GM strike is a test of workers' power in the new economy


Workers are leaving the Flint Assembly plant while participating in a national strike against General Motors after stopping contract negotiations with GM.
Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press

Detroit is being monitored.

The battle between hourly factory workers and a multimillion-dollar global company provides a glimpse of what the future can bring for technology workers and technology leaders, Silicon Valley experts say.

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

<img itemprop = "url" src = " = 540 & height = & fit = bounds & auto = webp "alt =" A woman is waving out the window while showing support for UAW members on strike against General Motors outside Flint Assembly while driving along Van Slyke Road in Flint on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 [19659007] A woman is waving out the window while showing support for UAW members on strike against General Motors outside Flint Assembly while driving along Van Slyke Road in Flint on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

"There are some commonalities," she said. "Workers at General Motors say, 'Look, you swim in profits, and you shouldn't cut our health care. We need to be more like partners in this.' workers at these very large technology companies say, "##; Hi, you, you are swimming in profits. You have all these contract senses Do not treat you 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 struggling for those UAW members who have no clear path to permanent jobs.

As 46,000 hours of automotive workers end their second week on strike across the country, stopping 55 GM sites in 10 states, the UAW is on the rise 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 announced on strike on day 2 a decision to switch GM health care coverage to COBRA – which would be paid for by Detroit-based international union, after several days of criticism, GM backed in that move.

& # 39; Bad rap & # 39;

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs known for novation says UAW-GM contract negotiations can 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 early days to grow the $ 25 billion business it 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 & # 39; OK, it's a boom and I'm left behind. People really feel the injustice of it all. & # 39; You see it in technology and you see it in Detroit. [19659019] Professor Margaret O. & Mar; a historian based at the University of Washington, said Detroit and Silicon Valley have more in common than people realize, this photo was taken in downtown Seattle in October 2018. ” width=”540″ data-mycapture-src=”” data-mycapture-sm-src=”″/>

Professor Margaret O. Mara, a historian based at the University of Washington, said that Detroit and Silicon Valley have more in common than people realize, this photo was taken in downtown Seattle in October 2018. (Photo: Jim Garner)

Part of the reason Detroit brings a unique credibility to the discussion is because of its history as the world's most innovative city back before 1930 – and pushed the boundaries of mechanical engineering, design, manufacturing, labor and wages. [19659005] "You're thinking about Ford's $ 5 a day salary," said O & # 39; Mara. "I teach the student e how Detroit invented weekends and the five-day work week. They found 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 do not have large factories in Silicon Valley 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 executives 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 aware of workers at all levels and are tackling wage issues and inequalities that can parallel the problems facing the Detroit Three.

"I'm talking about people who run 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 the conversation Silicon Valley is starting to have. This is where we are headed, that we should not have these confusions. "

America is looking at a pivot against workers as owners, as agents, rather than employees," Silicon Valley observers said.

Russell Hancock is among Silicon Valley leaders who say that what happens in Detroit with working conditions is closely followed. "There is a culture and ethos in Silicon Valley that when you succeed, you help others succeed. "CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley is pictured speaking at the annual State of Silicon Valley Conference in San Jose, California February 15, 2019. (Photo: Sterling Hancock)

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

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

"We see it in the subjects, in construction and construction, and they are organized and united and in a campaign – not so much about working conditions and compensation. , but more about how they are looked at. 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 kids through school, "Hancock said.

"There is a culture and ethos in Silicon Valley that when you succeed, 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 didn't come out of the financial sector. It didn't come out of Wall Street. It came from CEOs and successful business founders getting frustrated that it was too difficult for entrepreneurs to raise money, so they gathered they raised themselves and they mentored and they created this industry. "

Union salary for a family of six

the values ​​that built this country and what makes it strong, he said.

David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett- Packard, famously renowned for the idea that a company's responsibility to its employees, their families and the communities they do in business was as important as its shareholders, said Carl Guardino, CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public 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. For the economy, workers must retain the right to exercise a "collective unified voice."

"I was raised in a union household and worked through college as a union plaster mechanic. I had the great satisfaction of tying a tool belt around my waist every day when I wasn't in class and working hard to make a living. I was represented by 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 father 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 deep decline of understanding on the West Coast, experts said. And it has taken a corrosive toll.

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

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

"When people are pushed hard, they are buzzing and often not at the top. remotely, "Shaiken said." Someone above your level creates resentment. It means you're discouraged, you're cynical, you don't see opportunities. This is something I can attack. They do what I do at work, but they have much better than finding out, "How do I get it myself?" It's just anger and frustration.

People in Michigan who are still free from financial destruction Ten years ago, scars are, he said, but UAW members are still fighting for workers who lack job security and benefits rather than 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. "

More: UAW: & # 39; Wages have not caught up on inflation & # 39; after & # 39; bankruptcy victim & # 39;

More: There is contract request # 1 from workers – and GM, UAW cannot agree on it

More: One week in, GM strikers in Flint are concerned, but determined to fight for America

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 3 13-222-6512 or phoward @ freepress .com . Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid . Read more at Ford and sign up for our car newsletter .

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