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In the 250 years since the start of the industrial revolution, we have observed a direct correlation between private labor employment and the GDP of said labor industry. This makes sense. More people equals more productivity, and that certainly held true when the American laborers were the best at doing their jobs. But with the advent of new technology and the rise of extranational production, we’re beginning to see a clear disconnect between employment and production rate.

This disconnect has been dubbed the “Great Decoupling” by the New York Times. There are a few reasons for the decoupling, but corporate desire for greater margins is chief among them.

In today’s manufacturing climate, “American made” is almost a laughable descriptor. In the past three decades, the US has seen a dramatic decrease in manufacturing jobs. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 23 of the 30 fastest declining occupations were manual labor jobs. The labor industry is projected to decline further in the long run.

The domestic production shift is largely due to jobs being outsourced to countries that can offer cheap labor. The capitalist philosophy endorses this, but the hidden costs fall on the working class in the form of decreased wages, benefit cuts, and fewer employment opportunities.

Everyday these manufacturing workers are waking up to find that their jobs have been shipped overseas to someone willing to do it for half the price. This approach allows big companies to be more competitive in the global market, but it turns a blind eye to workers who helped make the big three what they are today.

This is where labor unions come in. The UAW is an organization that serves to protect the interests of laborers across the continent. The organization has called five major strikes in the past century—each of which ended with more benefits and increased wages for workers. The last major strike was against GM in 1998. 9,200 workers went on strike for 54 days, urging GM to reinvest in neglected American production facilities.

That was over twenty years ago, but the main causes for that strike are nearly identical to those of the current strike.

In the years since the 2008 recession, GM has closed plants in Lordstown, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; and our very own Warren, Michigan. The closings were part of a post-recession cost-cutting initiative that allowed the auto giant to net nearly $35 billion in profits over the past three years. Despite this renewed success, thousands of jobs are still being offshored and the bottom rung employees are still receiving recession-era pay and benefits.

Failed negotiations with GM led the UAW to call for a strike on September 9th. This coming Monday will mark the third week of the strike. 

The UAW has three major goals in their negotiations with GM.

  1. An improved labor contract to replace the one expiring on the 28th.
  2. Relocation of offshored jobs to US plants that are set to shut down.
  3. A fair wage scale to replace the recession-era pay structure

In response GM has offered to do the following.

  1. Invest nearly $7 billion into American plants
  2. Create 5,400 new jobs with increased pay.
  3. Provided a better health care package for all employees.

The Union has yet to reach an agreement with GM, and with each passing day the strike’s impact on the company grows greater. Business Insider reports that “The General Motors strike could cost the automaker $75 million per day if it continues”. Last sunday GM issued a statement saying “We presented a strong offer that improves wages, benefits and grows U.S. jobs in substantive ways, and it is disappointing that the U.A.W. leadership has chosen to strike”.

The effects of the strike are not only limited to lost profits for GM. Smaller suppliers for automaker are being forced to halt production until an agreement can be reached. Additionally, the workers themselves are being forced to get by with the weekly strike pay of $250/week, many of whom don’t have savings necessary for a long strike.

To assist in supporting the strikers, local businesses have set up programs to donate cases of water and non-perishable food. Olga’s kitchen is even offering large discounts on meals for card carrying union members

At this time it is unclear when the two organizations will reach a compromise that will allow the strikers to return to work. Keep an eye on local media outlets for the latest details.

Related Links:

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/12/opinion/global/jobs-productivity-and-the-great-decoupling.html?register=google&auth=register-google