Skip to comments.Would Michigan Have Been Better Off if the Sit-Down Strike had Failed?
Posted on 02/22/2012 5:31:48 AM PST by MichCapCon
On Feb. 11, 1937, the United Auto Workers and General Motors signed a one-page contract that recognized the UAW as the representative of those workers who had joined the union. That minimalist contract was the fruit of a titanic struggle in which UAW supporters physically occupied GMs Fisher #1 plant in Flint, preventing the company from bringing in replacement workers and crippling the automaker. This was the famous sit-down strike, the turning point that made the UAW an industry-wide force.
The sit-down strike was the stuff of legend. The workers commitment to the union cannot be denied and the boldness of the UAWs leadership stands in stark contrast to the sniveling posture of todays UAW officials. It is undeniable that the union establishment in general and the UAW in particular have lost the confidence of most workers, which is why they must resort to card-checks and neutrality agreements with employers and quickie elections. The unions tend to lose too many fair elections.
But as union officials reminisce about the glory days when workers really believed in their movement, it should be noted that GM could have reneged on that contract the very next day. The contract was signed under duress. Strikers had taken over GM property. The government either could not or would not remove them, but they had no legal right to remain there. The company would have been well within its rights to tear the thing up as soon as the strikers had gone home, fire the ringleaders, and dock the rest for lost time and damage to the plant.
And Detroit might very well be better off today if GM had done just that.
It is common to attribute the prosperity of Detroit and its auto industry (of which Flint was a major satellite) during its glory days to the UAW, but we now know those glory days would come to an awful end. It didnt have to end like that. Automobiles were, and still are, a high value-added business. A typical car has hundreds of parts and with optional items like heated seats and navigation systems a single model can have dozens of variations. The technical challenge of coordinating the production of such complex machines is enormous, but the profits to be made from mass producing vehicles are also enormous. Cars have evolved a lot since 1937 but the basic demand for them is as strong as ever. Detroits collapse didnt occur because something came along that made Detroits products obsolete. It came because someone else figured out how to do Detroits business, and then they got better at it than Detroit was. And Detroit was too proud, or too stubborn or maybe too thoroughly hamstrung by a militant union to recognize the challenge and adapt.
It was almost inevitable that Detroits automobile industry would be unionized. The Wagner Act gave unions tremendous advantages that held throughout the 1940s and 50s. Its unlikely that any of the automakers could have held out forever. But the union that stepped into Detroits auto plants would have been a different one. Its organizing successes would have been achieved under the rule of law, and without a massive violation of property rights. A different history might have produced a different mindset, a bit less resentful of the companies that employed their workers, and a bit more mindful of the rights of others.
That union, created under law and less prone to treat employers with contempt, would probably have better understood the true nature of the challenge presented by imported vehicles in the 1970s. With a better appreciation of property rights and the workings of a free economy, they would have reacted to the new competition from Japanese and German automakers with less hostility and more pragmatism. Rather than act offended by the presence of foreign automobiles, as if Detroit and the UAW had some sort of divine right to control the automobile trade (much like the union claimed to have a right to occupy an auto plant), they would have been more likely to allow the automakers to compete with the foreigners on design, quality and price. Work rules would have been reviewed, and wages and benefits could have held steady, until market share stabilized.
As it was, high labor costs forced Detroits executives, engineers and designers to cut corners on materials and design. Quality suffered, alienating customers and creating an opening for foreign automakers that hadnt existed before. Foreign automakers concentrated on low-cost cars with high labor costs Detroit was at an especially sharp disadvantage there and built up their own brand loyalty among drivers. Now Nissan and Volkswagen and Honda are every bit as established here as GM, Ford and Chrysler. And a lot of UAW members lost work in the process.
Would Detroit have fared better with a less radical UAW? Very likely, yes. Admittedly, theres a lot of speculation involved, but there is no speculation in saying that Detroit has fallen hard. The men and women who took over Fisher #1 deserve credit for their courage, but any history of the sit-down strike must acknowledge the eventual fate of Detroits auto industry, and the part that the union that was born in that strike played in eventually bringing Detroit down.
The UAW has not been an unalloyed blessing for autoworkers and the sit-down strike was not necessarily the great victory for working men and women that it has been proclaimed to be.
The UAW was the greatest gift America has ever given to Japan.
I have been meditating lately on this subject.
Not about the UAW or any union, but the caliber of men that America once was.
WW2 was "The Greatest Generation,"
The 1950's were an explosive time for America ... we built and hired and prospered,
Even the 1960's, The Next Generation, were an intelligent and motivated (albeit misguided and wrong directioned) powerful force in the nation and the world.
So what happened?
In my opinion, there is no one 'cause' but a generalization could be cited for wealth and technical advancement laid way for the enemy of freedom (In the America that prays together, stays together ...) Anti-religion, anti-Christian, (uh oh, Rick Santorum) .. Satan .. to move in with misdirection and we gradually lost the mettle of man that was "the Greatest Generation"
We had the roots and seeds, but we were watered with poisoned water, thus, the fruit came from the tree, but it could not reproduce it's own root.
So, here we are, IMO, nuetered and incapable of banding together (ala 1937 sitter-downers .. which had THEIR roots in the Wobbly movement (THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF SOCIALISM, BUT A REFLECTION ON HISTORY) .. ) and being successfully terrorfied into inaction, a socialist leader makes rules and regulations, hires minions and sycophants, all for the destruction that was begun in the 60's.
In the early 1900's, the word, the fact, the posession and the use of a gun was not a major psychological factor in how a man lived and conducted his affairs, other than if deaths occured (during a strike or something), people tended to stop and accomplish some sort of compromise.
Now, it seems, the immediacy of a death is so fearful, the reality of an enemy in our midst so clouded, the fear in our hearts so real .. we do nothing about stopping (STOP does not mean negotiate and legislate) the entity that is killing us.
We're being strangled and we hook up an oxygen mask to make up for the loss .. but we will die none-the-less unless we break the starnglehold.
"Rather than act offended by the presence of foreign automobiles, as if Detroit and the UAW had some sort of divine right to control the automobile trade (much like the union claimed to have a right to occupy an auto plant), they would have been more likely to allow the automakers to compete with the foreigners on design, quality and price. Work rules would have been reviewed, and wages and benefits could have held steady, until market share stabilized."
"As it was, high labor costs forced Detroits executives, engineers and designers to cut corners on materials and design. Quality suffered, alienating customers and creating an opening for foreign automakers that hadnt existed before."
"Foreign automakers concentrated on low-cost cars with high labor costs Detroit was at an especially sharp disadvantage there and built up their own brand loyalty among drivers. Now Nissan and Volkswagen and Honda are every bit as established here as GM, Ford and Chrysler. And a lot of UAW members lost work in the process."
I'm not sure of back then but today, certainly. Nothing will get better until the union is unloaded. Newt explains it.One thing is certain, gov't got involved and we have The Wagner Act--THAT should never have happened. That was a score for socialism/communisim.
The author ignores that FDR was president and that the Wagner Act had just been passed. The administration would not have smiled on GM's reneging. No one wanted to fight FDR.
No, in 1937 the prevailing law did not recognize cases like this as duress.
Other than that, absolutely. With a few exceptions, everything unions have done has been to the detriment of this country.
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