September 25, 2007
Empty Shell vs. Empty Shell (Bob Franken)
@ 10:45 am
How quaint. The United Auto Workers are striking General Motors. Talk about a blast from the past. A past when the UAW and GM weren’t hollow shells.
Back in the ’70s — now those were the days. The union (remember labor unions?) had a million and a half members. Now it’s a relic with just over a third of that.
General Motors is quite the relic too. It used to be a colossus in the U.S. automobile industry. Now the manufacturing plants in this country are owned increasingly by the likes of Honda and Toyota. So many Chevrolets, meanwhile, are made elsewhere these days that Chevy’s “This Is Our Country” ad campaign would be laughable if it weren’t so transparently pathetic. That’s what this walkout is about, but it’s a battle that’s already over.
For that we can thank organized labor, although the word “organized” is subject to dispute. Like the companies, the unions also suffer from a severe management problem. For decades, leadership has been so dogmatic and uncreative in the face of the vicious assault from sophisticated anti-union thuggery that the the labor movement has been crushed.
And our entire nation has paid the price. Much has been said about the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. To a large degree, the unions protected the middle class. That’s back when there was a middle class.
Don’t get me wrong, the strike can have its effects. Michigan still makes some cars, and the walkout will make the state’s already dismal economic picture even more dismal.
What we have here is a match between two aged, flabby heavyweights. But in this fight both will be harmed. And so will everyone else.
Both the union and the company have been in the forefront for the United States, and they still are … but now it’s the forefront of a steady decline.