Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Sun Jul 5 12:22:48 PDT 1998

[also from Michael E]

On Wed, 24 Jun 1998, Paul Johnston wrote:

> Questions re: Outsource Organizing and Labor-Management Strategies at GM
> What can observers close to the scene tell us about union's recent track
> record on organizing outsourced sites, domestic and international? also,
> about its recent track record on addressing productivity & related
> management issues?
> The strike is a fluid & open situation, and there's a lot of room in this
> contingency for success or failure. But the basic possibilities in this
> watershed strike were certainly defined long ago by union strategies in
> these two critical areas.
> Paul johnston at

I thought this was a provocative post and in the interests of not seeing this discussion die from lack of response, I'll put in my two cents. I don't claim to have intimate knowledge of the present situation but I did spend several years in the UAW's research dept before leaving five years ago.

The union has had very little success organizing domestic auto parts plants - I believe that the estimates for union coverage in the auto parts sector (not counting the parts operations of the Big 3) are in the neighborhood of 10 percent. The formerly unionized auto parts companies have closed most of their older (unionized) facilities and have successfully fended off organizing efforts in their new plants. Meanwhile lots of new companies, many foreign-based, others new start-ups explicitly gunning for outsourced work, have entered the scene, almost all of these also non- and anti-union.

I'm not sure what Paul Johnston means about UAW organizing "internationally". The UAW has ceded Canada to the CAW and is (except for one or two Canadian locals that refuse to join the CAW) an entirely domestic organization. UAW organizing efforts in Mexico or elsewhere would obviously be fraught with all sorts of troublesome issues, but I suppose that shouldn't necessarily rule them off the table. I would venture to say that it is not immediately clear that a Mexican auto or auto parts worker would be more eager to join or have more to gain by joining the UAW as opposed to FAT or a CTM affiliate.

The union has had much more success bargaining over productivity-related issues, in large part I think because years of struggle over production standards and related issues developed real union expertise in this area. But no one would suggest that the work pace and/or expectations for work effort haven't increased dramatically over the last 20 years.(You'll notice no one from the union directly defending the rights of Flint workers to meet quota and go home before the shift ends, only that changes in work practices should be offset by investment commitments from GM.)

Two last comments: I am more skeptical than Paul Johnston seems to be about the union's ability to have affected the course of events via strategic behavior in earlier periods. The crisis at GM is driven primarily by two events mostly outside the union's influence: the dramatic decline in GM's North American market share and the Toyota-inspired transformation of automobile production over the last 20 or so years. Under these conditions, it is hard to imagine circumstances in which the union wouldn't have found itself in the present predicament.

Finally, it should be noted that one under-recognized reason why industrial relations at GM are presently much more volatile at GM than Ford or Chrysler is that the other two slashed their workforces by more than half in the early 80s and so have been able to restructure without the looming shadow of further job cuts. GM was strong enough then to avoid the same fate, but has been dying a death of a thousand cuts since then.

I'd be interested in the comments of others.

Jody Knauss Dept. of Sociology Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison 1180 Observatory Drive Madison, WI 53706

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