Friday, March 31, 2006

Time to play hardball

No group of organised workers – especially one with a historic reputation for combativity – would tolerate having its wages slashed by 53%. But that’s the scale of the concessions Delphi, North America’s biggest car parts manufacturer, is seeking from the United Auto Workers, according to today’s Financial Times.

The company wants to see average hourly rates slashed from $27 to $16.50 – or even as low as $12.50 without financial support from number one client General Motors – over the next 18 months.

The ‘jobs bank’ system – which guarantees full wages during slack periods – also faces the axe.

A strike seems to be in the offing, and the stakes are high. Any stoppage would quickly bring GM to a standstill, and maybe even push it into chapter 11.

What are the UAW’s chances of success? According to sociologist Jonathan Cutler of Wesleyan University, the union is heavily bureaucratised.

Cutler maintains that the UAW ‘has become a geriatric union to preserve job security for a very small elite at the expense of the future of the union. They have yielded more to the corporations than they have to the discontent of their own membership’.

But as he also argues:

‘This is no time for labour statesmanship … This is a time for the UAW to defend the American middle-class worker.’

Middle-class worker? Gosh, you never know what these academic sociologists are going to come up with next. But otherwise, Cutler’s point is well taken.

Or, as I believe our American cousins put it ... it’s time to play hardball.

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