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UAW's fight is our fight

Dan Neil

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

KAI RYSSDAL: As the UAW strike against General Motors extends into its second day, the effects are beginning to spread: Two GM plants in Canada have been shut down, and the Teamsters Union has promised to stop carrying cars made in Mexico into the U.S. market.

There's no indication one way or the other how long the strike will last, or how much damage it might do to an economy already battered by the housing meltdown and a credit crunch.

But commentator Dan Neil says the strike is about something bigger than that, anyway:


DAN NEIL: A lot of Americans probably assume this is just one more sorry chapter in the UAW's insatiable quest for more money, more bennies, more job security, so auto workers can sit on their fat keisters and turn bolts for $70 an hour.

Fine -- but then lots of us should start clearing out our lockers, too.

See, the UAW's fight is our fight. This strike is a piece of the larger narrative of American industrial competitiveness, for which we have no concerted national policy going forward, and for which we have no wisdom to light our way.

Take health care: GM's competitors -- Honda, Toyota, BMW -- aren't burdened by employer-paid health care costs.

And it should surprise no one that this unique cost-per-unit advantage of hundreds or even thousands of dollars has translated into superior products and value -- and a decades-long rout of the Big Three.

Or, take what the union calls "job security." This is a pretty phrase for the threat of massive offshoring.

Make no mistake: In a global market where Chinese, Mexican, Korean, and Indian workers get paid a laughable fraction of U.S. autoworkers' salary and benefits, there is no compelling reason to build cars and trucks here -- unless as a nation, we give companies incentives to keep manufacturing onshore.

Innovative new products aren't the problem -- GM has a raft of great products in the pipeline. Market share is stabilizing. Health care and other costs aren't.

But no one has the big picture. No presidential candidate is talking about an integrated view of economic competitiveness. That new business model has to unify public strategy on health care and education and monetary policy to help us manage this accelerating shift to a multi-polar global economy.

Instead, we're drifting. Whatever else you think about the GM strike and the UAW, you have to give it to organized labor: At least it's organized.

KAI RYSSDAL: Dan Neil is the car critic at the Los Angeles Times.

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