News Release

UAW’s GM Strike: Major Issues


Editor of Labor Notes magazine, based in Detroit Michigan, Kutalik said today: “Many have portrayed the national strike launched at General Motors as something that fell from the sky. For United Auto Workers’ members and other labor observers the only surprise was in how long such a confrontation took to develop. Industrial restructuring; the gutting of pensions and retiree benefits; the crisis in sky-rocketing private healthcare; and the push from employers to shift the burdens of these trends back onto workers have created a situation where we will start to see more and more strikes, lockouts, contract campaigns, and other work stoppages in many diverse sectors in days to come.”
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Davis was a UAW regional director for 19 years. Today he was at a picket line and was among the three signatories on an open letter to the current UAW leadership: “We are writing to express our grave concerns over reports that consideration is being given by UAW negotiators in contract talks with GM, Ford and Chrysler to a union-managed Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, or VEBA healthcare trust fund to cover hundreds of thousands of retired autoworkers. Such a proposal, if ratified as part of a new collective agreement, would represent a radical shift in the traditions of our union.” The full text of the letter is available.

SBC professor of regional economic development at Case Western University in Ohio, Helper focuses on the auto industry. An interview with Helper entitled “Starting on the Shop Floor: The U.S. Auto Industry Shakeup” is the feature story in the new issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

Helper said today: “GM is is a poorly managed company. Until they start making cars that people want to buy, both unions and suppliers are going to be hurt.”
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Professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Lichtenstein is editor of Wal-Mart: The Face of Twenty-First Century Capitalism and other books on politics and labor. He said today: “A major factor in the strike is healthcare — if GM is going to be able to relieve itself of its healthcare obligations. Rather than pushing for a national, universal system of health insurance GM is seeking to foist its health benefit obligations onto the union by putting together a ‘health insurance trust’ that will be administered by the union alone.

“Another major issue is GM continuing to globalize — that is, increasingly buying cheap parts from Mexico or Alabama or East Asia; they might not build the car there and GM might subcontract that work, but that drives down the costs and endangers high-wage jobs in the U.S. This comes in the context of the UAW having been unable to unionize Toyota and Honda plants in the U.S., so the union’s fate is now linked far too closely to the dwindling set of companies like GM, where it holds collective bargaining relationships.

“When industrial unionism was more militant and dynamic, UAW leaders like Walter Reuther were relatively unconcerned to see poorly managed companies go bankrupt so long as their market share was filled by their high-wage, unionized competitors.

“U.S. labor law, like Taft-Hartley, has also hurt unions. This has emboldened managers and their anti-union consultants to transform the National Labor Relations Board certification election — which used to be a path of unionization — into an anti-union tool.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167.