In Defense of . . . the United Auto Workers (UAW)
This website has stood out front in condemning the pro-corporate cowardice
of the paper car mags, and rightly so. But when they show some courage and
get it right, they deserve a shout-out. In the proud TTAC tradition of
recognizing all viewpoints, I salute Jamie Kitman's latest column in
Automobile. Kitman's point: the United Auto Workers (UAW) make a handy
whipping boy, but contrary to the new conventional wisdom, they are not the
Great Satan that sank our auto industry. In fact, the money the UAW made for
decades was a good thing. "Courage," you say? If you're like many here, that's
not the adjective you'd use . . .
You probably think about the auto workers union something more along the
lines of "pinko Keynesian socialism." We're talking world-class wages for
the lazy, shiftless louts who famously tied beer cans inside the fender as a
practical joke on the buyer? The same bums whose panel gaps were so sloppy,
it's a wonder said can didn't simply fall out in the second month of
Not so fast. Consider this: the heyday of the UAW just happened to be the
heyday of the American auto industry, whose vitality we now mourn. It was
Henry Ford himself who actively overpaid his workers by his era's standards,
so they could afford his company's products. (Compare that to today, when
Wall Street punishes Costco for doing the same.) For decades, the UAW was
the mechanism by which America's working class continued to share in the
auto titans' prosperity.
And what did those bums do with their ill-gotten gains? They became what
those same corporate media organs (I'm looking at you, military-contractor
GE employee Tom Brokaw) lionize today as The Greatest Generation. The
generation that broke Nazism, built Levittown, beat polio, and put more of
their kids through college than any generation before.
What made this generation of Americans so Great when they banded together to
give up their bodies to the corporate war machine, yet such unpatriotic
slobs when they banded together to resist the economic might of the
corporate industrial machine? Perhaps the answer we've all accepted as
gospel has something to do with the seven corporations who now own virtually
every medium where you'll hear the story.
But crack open a few dusty, pre-media-oligopoly history books. You'll get a
quick reminder that there was nothing casual-and a whole lot that was
courageous-about the drive to unionize American factories. Workers in places
like Haymarket literally gave their lives to get out from under rich
industrialists' thumbs. That isn't the kind of passion that's prompted by
So why did they do it? If you think this is a shopworn parable about an
obsolete problem, consider how our largest retail corporation has made
billionaires of its owners by selling us merchandise made by Chinese
sweatshop laborers whose average-average-wage is 13 cents an hour.
Those owners have a choice, you know. They could make the choice Henry Ford
made. The same choice Detroit's workers enforced on their employers for
decades, to the enduring benefit of the nation. The same choice Costco makes
today. They just don't want to.
Our economy is sinking in a deflationary spiral, precisely because the loss
of jobs has sapped consumers' buying power. Yet, as we slowly feel the
quicksand rise past our chins, our last gurgled oaths are damnations cast on
ourselves and each other for having ever greedily wanted to keep our jobs.
IM(not especially)HO, you can't discuss The Truth About Cars without
confronting The Truth About Car Workers. And like it or not, that truth
leads you straight into the economics of class warfare.
The people who crucify this President for trying to keep America's #1
middle-class job source alive are the same ones whose pet publications think
nothing of trillion-dollar handouts to Wall Street. On the altar of this
cold-blooded religion, they're eager to sacrifice the easy target of a
clumsy, mismanaged, uncompetitive Big 2-1/2. As for the millions whose lives
dissolve into poverty, alcoholism and suicide when their sustenance is
stripped away? Merely the collateral damage of some healthy "creative
Ultimately, that's where I can't get on board with the gleeful UAW-basher
crowd. All we hear today is that American citizens by the tens of millions
can be fecklessly reduced to the gutter, but the artificial corporate
entities we created to enhance the general welfare are somehow "too big to
fail." Pity is, the people pushing this pro-corporate groupspeak don't
realize their god is as uninterested in their faith-or their fate-as that
funky bird-beaked statue Yul Brynner beseeches for plague relief in The Ten
You know how that story ended, right? His son died anyway, and nobody cared.