June 3, 2009

Generous (?) Motors

This is the full text of a letter I recently sent to some local newspapers.

As General Motor’s announces bankruptcy, repeatedly, blame is cast towards the UAW and labor unions.

I liken what is happening to a wealthy parent who didn’t say “no” in time. It rarely gets mentioned when unions are attacked that all wages and benefits given to the employees are clearly outlined in a mutually agreed upon legally binding contract. There isn’t a union agreement in this nation that isn’t signed by both management and labor and authenticated by the government. That creates a system of checks and balances; a microism of our national government. This is the core of collective bargaining. Management agrees to the contractual terms as readily as the union.

To be part of a contract negotiation is no picnic. It is equally nerve wracking for either side. Every proposal is filled with opportunity, in the truest sense of capitalism. “How much can we make?” resonates on both sides. Like dealing with a rug merchant, the object is to get the best possible deal. Unlike a rug merchant, there is the future to consider. Again, I liken the bankruptcy to irresponsible parenting.

I am not suggesting the UAW is blameless. But casting blame is failure to accept responsibility in the situation. For one party to have “too much”, the other party must overindulge. Management had many chances to stand strong over the past 70 years. Closing the door after the horse ran away seems rather futile.

Unions are the best way a working class can achieve a level of life that is respectable. Management acted as an uninvolved, overly indulgent parent that threw money at its employees to keep them content. When the well ran dry, they punished their children for drinking the seemingly unending supply of water. Rather than find more water together, the companies took their bucket and found less thirsty children, abandoning the ones that had been quenched.

But to blame the unions for drinking all the water without blaming those who let the bucket splash all over the ground is unfair. They got in this mess together. Management and Labor need to come back down the hill with a full bucket of water so nobody goes thirsty.


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