“G.M. Workers Say They Sacrificed, and Now They Want Their Due,” a headline in The New York Times declares. Another explains, “For G.M. Workers, U.A.W. Strike Is Chance for Overdue Payback.” The gist of both is that workers suffered enormously during the General Motors bailout and subsequent bankruptcy, and now they want to be made whole. As the United Auto Workers said about the strike against GM, which began Monday, the union is looking for “fair wages, affordable health care, our share of profits.”
The union must be hoping that everyone forgets recent history. After all, Washington’s 2008 bailout saved not only tens of thousands of jobs but also rescued employee pensions. Workers currently pay far less for health care than the average private sector employee. Production workers have received billions of dollars of profit sharing.
Now, the company is negotiating with the UAW to remain flexible in the face of a weakening auto market, while the UAW is looking for a contract that reflects the old days — when GM’s fixed personnel costs provided benefits for workers to cherish but gave the automaker little room to maneuver. It’s a battle of the old unionized industrial economy versus a new one that’s trying to emerge. Saving industrial jobs in the US probably requires that the newer model succeed.
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