General Motors UAW strike tests the power of workers versus companies


Flint, Michigan, the birthplace of General Motors, provides financial impact support as workers' strike against car maker closes in about a week (September 20)

Detroit is followed up.

The battle between hourly factory workers and a multi-billion dollar global company gives a glimpse of what the future might hold for technicians and technology leaders, says Silicon Valley experts

"People see Detroit as a model for how to unite and collectively mobilize against leadership, "said Margaret O. & # 39; Mara, author of" The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America "and a professor of history at the University of Washington.

"There are some commonalities," she said. “Workers at General Motors say, 'Look, you swim in profit, and you shouldn't cut our health care. We need to be more like partners in this. & # 39; Workers at these very large technology companies also say: & # 39; Hey, you, you swim in profit. You have all these contract employees that you do not treat fairly or as full employees and give them benefits. We don't like what you're doing, and we're going to push back. & # 39; "

In fact, a key point of the union's talks with GM is what to do with thousands of" temporary "workers earning just over half the wages of workers standing next to them. Full-time workers are fighting for the UAW members who have no clear path to permanent jobs.

Looking forward: GM, UAW is not nearby – appointment can take a week with calls

Can I still find the car I want? How UAW's GM strike will affect vehicle availability

As some 46,000 hours of auto industry finishes its second week of strike nationwide, 55 GM stops sites in 10 states, UAW is spot on as an example of what a $ 800 million strike fund can do. It has budgeted $ 250 a week in strike pay for members and did not resign from its positions when the opponent suddenly announced on strike as of day 2, a decision to shift healthcare coverage from GM to COBRA – which would be paid for by Detroit-based international union. After several days of criticism, GM backed into that move.

A man shouts support from a megaphone for UAW members on strike against General Motors outside Flint Assembly while driving along Van Slyke Rd. in Flint Tuesday, September 24, 2019 (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

& # 39; Bad rap & # 39;

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs known for innovation say the UAW-GM contract negotiations could play a key role in deciding whether income inequality and division continue to grow between workers and top employees.

Jared Fliesler, who held senior positions at Google and worked with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in the first few days to expand it to $ 25 billion the business is today, is among those closely watching.

"It sounds like the employees in good financial positions are lifting their employees and taking a stand for justice, even when the fight is not their own. And I think it's fantastic, ”says Fliesler, who in 2013, at 28 years old, was the youngest partner in a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley.

“Unions often get a bad rap. But there is a time and a place and a reason why they were formed. This is the time and place, "said Fliesler, now CEO of Scrid, a subscription-based service that has been compared to Netflix for readers.

Google unionizing

" I look at Detroit and see GM workers on strike, said historian O & # 39; Mara. "Then I have people call me to say that Google entrepreneurs unite in Pittsburgh. The common thread is that this larger public conversation is about the power of companies – of which CEO pay is part of it – and the power of workers. "

As the economy grows and the stock market thrives, real income remains flat, she said. "People feel like," Okay, it's a boom, and I'm left behind. People really feel the injustice of it all. "See it in tech and you see it in Detroit."

Part The reason why Detroit brings a unique credibility to the discussion is because of its history as the world's most innovative city back before 1930 – and pushing the boundaries of mechanical engineering, design, manufacturing, labor and wages.

Repairs : The GM-UAW strike makes it difficult for dealers to find parts for repairs

"You're thinking about Ford's $ 5-a-day salary," said O & # 39; Mara. "I teach students how Detroi t invented weekends and working days in five days, finding new ways to increase productivity, scale up and deliver good products. "

Scary physical labor

And it has been the" compact "between organized labor and the automotive industry that has done as much as possible, observers say.

"We haven't to large Silicon Valley factories where people break time cards and engage in violent physical labor, "said Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a consortium of business and government leaders working to address regional challenges.

"We should understand and cultivate deep respect for people who actually have to show up, fill shifts, use their hands, sweat and do physical things."

He identified a development in Silicon Valley where industry leaders are more attentive to workers at all levels and tackle pay and inequality issues that can parallel the problems facing the Detroit Three.

"I'm talking about people who run the Google buses and work in kitchens and people who do landscaping," Hancock said. "There is tremendous controversy about how these people are treated in these companies. And shouldn't they have a piece of the company? Shouldn't they also have the right to shares and equity and ownership? That's what the conversation Silicon Valley is starting to have. we're on our way, so we don't have these confusions. "

America sees a pivot against workers as owners, as agents, rather than employees, Silicon Valley observers said.

However, when debating the searchlights on issues like health care, Silicon Valley observers say they are mystified by the traditional approach to solutions discussed in Detroit, which mainly focus on cutting coverage.

Previous week: A week in these GM strikers is concerned, but certainly – & # 39; This is America & # 39;

"We're not just talking about health care, we're talking about well-being," Hancock said. "We get paid to ride a bicycle at work. These are the kind of campaigns."

, but more about how they are shown. They want to be seen and treated as professionals and because they have the right to a life, a home, a home property and the opportunity to put the children through school, "Hancock said.

"There is a culture and ethos in Silicon Valley that when you are successful, you help other people succeed," said the son of a lifetime Boeing electrical engineer whose widow survives on retirement. "That's where the whole venture capital industry came from It did not come out of the financial sector, it did not come out of Wall Street, it came from the fact that CEOs and successful founders were frustrated that it was too difficult for entrepreneurs to raise money, so they picked up themselves and the mentors and the created this industry. "

Union salary for a family of six

These are the values ​​that built this country and that make it strong, he said.

David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, famously famously expressed the idea that a company's responsiveness to its employees, their families and the communities in which they operated was as important as that of shareholders, said Carl Guardino, CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public like a political trade association that counts GM among its 360 members.

Consumer spending accounts for 70% of the US economy, while business spending is 30%, he noted. And apart from the overall economy, workers must retain the right to exercise a "collective unified voice."

"I was raised in a union household and worked my way through college as a union plaster mechanic. I had the great satisfaction of clamping a tool belt around my waist every day when I was not in class and working hard to live. I was represented of a great union that made sure we had a 40-hour work week and OSHA standards and safety regulations and decent health care, says Guardino, who grew up in San Jose, California. "On a good salary on union plaster walls, my dad could provide for a family of six. "


While Detroit innovation is being lauded by Silicon Valley executives, the economic trauma sustained by the industrial Midwest during the Great Recession understanding on the West Coast, experts said. Corrosive Customs.

"So many Americans, not just UAW workers, have given their lives and worked hard, been innovative, created successes, and suddenly find that they are not stakeholders, they can be used, says Harley Shaiken, a University of California at Berkeley professor and national work analyst.

It was no surprise, he said, that non-union workers sometimes beat union protesters.

“When people are pushed hard, they lash out and often not on top. It's too remote, "Shaiken said." Someone above your level creates resentment. It means that you are discouraged, you are cynical, that you do not see opportunities. This is something I can attack. They do what I do at work, but they do much better. Rather than finding out, & # 39; How do I get it myself? & # 39; It's just anger and frustration. & # 39;

People in Michigan, still recovering from financial destruction ten years ago, are scars, he said. Still, UAW members are still fighting for workers who lack job security and benefits instead of just focusing on themselves, Shaiken said.

“This is not just a dollar and a penny. It's about values, "he said, articulating a sentiment that was shared again and again on the Flint's fence lines.

" If you want to know what Detroit was like in the 1950s and 1960s, look at this fence line and the feeling of that these people are us, we are in this together and we are stronger if we stand together. It seems like a setback to the past, but in fact, these GM strikers say: This is the future. We are in this together. It is the soul of the Union. ”

Follow Phoebe Wall Howard on Twitter: @phoebesaid


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