Blog: Dave LeggettIt’s why labour unions exist

Dave Leggett | 24 October 2005

It reminds me of the old joke about the frog and the scorpion crossing the lake, the scorpion on the frog’s back. The scorpion stings the frog halfway across and they are therefore both doomed. The frog enquires of the scorpion just before they plunge, why did you do that? The scorpion replies: I'm sorry, but it’s in my nature.

The UAW exists to defend and get the best conditions for its members. You cannot really blame the UAW for getting Detroit to agree to healthcare and pensions provisions that amounted to a 'good' deal for its members - at least viewed retrospectively. Unfortunately for all, the world has changed and that good deal has become a millstone around the collective neck of the poor performing US auto industry, though it is only part of the explanation for the collective malaise.

It is only natural for the UAW to try and get the best outcome for its members subject to the proviso that they still have jobs to go to. How far does the management bluff in these situations? I suspect that all sides are busy trying to establish just where the bottom line is and where sensible compromise that is best for all will be found. But that will take some time to establish and the union has a constituency to defend and to play to. I would guess that the UAW really doesn’t want to be the scorpion in all of this.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and Vice President Richard Shoemaker issued the below statement last week on Delphi's contract proposal to the UAW. A soaring bit of hyperbole (cleverly and crisply expressed though, with a welcome bit of wit) that almost seems to hark back to another and more comfortable time when Detroit, the UAW and the American consumer worked in glorious harmony – the golden age of the 1950s-1970s perhaps. But then along came pesky competition and you cannot turn back the clock. Can’t blame the UAW for wanting to defend its members though, just so long as they don’t take everyone down at the same time.

"The UAW received Delphi's contract proposal today. In light of Delphi CEO Steve Miller's recent public comments, we were not surprised that Delphi's proposal displays a total lack of concern about the impact it would have on Delphi workers, their families, their communities and our nation. Delphi's proposal is designed to hasten the dismantling of America's middle class by importing Third World wages to the United States. In short, the proposal faithfully reflects a vision of an America in which an elite few live in luxury while everyone else struggles to make ends meet. Maybe some believe the American Dream is over; the UAW rejects that dismal idea and will continue the struggle to fulfill that dream."


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