Thursday, September 27, 2007

Winning but Losing 

The United Auto Workers union in the US is a symbol, but not a symbol it hopes to be. It is a sign of the weakness of industrial unions in America rather than their strength. It is a case of an organization and its membership that moved away from the mainstream and found itself isolated. It seems clear General Motors got what it wanted out of the membership by shifting healthcare costs to the union and off the company's income statement. So what was the purpose of the strike that started and ended too quickly to hurt either side?

The union's leadership apparently understands that US auto companies must be competitive to survive. The question is whether its members do. The strike might have been a public relations exercise more for the membership than for the company. I.e., does the union really want to face its ultimate destruction by forcing even more jobs offshore or out of Detroit?

It is hard to bring back any member-supported organization that has lost its way. Members would rather hold on to what they have and bicker than adapt to realities about them. It takes extraordinary leadership to get members focused and moving forward. Sometimes the task is futile. It is too early to know where the UAW will end up, but an answer will come if its membership keeps shrinking.


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