The UAW: Limitations of Unionism

The UAW: Limitations of Unionism

One wet October morning the telephone at the foreman’s desk rang. It was a call from the chairman of the shop committee. “I’m putting you in my place as committeeman,” he said. “Why?” “Because,” he answered, “I’ve been fired. 1 was escorted out of the plant. I’m calling from the Local.” The technical grounds were insubordination.

As I kept trying to assess the impact of this event and waited for confirmation of my new status from the company’s labor relations department, one thought stayed in my mind: How soon will the inevitable walk-out take place, and what will be its consequences? For in our Local it was traditional for the ranks to shut the plant whenever a union representative was fired. It was also a tradition for the company to crack down on wild-catters.

This new crisis would increase the turmoil of the past four months. We had been working without a contract because of the UAW strategy of “rock and roll” negotiations with the Big Three auto companies (that is, avoiding a major strike). The in-plant struggle had been fierce. The company, taking the offensive, had modified union representative rights, made grievance...

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