The GM strike is an anachronism

IN THE MIDST of the first-ever strike by General Motors workers in Flint, Michigan, in 1936, an advocate for the carmaker called the firm “a big family of 250,000 people” in which strikes were alien. Homer Martin, then-president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), retorted with a phrase sizzling with the class consciousness of the era. GM, he said, was “the kind of family where father eats the bacon, mother eats the gravy and the kids can lick the skillet”.

Once again, GM’s family values are under attack. A strike of 46,000-odd workers demanding better treatment, now into its third week, is the company’s longest since 1970. Some see it as a sign of a long-overdue rebalancing of American capitalism. Public support for unions in America is among the highest in half a century, according to Gallup, a pollster. Last year more Americans took part in strikes and lockouts than in any year since 1986. Low unemployment has increased the clout of workers after a precipitous fall in their share of national income since the 1990s. Terry Dittes, the UAW official heading the GM strike, told the New Yorker that with corporate profits and executive salaries in America at an all-time high, “there’s something bigger brewing here.”

Yet if the GM strike shows anything, it is how America’s economy has transformed since...



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