Cultural Revolutions

The GM Strike

The GM strike that occupied the headlines this summer may be a portent of things to come, as a new wave of corporate consolidations and trade agreements destabilize the last of America's great industries. Both UAW leaders and outside observers compared the strike to the historic 1937 "Sit-Down Strike" that established a symbiotic relationship between the UAW and General Motors. In exchange for a living wage for its members, the UAW provided GM (and Ford and Chrysler) with a steady supply of trained workers. But this 61-year relationship—or "social contract," as Michigan State Representative Greg Kaza (Republican-Rochester Hills) calls it—is under fire today, as the Big Three, under the pressure of NAFTA and GATT, attempt to restructure the automobile industry. While union leaders did attempt to stop the passage of NAFTA in 1994, they—and, more importantly, the rank-and-file members—are only now beginning to recognize the changes that global free trade has in store for the automobile industry.

While GM denies that it intends to cut back or abandon its American operations, its 1997 Annual Report offers a somewhat different story. Inside the front cover, the report's theme is splashed across three pages: "Go common. Go lean & fast. Go global. Go for growth. GM is going everywhere." Well, perhaps not everywhere. The Annual Report discusses new GM plants in China (Vice President...

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