Re: UAW website
Sun, 14 Jun 1998 00:38:40 -0400 (EDT)

This being the point where I come out of the shadows and let people know
the little known fact (and, trust me, this surprises most people) that I
actually have a degree in, of all things, Industrial and Labor Relations,
which required a whole slew of courses on labor history and a bunch of
electives in collective bargaining and international industrial and labor

On Sat, 13 Jun 1998, Robert S. Thau wrote:

> Jim Whitehead writes:
> > The UAW FAQ is interesting for its point-of-view, still very much
> > us-vs-them, labor vs. management. Amazed that this kind of viewpoint still
> > exists...
> For some reason, it doesn't show up in the press --- labor reporting
> seems to have quietly died over the past few decades (aside from the

There's nothing new there for the mainstream press. As far as they're
concerned it's a pretty boring standard story. The economy is booming,
and so struggling workers aren't interesting. Not enough people can
relate, and it certainly isn't sensational enough to warrant more than a
passing mention.

> deliberate grenade-lobbing of Roger Moore, whose TV show wasn't
> renewed, for some reason, on either of two networks, despite good
> ratings in prime demographics for both; this couldn't *possibly* have
> anything to do with the political agenda of network ownership).

Now, as a big supporter of the labor movement, and someone who enjoyed
his shows, I do have to admit that he practiced such baised reporting, it
was somewhat annoying.

> But the unions are still out there, and they still are very
> confrontational at times. This is arguably not the best way for them
> to relate to management --- German unions, for instance, which are
> generally stronger than their American counterparts, maintain a far
> more cordial relationship with management. But that's in part a
> choice of management itself (ours and theirs).

Not exactly. German labor relations were put in place by law following
WWII. They were anything but well accepted at the time. German law
requires labor to be involved in important decisions. Yes, this has led
to much friendlier relations, but it has also led to an econmy that has
been slow to react to changes and other problems making Germany less
competitive. The German system overall, is quite fascinating, and (I
think) an excellent model to study, but certainly it is not an ideal.

> German companies, for instance, give the unions a much stronger voice
> in the companies' day-to-day operations, up to and including such
> matters as work scheduling and plant closures. American management

Once again, this was by law, and not by choice.

> (I'm going in large part on the reportage from the "Made In America"
> report from the MIT Commission on Industrial Productivity... which is
> admittedly nearly a decade old. On the other hand, things certainly
> haven't changed much *here*).

Actually, things have changed somewhat for the better. It is certainly
not nearly to the point where labor problems are gone (obviously), but in
many areas management is beginning to realize how important *real*
labor-mgmt relations are. Part of the problem is the completely
ingrained attitudes of the last century. These are beginning to age out,
and companies are changing their practices. Witness situations like GM's
Saturn subsidiary, a company created with the *help* of the UAW.
However, things like Saturn and NUMMI (joint venture between GM, TOyota
and the UAW - a fascinating story) haven't changed the rest of the
company (obviously from what we're looking at now). However, both GM and
the union seem to realize that this is the future, and it's what they're
looking at.

The unions have been changing their practices as well. The 80s scared
the shit out of unions as they realized they might just be put out of
existence. Since then, they really have begun looking at new ways to
manage organized labor, and things are changing - just damn slowly.

> One final note on evaluating these sorts of attitudes on the part of
> union labor. Most of the people on this mailing list have highly
> sought-after skills, which give us a nontrivial amount of power in the
> relationships we have with our employers. Most factory workers, on
> the other hand, do not. So, it can be a bit dangerous to generalize
> from personal experience (as opposed to, say, the experience of a
> cousin who's actually *working* in a factory, not that I have one), in
> trying to figure out what sorts of attitudes are or are not reasonable
> for factory workers to have. (And no, it's not just the "union
> bosses" that create things like the GM strike --- strikes can't happen
> without the workers themselves, who vote to start them, vote to finish
> them, and literally put their butts on the line in between).

Trust me, strikes are much more the work of workers than union bosses.
The more strikes union bosses can evade (for the most part)the happier
they are. A strike is a last ditch effort. Strikes are horrible,
painful experiences for *everyone* involved. Workers, generally, are
more willing to strike than their union bosses who try to hold it off aas
long as possible.

If anyone's interested in good books on labor history, let me know. I
have a whole bookshelf of them.