So what kind of car was he looking at? A Honda Accord, a vehicle that while made in Ohio, is owned by a Japanese firm and is made with non-union labor. Or at least, not by United Auto Workers labor.
The computer specialist said he plans to look at American-made vehicles too, and said he believes General Motors is building better cars now. But he has been driving a Honda Civic.
And you can bet that in the end, he’s most likely to buy a Honda Accord. He’s been driving that Civic for thirteen years, and has been happy with it. Detroit is making better cars now. But a generation of consumers exasperated by poor quality switched to foreign, mostly-Japanese-made cars in the 1970s and 1980s. And Detroit is finding it very hard to win them back. That’s one of the two biggest problems for the auto industry.
The other was dramatically illustrated by something the CEO of American Axle & Manufacturing told the Detroit Free Press: “We have the flexibility to source all of our business to other locations around the world, and we have the right to do so.”
And he added, “We will not be forced into bankruptcy in order to reach a market-competitive cost structure in the United States.”
More than a month ago, workers at American Axle walked off their jobs on strike. That’s because American Axle wants to cut wages in half. The company claims that its current costs are about three times those of its rivals, and it can’t compete.
That is, indeed, a serious problem. But so, union members rightly add, is trying to figure out how to feed and clothe a family on half of what you’ve been used to making.
Walter Reuther and Doug Fraser and the other pioneers of the UAW had plenty of problems getting their union started. But coping with threats to move production to Mexico wasn‘t one of them.
Meanwhile, the United Auto Workers are failing to organize any of the new transplant auto factories. Every year sees UAW membership grow smaller and smaller.
Once, the UAW represented more than a million and a half workers. Now, that‘s down to less than 465,000. That‘s fewer than when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
The union doesn’t seem to know how to cope with globalization. But the companies don’t seem to realize that if you move all the jobs to other countries, there won’t be much we will be able to buy.
Japan built its auto industry on the philosophy that workers and management would make joint sacrifices for the good of all. We pay lip service to that concept, but don’t really practice it.
But considering the alternative, it just might be worth a try.