GM’s Lordstown, OH plant was something of a poster boy for all that went wrong with the UAW over the past several decades, reports the New York Times. Poor quality, worker sabotage and crippling strikes led to the coining of the term “Lordstown Syndrome” as a symbol of UAW recalcitrance. Lordstown’s workers were so feisty that they even picketed their own union hall in the 1980s. Now, with the legacy of the Vega hanging over their heads, and the possibility of plant closure only narrowly avoided by securing the Chevy Cruze manufacturing assignment, the members of UAW Local 1112 are singing a different tune. “We were the bad dog on the street at one time,” 1112’s shop Chairman Ben Strickland tells the Times’ Nick Bunkley. “We’ve got 3,000 lives to worry about. The cockiness and the arrogance that we once portrayed — we definitely got a lot more humble.” That, it turns out, is in large part due to General Motors’ spectacular fall from grace.
When General Motors had such a big percentage of the market, our fears weren’t there. There wasn’t a trump card that we didn’t pull. Now you’ve got to be careful about pulling those trump cards out because it could be your last. We want G.M. to be successful. We want the U.A.W. to be successful. Making that happen on both sides, that creates security.
Local 1112’s President Jim Graham adds:
Everyone has come to a realization that management is not the enemy, and the union is not the enemy. The enemy is the foreign competition,” he added. “We’re working much, much better with management than we ever have. There’s still problems, but we sit down and work those out.
Who’d have imagined it? But then, who in the UAW of the 1970s and 80s imagined that GM would one day be bankrupt? Like so many of the internal problems that brought GM down, labor issues were largely a product of GM’s sheer size and dominance in the market. The same arrogance that led GM to squander its technological edge and commitment to quality led GM’s UAW workforce to believe that the gravy train would always be there, and that the primary goal was to get a bigger cut of the pie. That sense of certainty that GM would always be a dominant player in the industry has died hard, but with bankruptcy the lesson seems to have been learned. At least by the Lordstown workers the Times spoke to. The contrast between the quotes from GM’s UAW employees in this piece, and the recent re-hashing of the “perception gap” by Bob Lutz shows that even post-bankruptcy, those at the top of the GM organization may still be a little too well-protected from the price of failure.