Why Did They Strike?

By: Beth Shayne Email
By: Beth Shayne Email

It's been three decades since UAW workers across the country walked a picket line like the one they walked Monday. The last nationwide strike was against Ford Motor Company in 1976.

In 1998, two plants in Flint walked off the job, in a strike against GM.

A walkoff in 2007 is seen as a drastic move by the experts, and quite frankly surprising, too.

"I think a lot of analysts expected there wouldn't be," MSU Labor professor John Revitte says. He says this strike is about changing times in the auto world, times when workers may not get "Cadillac" benefits and pensions.

In a news conference explaining the strike this morning, UAW president Ron Gettelfinger took pains to say healthcare--and so-called VEBA trust fund accounts that would pay for it--are not the sticking point. He cited job security and other "economic issues." He says GM was not willing to compromise and accused them of approaching the strike deadline, 11 a.m. Monday, as if they didn't care.

GM released a statement saying, "We are disappointed in the UAW's decision to call a national strike. The bargaining involves complex, difficult issues that affect the job security of our U.S. work force and the long-term viability of the company. We are fully committed to working with the UAW to develop solutions together to address the competitive challenges facing General Motors. We will continue focusing our efforts on reaching an agreement as soon as possible."

GM wants those VEBA accounts to help them with a $51 billion dollar liabilility for healthcare for retirees.

Gettelfinger says the union has given already--pointing to concession made in the last four years. In 2005, it was a vote to allow co-pays for retiree healthcare. In 2006, thousands left the company as part of a buyout.

That smaller union is now fighting for jobs, and thereby size and power. A smaller GM is fighting for the flexibility to do business in ways that may hurt the union, but keep the company alive.

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