t care if you are a salesman under threat of losing his job this month if you don’t perform. I’ve done that, too, and it’s far less stressful than facing the first minute of an eight-hour shift composed of perfect monotony.

    You can earn eighty grand a year as a full-time employee at a transplant auto facility. Most of you don’t earn that kind of money. Statistically speaking, that’s top-ten-percent wages in this country. If it’s so easy — if you think the UAW guy who mops a floor two shifts a day and earns $120K a year is overpaid — go do it yourself and report back. See how long you last when you have to wear overalls every day and watch more than half of your waking life disappear down the rabbit hole.

    UAW workers are people. Just like you and me. They made a decision to give their youth and their lives to the factories. While most of us were carousing our way through university or “discovering ourselves” in Europe, they were on the line. While we were arguing Barth or Sartre in dorm rooms with beautiful, dark-haired coeds, they were on the line. While we were parking our new Bimmers and walking in late to our entry-level management positions, they were on the line. Respect that.

  • avatar
    loverofcars1969

    Reference this post should be the last word on this topic.

    Jack Baruth :
    July 29th, 2009 at 9:50 am

  • avatar
    tonycd

    zaitcev :
    “The myth about American workers who banded together to resist economic might is just that, a myth.”

    Sorry, zaitcev. There is much room for differing opinions here, but in this statement you’re just plain empirically wrong. You may disparage them as pawns, you may think they didn’t achieve what they were fighting for. But I won’t allow you to impugn the motives of the many American workers who quite literally gave their lives — just as totally as soldiers did — for exactly the motive you’re saying they didn’t have. You can look it up. Start by googling “Haymarket.”

    zaitcev:
    “Naturally, the weaker the civil society becomes, the stronger unions get, and tighter they align themselves with the government. This is called “The European Model”, and it’s where we’re all flying in a handbasket.”

    I’ll gladly board that flight. To quote my favorite author, Tony Sterbenc, commenting on menno’s recent column “Toyota to leave the North American market?”:

    “As for the ‘worldwide failure’ of socialism, what failure? In most of Europe’s social democracies, the people are healthier, happier, work less hard, endure less stress, have healthier babies, live longer and take longer vacations. Lower corporate profits equal ‘economic failure’ only if you think corporations outrank people as the first priority of economic policy.”

    Which is why I’m equally perplexed by WetWilly’s comment:

    WetWilly:
    “That same work that the UAW’s autoworkers deign to do could be done elsewhere in the world for 1/10 the cost – or less.”

    To WetWilly, evidently this means the UAW has done a bad thing. To me, it means they’ve done a good one.

    johnthacker:
    “If we’re supposed to feel sorry for the Michigan middle class and angry at the rich on Wall Street or rich executives, can’t we feel even sorrier for the poorer people of the South who never got a chance to get a UAW factory, and even sorrier still for the people of China?”

    Yes, and I never suggested otherwise. You misunderstand, John. I never said I wanted other workers to do worse. I just want American workers to do well. Do I wish Chinese workers had the right to real, potent unions? Yes I do, and there’s a very real reason why the Chinese government pre-emptively “organized” them into toothless company unions — they don’t want to empower the working class, either. American workers would be better off, not worse, if the slave-wage market they’re having to compete against were eliminated worldwide.

    johnthacker (on quite a roll — 3 consecutive posts):
    “The same people who bailed out the Wall Street companies bailed out the car companies. The same people who voted against TARP voted against the car bailouts. I opposed both bailouts, so I’m tried of your tu quoque defense.”

    don1967:
    “For the record, Tony, many people are equally opposed to both Detroit bailouts AND Wall Street bailouts. We see them as fundamentally the same evil. It is absurd to imply that everyone who opposes one bailout automatically supports the other.”

    But it’s equally absurd to equate the two.

    One has to remember the ostensible purpose of the bailouts. Even though it sends hackles up the corporatists’ spines, the idea was to head off a disastrous deflationary spiral by having the government step in as the spender of last resort, putting money into the hands of workers, thus maintaining some level of both employment and spending.

    The auto bailout speaks directly and effectively to this issue. Unlike the Wall Street bailout, the purpose of the carmaker bailout wasn’t to save the corporations themselves (which is what both parties have quickly allowed the bank bailout to degenerate into). That was just incidental. The real point, as the centerpiece of the economic stimulus program, was to save those millions of jobs.

    In this context, it makes no sense whatsoever that the corporatists demanded the gutting of autoworker wages as a condition of the auto bailout. You can have a stimulus and employment package for the auto industry, just as long as it doesn’t stimulate or employ? Their opposition wasn’t about economics, except their own. Like using Reagan to symbolically crush the air traffic controllers, it was just another opportunistic grab to take yet more leverage away from the working class. Period.

    stevenm:
    In the context of the UAW, they’re nothing more than pawns that have been exploited for decades by union bosses for their own personal gain and agendas.

    Note that I never said the UAW was free of corruption. But okay, I’m game. If the UAW has exploited its workers, it’s done so basically by draining them through their union dues. So, is the UAW evil because it’s succeeded so well that its workers have become greedy, fat and lazy, or is it evil because it failed in its mission and siphoned all its wealth to the union bosses instead? Boy, these guys can’t win for losing, huh?

    Adamatari:
    Even-handed and well summarized. Thank you.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Jack Baruth

    “Well, we had it tuff”. Why is The Four Yorkshiremen playing in my head???

    The world needs coal miners, hairdressers, truck drivers, road sweepers, hockey players and race instructors too.

    Live a little in other parts of the world (rural China, Africa, Burma etc etc etc) to see how shocking that demand for “respect” is.

    Aspiration and envy; the balance is completed screwed in the USofA.

  • avatar
    improvement_needed

    nice article; nice comments…

    However, I would say it would be more appropriately titled: “In Defence of Auto Workers”

    I grew up within a stones through of HUGE GM facility, married into a family who owes virtually all of it’s prosperity from the Auto Union (grandfather, father, uncle, etc…), but myself have a bachelor’s, master’s and PhD. The only real work I’ve done is manual labour to pay for the first degree. So, I still have an outsider’s view…

    Unions for factory work conditions were once necessary in Canada and the USA, like the article says – ‘part of the greatest generation’…
    I can buy all that.

    However, in the modern era, especially the last 25 years, the UAW and CAW have become unnecessary and in the process helped (from a fiscal and PR standpoint) bring down GM and Chrysler. The transplants do just fine in southern ontario and the USA (non-michigan) without union labour.

    The union contracts killed the auto companies and the auto companies let them do it. Everybody signed on the dotted line and they rightly deserve the positions they’re in.

    I realize that factory work is a pain in the ass. been there, seen that, seen the results of that. However, the unions have become too strong and labour laws and the companies have allowed them to ‘abuse’ their power. I’ve heard stories about Union workers throwing sand into the paint mix at the body shop, sabotage, pure and simple. But, can the company fire said employee (on the spot, or the next day)? Not really, the union’s got his back and he’s got his job, at least until a full hearing, etc…

    Like others have said, the auto unions have become a racket. The transplants have shown that they can operate without said racket, with cheaper overall labour costs. Why cannot GM, Chrysler and Ford choose to do the same?
    (by the way, I’m not a ‘detriot apologist’, it just makes sense)…

    However, the contracts are signed, so they do deserve each other and in turn, they deserve the market results they’ve produced – which just turned out to be collapse…
    (if not for the goverment…)

  • avatar
    m0jumb0

    Folks with nothing beyond a high-school education have their pick of all sorts of menial jobs they can languish in for the rest of their lives. Why should I respect one group of those folks over another? People that work hard deserve respect, period. People that feel like a company owes them something beyond a fair wage and safe working conditions need to take a hard look at what they’re bringing to the table.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    A crappy electric window motor that fails within the first year of use and replacements that fail as often aren’t designed by the UAW. Fault should be given to the engineers who designed the parts.

    No, fault should be given to the penny pinchers who, because of the huge concessions given the UAW, are not allowing the engineers to design better parts in the first place.

    I am an engineer in a facility building drills for mining and construction. Many times, we are given deadlines and cost constraints which prevent us from designing what I consider a quality product. We have to do the best we can with what we have.

    EDIT:

    Oh, and I have worked factory jobs before, so I have some idea what it’s like. I respect the guys on the line, but UAW members get paid WAY too much for what they do. Period.

    I had a choice to stay in that job or leave and do better. I took the latter route, ended up going back to school and now I am an engineer in a comfortable office. Some days, though, I miss the menial, repetitive line work – my job has different stresses.

  • avatar
    cos999

    @ Jack Baruth : July 29th, 2009 at 9:50 am
    If Farago forms a Top 10 TTAC post board this one gets my vote for #1. While I don’t agree with all of Jack’s points, his passion was evident.

    @ mikey: I’d like to hear your comment about Jack’s post. Was your line like that? Did working there steal your life away?

    All that’s left is for Billy Joel to change the words to 1982’s ALLENTOWN about the steel industry demise in PA to the (domestic) auto industry demise in Michigan/Ohio. “Well we’re living here in Allentown. And they’re closing all the factories down…..”

  • avatar
    rnc

    LennyZ:

    They had to engineer, build and buy those things to compensate for what the UAW was taking in proportion to what the other Automakers had to pay.

    Everytime the D3 managed to cut cost back to prosperity not only could the other automakers cut the same costs (and once again have the $ advantage), but the UAW would see these profits and demand that they be given to them.

    And btw I too have worked in a factory (when I decided that I didn’t want to go to college right away, my parents said fine, just get a job and pay your bills, I did and in reality it is one of the best things that I ever did, I learned a work ethic).

    It worked fine without a union, there weren’t ever layoffs, in bad times they just reduced hours, promotions were based on performance (not seniority). For years and years the union fought to unionize the place, when they succeeded, the owner just flat out closed the place. It was a family owned business, his words basically “This place has never been unionized, it has always worked, I have always taken less money than I could have, if that wasn’t good enough for them, than they can have nothing” and he closed the place (just flat out shut it down, had been in operations since the 1880’s) and converted the beautiful factory (had always invested in modernization, while other companies in the industry moved to SA, then India and Chine) into loft condo’s (made a fortune on that).

    The point is, when people take more than what is realistically available just b/c they have the power to do so, the end result is usually isn’t good. That was the UAW’s undoing, by taking more than they knew there was to take.

  • avatar
    gossard267

    “A few years ago, I did six months of consultation for an auto company which must remain nameless. However, I live in Central Ohio, and I didn’t commute in a Gulfstream, so figure it out for yourself, okay?

    As fate would have it, I arrived at the plant at 6:15 every morning and had a chance to see the third shift, which is staffed by the most recent hires, leave as the first shift, which is staffed by the most senior people, begin.”

    So, to be clear, you didn’t actually live the ‘line’ life, you merely observed it?

    “Every day, I saw beautiful eighteen-year-old girls walk out of the plant and wave at tired, faded forty-five-year old women coming in. I saw young men fairly bounce from the building and gun their shiny new pickup trucks down the road while their fathers trudged towards the lockers to start a shift.”

    I currently work a white-collar job. In the past, I’ve worked line jobs. What you describe here is true of just about any company parking lot in America. I could make the same type of statements about fresh-faced, newly-minted college grads skipping past tired, twice-divorced, balding, fat 45-year-old corporate wage-slaves. Work sucks; so what?

    “The plant steals your life, a day at a time. You finish your life knowing little more than when you started, doing a similar job, working around the same people. There’s little variety inside that building — and yes, those buildings are generally hell. For every clean, new, robotocized Spartanburg in this country, there’s a miserable, dark, soul-crushing Marysville Assembly Plant.”

    Again, this is true of nearly every job. Yes, there are a few ‘superstars’ who climb the ladder, facing exciting, new challenges and growth opportunities along the way, eventually retiring to a life of leisure and education. But the ranks of white-collar America are, much like those of the manufacturing sector, primarily filled with lifers, who have 15, 20, and 25 year commitment plaques, despite occupying positions barely two steps ahead of where they started. And, yes, some work locations are awful, disgusting cube-farms, while others are modern and relatively pleasant. What’s the point here?

    “Let me explain what life is like on the line. You don’t fucking dawdle. You do the job, against the clock, again and again until the day is done. Hungry? Too bad. Thirsty? Too bad. Food and drink don’t cross the yellow line. Have to piss? Wait. Feel sick to your stomach? Having a bad period? Too bad. Work your job. Are you injured? Hide it.”

    This is a tad extreme. My line jobs weren’t union, but we had mandatory breaks and lunch periods. Countless so-called white-collar workers deal with assigned lunches/breaks, so what’s the big deal? It’s true I needed to perform, but performing quickly became second-nature. That’s not just true of line jobs. Many white-collar jobs are extremely deadline-driven. Just ask any of the investment bankers who lost their wives on account of one too many mandatory trips to the office at 7 pm on a Saturday night.

    “Anybody — and I mean anybody — posting on TTAC from work has a better life than a line worker. I don’t care if you’re coding eighty hours a week. I’ve done that, and it’s pie compared to the assembly line. I don’t care if you are a salesman under threat of losing his job this month if you don’t perform. I’ve done that, too, and it’s far less stressful than facing the first minute of an eight-hour shift composed of perfect monotony.”

    This is just absurd. You have no idea what the life of everyone posting on TTAC from work is like, nor is there such a thing as the ‘life of a line worker’. As you say, they are people. It’s impossible, and borderline insulting, to make such generalizations. Having worked a line myself (frequently for much longer than eight-hour shifts), I can personally assure you that, while different from answering phone calls all day or copying data from Excel into a database, it is no more or less monotonous. I haven’t coded for eighty-hours a week, but, given what I know about coding, I would take line work over that any day of the week, assuming equal pay.

    “You can earn eighty grand a year as a full-time employee at a transplant auto facility. Most of you don’t earn that kind of money. Statistically speaking, that’s top-ten-percent wages in this country. If it’s so easy — if you think the UAW guy who mops a floor two shifts a day and earns $120K a year is overpaid — go do it yourself and report back. See how long you last when you have to wear overalls every day and watch more than half of your waking life disappear down the rabbit hole.”

    I find this extremely hard to believe. $80k a year? That’s almost $40 an hour. If I thought for a second that I could get secure, long-term line work ANYWHERE at $40 an hour, I’d take it in a heartbeat. Read below:

    http://www.cnsnews.com/public/content/article.aspx?RsrcID=39499

    So, around $47 an hour, fully loaded, for the average worker. That’s not what any transplant worker sees in his paycheck, though. That’s what the average worker costs, fully loaded, Toyota. Those are VERY different figures. As you say, $80k is top %10 earnings. High school grads with basically zero skills are not being payed that kind of money anywhere outside of a union.

    Also, your life disappears down the rabbit hole when you are working in an Armani blazer 80 hours a week to hit your billable requirements just as quickly as it does working 80 hours a week in overalls mopping the floor. Faster, actually, given divorce, depression, alcoholism, and suicide rates among lawyers.

    “UAW workers are people. Just like you and me. They made a decision to give their youth and their lives to the factories. While most of us were carousing our way through university or “discovering ourselves” in Europe, they were on the line. While we were arguing Barth or Sartre in dorm rooms with beautiful, dark-haired coeds, they were on the line. While we were parking our new Bimmers and walking in late to our entry-level management positions, they were on the line. Respect that.”

    Give me a friggin’ break. Line workers are not some kind of noble breed of workers who were offered the Kingship of America, but instead sacrifice it all so I can drive an Aveo. My cousin worked a line job straight out of high school. He is smart; he could have gone to college. Instead, he decided he would rather work double shifts to drive a new Mustang Cobra. It’s his call, and he seems happier doing that than he would have been touring Europe in search of his true self, or whatever. In any case, he would hate doing my current job, despite the fact that he is on a line and I am in a corporate HQ.

    The point is this. Line workers go to work for the same reason most folks do: it’s a job that they can attain and that pays the bills. Work sucks; there is a reason that ‘fun’ jobs like rock star, movie star, poet, super model, etc., pay almost nothing to 99% of the people pursuing them. In general, employers pay employees because employees won’t show up to turn a knob, position a piece of steel, or perform doc review unless you pay them to do so.

  • avatar
    LennyZ

    I don’t buy that argument that it was the UAW wages that caused engineers to do poor designs. It’s not focusing dollars on engineering but on executive bonuses and advertising budgets. Unions take the brunt of the blame for poor product development and planning. Companies that are successful are so not because of their lower assembly wages but because of their better engineered products. Whose decision is it to put out vehicles full of faults, like the new Camero? Who designed the transmissions that fail under full power? It costs the same to design a transmission that doesn’t fail as it does to design a faulty one. Someone screwed up and it wasn’t the union. The new Camero is already tainted by rushing it onto the market before it was ready. If you wish to blame any group for the fall of American car companies blame the executives. Their poor decisions and outlandish compensation are at fault. They ran the companies not the unions. They ran the companies into the ground and besides a few at the top they are still running the companies. I am not a union lover but I see them taking the heat for everyone elses poor decisions. I have been in a union and I am now an engineer and I’ve seen hard work and screwups from both groups. Neither is blameless.

  • avatar
    mikey

    YES YES YES! Jack has nailed it,as only one thats been there could. By day number three on the job I was going to quit. One of the old guys[he was maybe thirty] told me “suck it up and wait for yor first pay check”

    OMG I cleared a $100 for 4 days work!It was mind numbing soul destroying work. Jack described it to a T. I was well rewarded. GM provided me with a life that a high school drop out could only dream of. Were it not for the union GM would not have kept people for more than a week. Henry Ford caught onto that.

    Bluecon has it right,once you get off the line it’s a whole different world. However those jobs are few and far between. I retired out of fear of being bumped back to the line.

    Jack saw the lovely young new hire girls. My good buddy married one in 1977. Both are retired, now she still pretty enough,but at 53 she is almost cripled. She can’t pick her grandchildren up. 30 years on the line will do that.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    No problem with unions or the UAW in concept. The whole concept of capitalism is that for something to be worth paying for it has to add value.

    As has been pointed out Henry Ford raised wages because paying higher wages added value – less turnover means more efficiency both through experience and through giving the employer the ability to be more selective about who he hires.

    In a similar vein,unions can add value for a company by acting as a single point of contact for management in all work related issues, and by allowing uniform pay and work rules at multiple locations. Further, unions can help identify problem managers and product/work production problems that lower management would choose to hide from upper management. The bigger the company the more valuable these functions become.

    However, what happened with the UAW is that all the employers became hostages to the UAW during the 50’s and 60’s where there was no other competition. The union started costing more than the value received in return. They started demanding things that really didn’t add value for the organization. Having fulfilled their basic needs, they just wanted “more”. The unions had to ask for that “more” or become irrelevant. So they asked. Work rule concessions and increased wages were the pragmatic choice for management to agree to since Detroit was able to pass the costs on to the customers – who had no alternatives. Prices were higher than they would have been otherwise, but since there was no alternative, people paid without recognizing that they were. In this situation, the unions did no harm except to the consumers.

    All this changed when the Japanese appeared on the scene coincidently at the same time that the American Government safety and pollution controls and the oil shock came about.

    Suddenly Detroit had engineering priorities that weren’t about better cars but about meeting government regulation, and about reducing costs to meet new competitors in the marketplace.

    It was at this point that the UAW should have reached a better arrangement with management for the long term good of the companies and the workers. However, the implications were too distant for them to recognize when the Domestics still controlled 80 percent of the market. I doubt that any of us would have agreed to the necessary changes if we were Union Leaders at the time. The evidence was there (See the book The Reckoning) but it would have taken a great visionary and leader to act. Neither management nor the union had such a leader.

    It could have been different. Caterpillar faced exactly the same situation at that time. Komatsu and other foreign heavy equipment makers were eating their lunch. Caterpillar recognized the implications for the company, took their medicine ( a long and ugly strike) and forced new labor agreements. It was painful for everyone, but Caterpillar is still alive and strong, and the union is still in place there almost 30 years later.

    So, while what happened to GM and the UAW was avoidable, avoiding it wasn’t likely. Neither management nor the union can take all the blame, but both certainly share full responsibility between them.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Jack, the central issue most have with the UAW is not whether someone’s job in the abstract is tough enough to “deserve” union pay and benefits. It is that the straightjacket legislation enacted primarily to satisfy the UAW and other unions, has contributed to a sizable drop in quality of life for most everyone except the unions’ members themselves. And now, in competitively exposed (at least somewhat) private industry, increasingly even for them.

    If your issue is with those who disparage individual union members themselves for being lazy, uneducated or whatever, I’m all with you. I’m sure their job is not something I would trade for mine. And the UAW has probably, in isolation, served at least the first generations of them well. But the cost of that, has been borne by every other group both at the automakers, and in wider society. Some guy spending his life at the bottom of a toxic fume infested, about to cave in on him, coalmine in West Virginia, at half UAW pay scales, pays more for a lower quality car as a direct result of lack of Right to Work laws in Michigan and ostensibly pro labor legislation in DC. And most other functions, amongst them engineering, at the automakers themselves, gets paid less, and have less freedom to seek quality over low cost.

    Over time, given robust demand for engineers from other, less union afflicted industries, this is bound to have contributed to a weakening of the big 2.5’s engineering prowess. So, now both the companies themselves and the current crop of UAW members are screwed as a result of less than stellar engineering, lack of flexibility and way too high cost.

    But as most of the pro union laws and regs were put in place at behest of earlier generations workers, I don’t doubt the UAW has been a good deal for those guys. And it never was their duty to look out for neither coalminers nor engineers , so blaming UAW workers themselves is neither fair nor productive. Those Sartre babbling, Euro envious clowns you alluded to, on the other hand……

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    One of the crying shames of western capitalism is that we’re in a situation now where some members of the middle class are actively cheering for a race to the bottom in terms of wages and benefits.

    It’s sad, really. High-paying manufacturing jobs paid a good wage an enabled a lot of people to live a lifestyle that otherwise would have been wholly unobtainable; it certainly enabled a whole generation of people (born post-war) to reach levels of education and social leverage that they never would have had. We have a whole two or three generations with levels of knowledge and skill and clout that did good things for society and the environment as a whole. At no time in history has the middle class been as empowered as it has been in post-war western society

    And now those two or three generations find themselves grumbling at best, and cheering the downfall at worst. Way to go, guys. Keep wondering why your infrastructure is failing, why family stressors are up, why the dual-income family is a requirement, why credit is such a necessity. The answer, of course, is that we’re gradually wearing away the earning power of the bulk of the population.

    In short, keep cheering for the creation of the New American Underclass. See where the race to the bottom gets you and your kids.

    Note: I’ve caught myself doing the same thing. It’s natural to be bitter about someone else’s success. The question you should ask isn’t “Why does he/she have it so well and I don’t?”, but “Why don’t I have as good as everyone else?”. The first question plays up the antagonism between relative equals, which cleverly keeps attention off the real problem, which is begged by the second: that you are not being paid your full worth by your own employer.

    The UAW has a bit of this sickness, no doubt, but it’s turned internally with union and management played off against each other. What the UAW is missing the chance at doing is using is (still considerable) resources to better the lot of people who really do need protection, and furthering the agenda of the middle and lower classes as a whole—something that government and industry aren’t typically so good at, despite it’s long-term benefit.

  • avatar
    gm-uawtool

    One of the refrains of union bashers is that UAW workers are overpaid for what they do. With 24+ years experience, I feel qualified to address that issue. As stated previously, when the line starts at 6 am, you had better be on the job, ready to go. Most workers I know usually are there a few minutes earlier to inspect the vehicle in their work station, don their protective equipment and make sure their stock is in order. With jobs being loaded up to 55 minutes an hour or more, you dare not start off “in the hole” because you won’t soon get out. If you’re waiting for the line to stop – forget it. If your job has a torque-monitored gun, you must use it in the designated area. If not, as soon as the vehicle enters the next “footprint”, the line stops, which is extremely costly. And if the fastener isn’t secured, you may have just put the future owner at risk. The bottom line is that there is no room for error, and mistakes are very costly.
    You don’t hear people complaining about the workload and pay rate of aircraft assemblers, also union members. Why? Because your life is in the hands of those workers. Do you want that worker to be underpaid, disgruntled, with his job turning into a revolving door because of the conditions he/she toils in? I would submit the same goes for auto assembly.
    Are there people who work harder in worse conditions for less money? Absolutely, and I’ve been there. But the value of the product I helped produce then – patio doors, shower doors, mirrors etc. – had a much lower value than a car or truck. Lower revenue equals lower wages, by and large. And when the safety of your product is paramount, the wage scale is higher.
    The non-union workers at the transplants in Marysville and Georgetown make essentially the same wages and benefits as I – the exception being my defined pension as opposed to their 401k/company contribution plans. Is that because the companies fear being organized if they stray too far away, or is it because that’s what they need to pay to attract/retain good workers? The Mercedes plant in right-to-work Alabama pays the highest hourly rate in the country, yet are non-union. That seemingly flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that says union workers are always better compensated than the non-union counterparts.
    As far as productivity goes, you may be surprised to learn that 9 of the top 10 most efficient auto plants in North America employ unionized workers. That couldn’t be accomplished with “lazy” workers.

  • avatar
    loverofcars1969

    For all the “damn the union” and “unions are dinosaur” talk – I cant imagine anyone here that would not love to have that type of job security and representation. You can’t continue to cut your way to prosperity (current management and Wallstreet thinking) by shitting on the middle class and expect to remain a great nation. I sometimes wonder what they teach you guys in college and then I read some of your posts and understand perfectly. In the words of Malcolm X I ask you “who taught you to hate”

  • avatar
    MikeyDee

    In the past, I worked in the Tech Center in Warren, Mich. for GM and also for a while at GM’s Linden NJ assembly plant (when they made the Eldorado and Rivera), so let me put in my two cents. When I was at Linden, it was very common for the engine line to grind to a halt (about once a week), because some kid was all coked up and screwed up 25 assemblies in a row. Some of these kids were even dealing drugs right on the assembly line.

    Are you going to tell me I have to buy a car built by kids that are high all the time and make $70 plus an hour?

    What the UAW needs is a drug policy.

  • avatar
    opinionated

    Bravo Kitman, my favorite US automotive “writer”. Who else could generate this amount of thoughtful comment on society from an “automotive” article? Really.

  • avatar
    FloorIt

    gossard267:
    Excellent points about office & corporate, as the movie Office Space is an anthem for that type of work. Many can relate to even parts of it.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    The transplants do just fine in southern ontario and the USA (non-michigan) without union labour.

    ….

    Don’t forget why the transplant workers got such a good deal. Management wanted to keep the union out, so it offered a generous compensation package. Now, let’s see how those wages at the transplants stagnate and get eaten up by inflation over time…

    The unions are not “responsible” for the collapse of the industry, but they are part of the problem. Stupid work rules, seniority bullcrap, past bad behavior helped make the manufacturing process clumsy and expensive. But lets be real. Assembly quality is not the variable that it used to be. But material choices and quality of components do vary widely and that is a product of management, not the worker. GM telling millions of DEX Death gasket victims to kiss off is not the result of trying to save money to offset fair wages. That is classic short sighted American business philosophy of max profit now, and screw the future. Well, the day of reckoning is here.

    BTW: I read the Reckoning many years ago; too bad much of it was ignored, just the way the warnings about the US economic bubble was ignored…can’t let the need of the nation get in the way with the personal gain of an individual…

    FloorIt: I worked for a consulting engineering firm that was just like Office Space. We were treated like expendable garbage. So you can imagine there was not much incentive for us employees to care about management…you reap what you sow…

  • avatar
    rivercat30

    “As for the ‘worldwide failure’ of socialism, what failure? In most of Europe’s social democracies, the people are healthier, happier, work less hard, endure less stress, have healthier babies, live longer and take longer vacations. Lower corporate profits equal ‘economic failure’ only if you think corporations outrank people as the first priority of economic policy.”

    It’s not that corporations outrank people, it’s that, at least in the US, corporate profits are a pretty good measure of people’s collective happiness and security. IOW, when the economy’s good, as indicated by the health of corporate America, people in general have jobs, money, and security and are, by extension, happier.

    The same is almost certainly true in Europe, although those people are insulated from this basic truth by a host of cushy government freebies. Certainly, those freebies have to have some original source, and the government it ain’t. That said, I’m sure what you are saying is true about European vs. US happiness and stress. But all that shiny-happy-peopleness has a steep cost. Obscene tax rates, little to no defense spending, abridged freedoms, government hostility to corporations, stagnant GDPs, high unemployment, and government micromanagement of all facets of life. Those are just the ones I thought of before I got tired of typing.

    Couple all that with an aging population and low or negative population growth, and soon you’ve got something that’s very much unsustainable. Failure by socialism tends to occur slowly, so snapshots of relative happiness don’t tell us much about the big picture.

    The EU may even be incapable of rebounding from the current downturn, as most of their member states have imposed such Draconian employment rules and taxes on their host (as in host-parasite) corporations that they may well be too inflexible to recover and continue to provide those lovely welfare benefits. The EU is a heckuva lot like the UAW in that regard….

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    Is this UBA?
    (Union Bashing Anonomys)
    I suppose you people think that the unions decide which cars to make?
    Build shitty cars that nobody wants?
    Because that´s the problem with the american auto industries.
    The car workers have to make sacrifices too.
    Maybe lower wages or less pensions.

    There are to many car manufacturers in the world today.
    Some brands have to go.
    I think that:
    Chrysler will be much smaller.
    GM will be much smaller.
    Saab will go.
    Renault will go.
    Citroen will go.
    Opel will go.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Their poor decisions and outlandish compensation are at fault.

    The total compensation of the top 1000 GM executives is a tiny percentage of overall revenue. The wages and benifits paid to the UAW did mean that the Big Three couldn’t afford high quality parts, extensive testing, deatialed QC, etc.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    So, name a few unionized American industries that have succeeded, prospered and improved their products over the years…

    Well the Kroger grocery union for one. Under the Kroger flag, there’s Dillons and King Soopers, both of which are pretty nicely run grocery operations.

    My grandfather was a 50 year union member of the Ironworkers Guild. He extolled its virtues to me every chance he got and he thought Reagan was a god. I dunno, seemed pretty good to me.

    You can’t claim all Unions are bad any more than you can say all Big Corporations are soulless.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Well, why don’t UAW just relocate to China? It’s a win-win.

    1) GM China’s sales just jumped 70% YOY. So, there will be enough money for UAW to go strike for.

    2) Chinese workers have poorer wage and benefits as compared to their western counterparts, so UAW would actually serve a justified cause by going there and fighting for them.

  • avatar
    greenb1ood

    So we can add college educated professionals to the list of people (predominatley motorists) for which Mr. Baruth seems to carry disdain and contempt…

    I agree completely with both gossard267 and Lokkii and based on their comments here I am glad they interact in the TTAC community.

    In defense of…? I can’t defend either the domestic’s management or the UAW.

    The UAW did start out as a good idea and a noble cause. Work conditions were similar to China and other 3rd world areas today. Management’s initial hostility toward worker organization started the entire relationship off on the wrong note, and by the time the UAW had reached its peak power and negotiating leverage (60’s, 70’s, 80’s), the initial cause had become so corrupted that the leaders used the leverage to drive waste (jobs banks, strict classifications) rather than re-defining the relationship as a co-operative enterprise.

    Not only that, the UAW actively played the auto companies against each other by picking out the weakest gazelle as the lead company for negotiations, even after the death spiral had began (2001-2007). Meanwhile, management continued to blame the UAW for poor quality, even when uncompetitive designs and flawed engineering were the culprit.

    No. There is no defense for what has occurred in the American Automotive Industry. The technical expertise was so far ahead of the rest of the world in 1960 that any kind of labor/management cooperation should have yielded global dominance for hundreds of years.

    If both were focused on making the company more profitable in the long-term and sharing the spoils, we wouldn’t be here today. Instead, both were only trying to increase their share of the existing pie with no concern for for future generations.

  • avatar
    greenb1ood

    Somewhat off topic, but as always TTAC articles tend to warm up my brain for other pursuits.

    There are lots of debates on TTAC about environmental regulations, global warming, climate change, etc, and for the record I have never argued on the side of the green nazi’s who want everyone driving an EV-1 and living in mud huts.

    But does any of this sound familiar?

    In the UAW model, the forefathers worked in very tough conditions and fought to form the Union to make a better future for their kids, who squandered that sacrifice while birthing the currently cancerous UAW.

    In the envoronmental model, past generations disregarded pollution and each new generation is working a little bit harder to clean up what the last one left behind and creating increased sustainability.

    The ambivalence shown toward the threat of global automotive competition from Japan and Korea was understandable at the time, and the failure management and labor to work together despite their disagreements; “just-in-case”, had disastrous consequences.

    So even if there is no hole in the O-zone, even if our carbon footprint has no effect on anything, and even if it would take 1000 years to release enough chemicals to fully pollute the air and water, isn’t the lesson of the Big 3 that it’s more prudent to sacrifice some level of comfort and profits now to ensure a sustainable future?

    I don’t like anyone, especially politicians telling me how to live my life, but I don’t want to have to explain to my grandchildren how they can’t enjoy nature because I wanted 450HP with no cat converter. Can’t we all agree to do the prudent thing without going to extremes?

    Since the Detroit auto industry was it’s own culture and civilization, instead of a series of “In Defense of…” articles, I’d love to see a series on how we can apply the lessons learned from the auto industry collapse to other areas of society.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    The real story goes like this.

    Folk who like to pretend they’re better than real historian trying their best to rewrite history. That’s rich.

    This seems to be the version where the US didn’t luck out to not be geographically involved in WWII (and ironically learned all about the overwhelming success of “socialist” command and control economic stimulus).

    It also seems in this history the UAW was responsibly for decision making at GM, and not the autocrats with the real money and power.

    I blame public education, though I doubt even the best tutors would make a difference.

  • avatar
    pmd1966

    I am an hourly UAW worker who comes in contact every day with the engineers who design the parts that go into the cars. There is a lot of blame placed on the engineers and the assemblers for the poor quality of cars. A major portion of this blame should go to a group that most people don’t know. This group is the “Buyers”. After the part is designed and tested, the buyers find a supplier with the lowest price. If the part fails after it is in the car, this is a “warranty failure”. The failed part is then given back to the engineer to analyze and determine the cause for failure. Many times suppliers will cut costs and quality after they receive the contract. When parts fail and are replaced under warranty only to fail again it is because the pipeline is full of parts that come from only one supplier. The engineers determine the cause for failure which is often poor quality control or lower quality components. The engineers then have to argue with the buyers to have the supplier resolve the issue or find a different supplier. In the mean time, the customer suffers. The engineers that I have met are dedicated to designing the best parts possible. I have worked on an assembly line and I
    could only install the parts that I was given. If the supplier quality was not up to par, I had no way of knowing unless the defect was visible to the naked eye.

  • avatar
    Wolven

    gossard267 : +20 Absolutely dead on.

    And for all you union workers blaming management for designing shitty partscars… No one is arguing that. And while it’s true, what did the union ever try to do about it? Oh yeah, nothing. Merely pointing out the faults of the other side doesn’t absolve you of your own crimes.

    I happen to believe that BOTH management and the UAW should be flogged and fired… along with the government that has and continues to support this B.S.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    The UAW continues along with business as usual and make thier payments to the Democrats. Things are good in the Nineties with trucks making a huge and easy profit for the Big 3 and they largely disregard the car market. Things like Thirty and out retirement, larger than life vacation and pension plans and a management just as greedy as the UAW. An unsustainable business model.…

    Naturally, the conservatives and Republicans would never do anything to create anything unsustainable…after all, the .3 percent of Acorn loans killed the economy, not the fat cats that reaped millions writing bad mortgages. Dude, all the blame for everything can’t be caused by the center and left of center…the right and hard right are complicit in many of our problems today.

  • avatar
    geeber

    This editorial reflects one of the problems with the UAW.

    Namely, the union hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s not 1935 or 1955 anymore…


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