Colin Barry

The Labor Movement Between the Wars / UAW vs. General Motors (CMC, Thursday, Week 8)


A testament to the current state of labor relations in America: the NYC public schoolday ends at 2:57 and 30 seconds. Compromise is a strange beast.

Trends in labor in the 1920s:
-- Welfare capitalism (cooperative company unions)
===> "share the wealth" ... but not sharing much of the power, claims of injustice

-- AF of L
===> militant to "necessary auxiliary" to schism/CIO

-- CIO (and expansion across multiple industries)
===> John L. Lewis: fosters disconnect between workers and managers OR creates value?
===> pivotal role in building the system

-- Role of government
===> regulatory powers, generally sympathetic to unions (Wagner Act: firms must accept collective bargaining)

Increasing separation between managers and works
===> ethnic tensions
===> shift from workers as skilled craftsman to workers as interchangeable cogs

UAW vs. GM
UAW: Big demand = sole bargaining. Also: more union rights, seniority protection, no unjust dismissals, decrease working hours, minimum pay.
GM: No to everything; labor should stay out of management prerogatives.

Aftermath of the strike in Flint, Mich. (1937)
=> Apex of U.S. auto industry = 1955 (almost two decades later)
=> Still riding high in 1975
=> Japanese competitors pull ahead in 1985 and never really look back.
And we still have a massive auto industry to bail out in 2008.

Sloan might blame the unions: capital should've been allocated away from dying industries long before. No easy answers...