How UAW's Strike Against GM May Affect Ford And Fiat-Chrysler NPR's David Greene talks to New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present and Future of American Labor, about the strike, and the future of unions.
NPR logo

How UAW's Strike Against GM May Affect Ford And Fiat-Chrysler

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/761472586/761472587" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
How UAW's Strike Against GM May Affect Ford And Fiat-Chrysler

How UAW's Strike Against GM May Affect Ford And Fiat-Chrysler

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/761472586/761472587" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Industry analysts say the General Motors walkout happening right now could dent the company's profit by 50 to a million dollars a day. The United Automobile Workers union launched the strike yesterday in more than 30 factories after failing to reach a deal with GM, and there's no end in sight here. The company has shuttered plants and sent them overseas in recent years. Workers say their lost job security is a deal-breaker.

And let's talk this through with Steven Greenhouse. He's the author of a book called "Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, And Future Of American Labor." Steven, thanks for being here.

STEVEN GREENHOUSE: Great to be here, David.

GREENE: So looking at this this strike first, do you think union autoworkers are going to get what they want out of the strike?

GREENHOUSE: That's unclear. Usually when there's a strike, they get more than the company was originally demanding. But they usually don't get all that they want. And here they want higher wages. They want GM to stop using so many temporary workers - low-paid temporary workers. And most of all, they want GM to move more production into the U.S. and not so much into China and other - sorry - into Mexico and other places.

GREENE: Can we just take a step back? Because you're the perfect person to do it since you've been covering labor and looking at it in so many different ways. I mean, we don't really see major strikes the way we did in the '70s, when there were, like, hundreds each year. But this one seems like it is very similar to some of the strikes we saw in the past. Do unions still have the appeal and influence they once did?

GREENHOUSE: They don't have the influence they once did. The percentage of workers in unions is down very much from the 1950s, when unions were at their strongest, when the United Auto Workers was probably the most powerful union in the country. Just 1 in 10 workers are in unions, down from 1 in 3 in the 1950s.

But unions still have influence. And there's been a real surge in union militancy over the past year, and that was led by the teacher strike in West Virginia and then the statewide teacher strikes in Oklahoma and Arizona and the huge teacher strike in Los Angeles and the Stop & Shop strike in New England. And I think the success of those strikes helped encourage the GM workers to walk out.

I should make clear, David, that now about 50,000 GM workers walked out. When GM was a much larger company, in 1970, there was another nationwide strike by - against GM by the UAW. And then 400,000 workers walked out. That was eight times as much as now. And that shows how much GM's production has shrunk in the U.S.

GREENE: So is - the narrative that unions in the United States have been fading, is that - or have we been off in that narrative?

GREENHOUSE: So you know, in my book I explain that, you know, unions grew very strong in the first half of the 20th century, kind of led by the UAW and its organizing General Motors. Then in the second half - in the '80s and '90s, unions really grew much weaker. But now, as I said, we're seeing somewhat of a resurgence of union militancy. And the popularity of unions...

GREENE: What does that mean? What does that word mean?

GREENHOUSE: That workers are willing to, like, stand up and go on strike and protest. And I think, again, the teacher strikes really showed that. Workers felt really beaten. You know, a lot of these teachers - you know, proud, educated people felt beaten down. They felt they had pay freezes for years while all these states were giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy.

And they said, this is really wrong. You know, we work hard. We don't get paid enough. These states are holding down education budgets. And they held these huge strikes, which were really militant actions. And we're seeing - like, a lot of unions feel the wind is at their back after what we saw, you know, with the teacher strikes.

In this huge Stop & Shop strike, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden, you know, went and supported the strikers in New England. They had huge public support. And I think this has, in ways, inspired the GM strikers, as well.

GREENE: Steven Greenhouse - his book about organized labor is called "Beaten Down, Worked Up" - joining us this morning. Thanks so much, Steven.

GREENHOUSE: Great to be here, David.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.