THE COMPANY AND THE UNION: The ""Civilized Relationship"" of the General Motors Corporation and the United Automobile Workers by William Serrin
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THE COMPANY AND THE UNION: The ""Civilized Relationship"" of the General Motors Corporation and the United Automobile Workers

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You just put the key in the ignition, turn it, rrrrrRRRRRRR, and take off in your Mustang, Duster, Pinto, Firebird, Caprice, Maverick, Fury, Dart, Nova or whatever, Simple. But behind every one of those American chariots -- 9,000,000 turned out a year -- are 700,000 Workers who man the monotonous assembly line for 8 hours a day, minus half an hour for lunch, minus 46 minutes relief time, for 8 or 10 thousand dollars a year, 130 to 150 dollars a week take-home pay. Behind the Workers is their Union, the United Automobile Workers, which since the '30's has every three years negotiated for increased wages, job security, seniority benefits, more paid holidays, shorter hours, etc. Atop this structure behind each super-named car is the Company and its executives whose principal concern is profits. In a strikingly original analysis of the labor-management relationship, Serrin, a Detroit Free Press reporter, concludes that the Union is falling the Worker, that Union and Company have become business partners, partners in the business of suppressing change, a ""civilized relationship"" (the phrase is UAW President Leonard Woodcock's) which encourages corporate managers to dribble out ""concessions"" like cost-of-living wage hikes to the man on the line (the ""goddamn line"") via labor bargainers who in turn proclaim the settlement a marvelous victory -- but ""factory life remains unchanged."" Serrin readily concedes that the UAW has won many tangible benefits for its membership over the years, but since achieving respectability, the Union has lost sight of the larger human goals of improving work environments, of at least ameliorating the more dehumanizing aspects of factory toil, of realizing that a 26¢ hourly raise is no longer an answer for unhappy, embittered laborers. There are fine sections on the history of the UAW and General Motors, the personalities involved, and the very long 1970 strike (""a political strike, a strike not to win agreement but to win ratification""). But essentially Serrin is saying that the Union (and this might be any union) has lost the faith if not sold out -- that today's labor scabs are the labor leaders themselves. Read it -- it may change your bargaining agent.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Knopf