By on August 4, 2010

Earlier this week, newly-elected UAW President Bob King gave a speech before the Center For Automotive Research Conference, touting the deep changes that have transformed the union. The first half of King’s speech sounded a much-needed note of contrition, and highlighted the new spirit of cooperation between the UAW and Detroit’s management class. But a number of observers noted that the second half of King’s speech represents the flip side of the UAW’s new sense of responsibility for the fate of Detroit: a commitment to targeting the transplant factories that have made life hell for the union and the Detroit automakers alike. After all, nothing brings enemies together like a common adversary. But the UAW’s enemy isn’t just South of the Mason-Dixon line… it’s lurking within its own confused body politic.

Of course, some are happy to simply see the new UAW-Detroit alliance simply as peace and love breaking out all over. Indeed, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm even broke out an old Detroit chestnut in order to describe the UAW’s transformation in as glowing terms as possible [via The Freep].

I think that’s a national story, that this is not your father’s UAW. I mean, it’s really the old mind-set being adversarial, the new mind-set being partnership, that we’re going to be competitive together in the global economy

But the transition to a “21st Century UAW” working in partnership with the Detroit automakers needn’t be explained as a sign of maturity in the union’s new leadership. After all, the UAW’s VEBA account owns a majority stake in Chrysler and a significant stake in GM as well. Keeping Detroit competitive has always been in the union’s interest, but since the bailout, this reality has become a lot more difficult to ignore. The problem is that the union’s stake in GM and Chrysler makes its leadership less responsive to the needs of its members. Which is why the second half of King’s speech takes aim at the transplants.

King’s short reign as the head of the UAW has already been characterized by a sharp uptick in the union’s old-school, left-internationalist rhetoric… for several good reasons. First, two-tier wages, the NUMMI closure, and the end of pattern bargaining have left an already-weakened UAW more vulnerable to internal division than ever before. By talking up a worker’s crusade against the evil transplants, King can gloss over the very real inequities within the UAW, protect its “investment” in Detroit by disrupting its competitors, and give the UAW a much-needed image makeover. And what political leader would turn down an opportunity to do “God’s work” while protecting his own venal interests?

This contradictory posture is apparent in King’s proposal of “UAW Principles for Fair Union Elections.” With national support for the union-backed “Employee Free Choice Act” flagging, King is proposing UAW-defined standards that he explains will

include requirements such as equal access to the employees for both union and management and prohibition of making derogatory, insulting or untruthful statements about the other party. The UAW principles ban any threats or pressure by either the union or management.

We will soon be unveiling these principles, and we will present them to the executives within the industry who are not currently unionized. We will ask them to sign on to these principles. If a company agrees to adopt the UAW Principles, and then abides by these principles, we will respect the decision of their workers whether they vote to join the union or not.

However, if companies do not agree to these principles, and instead engage in threatening behavior towards workers who want to organize a union, or fire workers who try to organize, or close down facilities to thwart union activity, then the UAW will not tolerate the violation of workers’ First Amendment rights…

Let me be clear, our goal is not to force auto companies to unionize. This is not about our institutional self-interest; it is not about getting dues money. It is about democracy, and goes to our fundamental mission and the reason for our existence: to protect the right of workers to organize unions and collectively bargain for fairness, dignity, and a democratic voice.

Of course it is about institutional self-interest. And it’s absolutely not about the First Amendment. As Paul Kersey of the Mackinac Center For Public Policy points out

These guidelines will prohibit “derogatory, insulting, or untruthful” statements. King declined to say whether or not the guidelines will allow employers to call attention to the UAW’s role in bankrupting two out of three domestic carmakers.

Whose First Amendment rights appear most at risk from the UAW’s proposed guidelines, the workers’ or the transplant managements’? After all, the main reason for workers to oppose UAW organization is the last 40 years or so of the union’s history. If that can’t be brought up due to its “derogatory” nature, are workers’ best interests really being looked after?

And as Automotive News [sub]‘s James Treece notes,

inside that olive branch was a stick. If the vote is not fair and unfettered, King warned — if management issues threats or intimidates workers who ask for a vote; if disparaging attacks sully the election — we’ll come after you with every weapon we have. He didn’t quite promise to burn down management’s house, but he didn’t rule it out, either.

And what’s most funny about the UAW’s new peace, love and understanding offensive, is that (internal union struggles aside), the UAW is still the greatest threat to the recovery of the Detroit automakers. Ford is already being hit with unequal treatment from the union, and conflicts over Delphi VEBA contributions, buyouts, local plant decisions and more are souring the UAW’s united front with even the automakers it partially owns.

Behind all the talk of a 21st Century union, cooperation with Detroit, and the UAW’s civilizing mission, lies the same blindered self-interest we’ve come to expect from the UAW. And there’s nothing funny about that.

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17 Comments on “UAW: What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding?...”


  • avatar

    For more on the state of the UAW, check out this unusually frank discussion at Autoline Detroit

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    King’s short reign as the head of the UAW has already been characterized by a sharp uptick in the union’s old-school, left-internationalist rhetoric

    Good on you, making the distinction between the localist and globalist Left. I’m not sure, though, which camp King et al really fall into. They’re protectionist like a good localist, but they’re also so very willing to throw personal liberties on the bonfire of self-interest, which is very much not the localist position.

    I think this organizational myopia is core to the UAW’s problems. Their membership is falling and they’re becoming less relevant because they’re not addressing the big issues of wage disparity and earnings erosion on the whole and instead retrenching in their old positions, preaching to the choir. They could step up and try to be a counterbalance to globalism and a voice for the middle class, but that would mean less catering to their old guard, and since it’s the old guard in charge…

    The worst part of this is that this same myopia plays rights into the hands of those who the unions are supposed to counterbalance by estranging the unions from the rest of the middle class. It actually facilitates the race to the bottom that favours management, in the long term. And the union seems unwilling or unable to do a damn thing different.

    And, by god, does it ever piss me off.

  • avatar
    M 1

    They deserve to reap what they have sown. I am the absolute last man who wants to see the American auto biz go down, but the UAW has become the poster child for leech-mentality unionized socialism. We’re better off without any of it, if it means getting rid of them. Bottom line.

  • avatar

    “21st Century UAW”
    “Keeping Detroit competitive has always been in the union’s interest”

    -Pure. Comedy. Gold.
    I’m sending you the bill for the hernia from laughing at this.


    and:
    “prohibition of making derogatory, insulting or untruthful statements about the other party.”

    ORLY?
    And why are most Libel suits brought by rich parties that can afford to sue someone’s 1st amendment rights away from them when they merely Disagree with a statement, and insodoing, decide it’s “derogatory, insulting or untruthful” -or close enough.

    “We will soon be unveiling these principles, and we will present them to the executives within the industry who are not currently unionized.”

    -Nope, not trying to force other businesses at all to unionize, especially not by drawing up your own ~Laws.

    .
    “If a company agrees to adopt the UAW Principles, and then abides by these principles, we will respect the decision of their workers whether they vote to join the union or not.”

    -But you won’t respect their choice if they don’t sign onto your Law.

    .
    “However, if companies do not agree to these principles, and instead engage in threatening behavior towards workers who want to organize a union, or fire workers who try to organize, or close down facilities to thwart union activity, then the UAW will not tolerate the violation of workers’ First Amendment rights…”

    -Nope, not trying to force other businesses to unionize there either; much? Also, not trying to quash everyone else’s voice on the benefits or detriments of unionizing except the UAW’s, either -much?
    +Oh, and of COURSE it’s about the First Amendment (which was apparently written by Karl Marx)! I haven’t heard anyone drape themselves in the Flag more blatantly since the last Toby Keith song on the radio.

    .
    “Let me be clear, our goal is not to force auto companies to unionize. This is not about our institutional self-interest; it is not about getting dues money. It is about democracy, and goes to our fundamental mission and the reason for our existence: to protect the right of workers to organize unions and collectively bargain for fairness, dignity, and a democratic voice. ”

    -Suuuuuure…


    I’ve said it before. But in light of these Stalinist tactics, I think it bears mentioning once again.
    The UAW is the largest Communist government in the world outside China, North Korea and Cuba.


    Sad, stupid Commie hicks.
    They have exactly ONE (1) move that will save them and instead they choose to just rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic instead.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I think you may want to pick up a political science textbook. You’re using words that, I think, you’re not clear of the meaning of.

      When the unions start talking about wealth redistribution—and I honestly wish they would, as it’d make them sound actually relevant instead of anachronistic—they’re pretty far away from communism.

      There’s lots of reasons to dislike the autoworkers unions without having to resort to demagoguery to make your point.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The UAW isn’t a communist organization. Like any other large organization – corporations, bureaucracies, advocacy groups – it is seeking to ensure its continued existence.

      The difference is that the UAW attempts to portray its struggle for survival as a battle for the middle class. Which it is not. It is a struggle to ensure that UAW members enjoy current rates of pay, and union leadership continues to enjoy its pay and perks, too. Nothing more, nothing less.

      The transplant operations show that a company doesn’t need the UAW to successfully build products that large numbers of Americans want to buy. The challenge for the UAW is to make itself relevant, because it is now apparent that it adds nothing to the equation for CAR BUYERS, the people who really matter.

      It should be painfully obvious that Americans won’t buy a Malibu instead of an Accord so that UAW members can retire with full benefits after 30 years or avoid co-pays for their Viagra. The union needs to think radically and figure out how it can add value to the car-making process, and I fear that this may be beyond the abilities of current leadership. Unions tend to be VERY parochial and not too good at taking a look at the long-term picture.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The difference is that the UAW attempts to portray its struggle for survival as a battle for the middle class

      I actually agree with your whole post (and I think hell just froze over as I typed that) save this point: this is what the unions should be doing, but aren’t. Or if they are, they’re doing it in as self-centered or general poor fashion as possible.

    • 0 avatar

      @geeber: The UAW rulebook weighs 22 pounds. This latest salvo is yet another attempt at [ersatz]~legislation. Any sizable organization that tries to legislate that much?…

      I consider them a small Government.

      @psar: Terminology -Shmerminology, My point is Valid Regardless.

      Your quip is more about you being a very intelligent but pedantic Canadian/French style Socialist and uncomfortable when anyone uses the term ‘Commie’ or ‘Communist’.

      and YES I did use terms like ‘Communist’ and ‘Stalinist’ because they’re Dirtier, more Threatening and gosh-darnit more Fun than ‘Socialist’.
      (for f***’s sake, the French and the Swedes are Socialists, who’ve they ever threatened? ++I LOVE Ikea!)

      .
      So I turned up the contrast; because what I forego in [very very boring]professor-emeritus-technical-accuracy, I make up with semiotic artistic flair,

      ==> Because the UAW is Dirty, they are a Threat,

      And this one-sided BS pseudo-legislation they’re trying to pull DOES smack of Stalinist show-trial propagandist bullshittery and veiled threats.

      .
      And while I’m not a pedantic polysci major, I don’t think the founding fathers had UAW-style labor unions and their tail-wagging-the-dog hostage-holding-bureaucratic-bloc-manipulation of corporations and businesses in mind when they wrote about “peaceable assembly”.

      (I am still surprised the UAW doesn’t somehow fall under the RICO statute.)

      .
      And in closing, I will leave you with an old Russian Communist joke:
      One Friday, a commisar leaves his spacious Moscow apartment, gets in his chauffeur-driven limousine and is brought down to the private Black Sea dacha of another commisar for their weekly meetup. After a gigantic and expensive dinner and dessert in the second commisar’s oak-paneled dining room, and cognac & Cuban cigars in the leather chairs of his equally opulent study, the second commisar looks back at the first and says,”Tovarich; whatever will we do if the Communists come back?!”
      :P



      ->Now, if you want to teach a class on the finely-granularized differences between Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Castroism, Guevarism, Maoism, KimIlSungism, French/Canadian/Scandinavian Socialism, Luxemburgism or Batshit-Feminist-JaneaneGarofalo-ism, you go right ahead with your bad self,

      I will unfortunately have a quality nap already scheduled for that timeslot. :D

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    When an industry wants to compete with 3rd world countries on cost then that country’s workers have to live like 3rd world people. Unions are not useful for this purpose.

    Non unionized corporations are having a field day with the modern day sweat shops, where its employees are being overworked and under paid. Then when unionized businesses try to compete, it is virtually impossible to pay good wages and achieve the same cost results.

    So, how do you make this work? Protectionism, and is anyone on board for that?

    • 0 avatar
      Zas

      /sarcasm on

      YES! Protectionism please! We must protect ourselves from ourselves and ourselves and ourselves!

      Just look at NAFTA and how it’s kept jobs here in America and American workers working and creating products for Americans to buy and use!

      /sarcasm off

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Serious question: What net positive result has the union brought to GM, Ford or Chrysler in the last 30 yrs? Can anyone name one?

    Not saying there isn’t any positives, but I can’t think of any.

    • 0 avatar
      Zas

      It’s turned the blue-collar industry mindset into tenure-based pay and seniority, versus merit-based pay and accountability.

      So, if you’re a fuck-up that’s been there 10 years, your job is secure versus someone who’s been there for 2 who can actually contribute a better plan for the company to implement, save money, and increase productivity, when job cuts are necessary!

      Oh, you meant good things… nevermind!

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Where is the connection between management not signing the agreement and the First Amendment rights enumerated above being breeched? The First Amendment refers to Congress not making any laws…..not the UAW, not GM, not Toyota. If someone doesn’t like their employers policies, then they have the right to leave.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I think he may have meant “civil rights”, but gotten confused by “right of people to peaceably assemble” bit because it’s very tempting to leverage.

      This happens a lot in interpretations of the American (or any) constitution: people assume it applies to individuals and corporations. Often (usually? always?) it doesn’t, and as such you have far fewer rights when a private, non-governmental (or, at least, non-Federal) entity wants to make life difficult for you.

    • 0 avatar
      Zas

      The UAW also has forgotten that there are many states that are NOT “right-to-work” states and that any company in those states can do whatever they want to their employees when it comes to hiring and firing practices with almost no legal recourse for the ex-employee. A lot of these states are in no hurry to have that be changed.

      The other problem the UAW will face is merit-pay/accountability rules that many of the foreign “transplants” have instituted since the mid-80′s to stave-off unions from organizing. Employees at these plants do NOT want to lose their position in a company hierarchy if they’ve made strides to attain there level of “expertise” to ensure their own jobs and their co-workers jobs. This is more of the Kaizen philosophy of work ethic that the Japanese automakers brought to our shores more than 30 years ago to ensure that American workers understand that EVERYONE is accountable in the company: from the CEO all the way down to the line-worker. New workers who are brought in to these plants are told right up front: you fuck up, you don’t have a job here anymore. And everyone watches each others backs because they DON’T want to be put under the screws and be told that they are not producing efficiently.

      The UAW will try to eliminate this by telling those auto workers that they don’t have to be accountable to management AT ALL and that they have the RIGHT to be able to WORK at these plants. It’s the same tactics that they’ve used at Nissan and Toyota plants to try to unionize them, only to have it backfire when the majority votes NOT to unionize (almost wrote onionize, lol).

      The global economy is slowly shifting to merit-based/accountability pay versus the old school of tenure-based/seniority pay and the UAW needs to wake up and smell the globalized coffee that companies in other countries have. If they don’t, they face the same extinction crisis that most other unions are facing today here in the USA.

      Then again, being a dinosaur isn’t always so bad, eventually their ideas will be dug-up in the future and studied and touted for the exact reason why unions are no longer in existent in the globalized future…

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    SSDD. The same old union stuff. Do what we say or we will beat the %$@!#& out of you.

    No wonder they have just about vanished from the non-government portion of the economy.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    For starters I don’t condone how the UAW(CAW)operates, if there is to be a change, the members themselves should change it, instead of being led by a large Boss! I was President of a Canadian Union Local not CAW and I learned there is a right way and a wrong way to keep the members happy and willing to grow and move on, in the UAW(CAW)they run each local from the Top down, whereas in my old Union we ran everything from the ground up, there is a difference and Yes Unions are not Communist, Socialism is not Communist, please try and understand it. Good Unions operate all over the World in peace and harmony for the betterment of all the members, there are a small minority that give Unions a bad name, such is life! Peace.


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