Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Auto sector smackdown

Today's column deals with the fallout of the General Motors retrenchment announced earlier this week. I was originally going to write about something else. I figured enough ink had been spilled over the unfortunate loss of thousands of Canadian and American jobs.

Then I read the union response to the cuts, and I changed my mind. The leaders of Canada's largest autoworkers union trotted out same old themes. If it were up to them, we'd all go back to the days of guaranteed jobs, high wages, low education requirements, and a limitless future with no real-world competition.

Unfortunately for the Big Three, the cushy world they dominated fifty years ago is gone forever. They have failed to compete on the same playing field as their new competitors. They have become dinosaurs. And as much as we all - and I include myself in that "we" - pine for the days when we'd work for a benevolent employer until our retirement day, it's easy to see that the employment world is a much colder place these days.

So I wrote the following piece.

Your turn: After you're done reading this, I hope you'll share your perspectives on unions, and whether or not they've managed to adapt to the new realities of the business world.
Big Three, CAW running out of gas
Published Wednesday, November 23, 2005
The London Free Press

It is both fascinating and sad to watch domestic automakers cutting their operations to the bone, while Honda and Toyota invest billions in new plants and people.

The only response Canadian Auto Workers union President Buzz Hargrove can muster is the same old rant about foreign manufacturers having unfair, reduced-tariff access to the North American market.

Domestic manufacturers, hobbled by aging products union contract limitations, can’t compete against their more agile competitors. Their products lag behind.

Consumers spending their hard-earned dollars on a vehicle expect efficiency, performance and reliability. Other automakers have figured out how to do it better, and they’re eating up the domestics’ market share.

The war is over, Buzz. The imports have won. Union contract and pension costs have become an albatross around the domestic manufacturers’ necks.

Stop whining about unfair competition. You simply can’t compete any more.

Update - Sat. Nov. 26. I've been getting some nasty e-mail from readers - obviously union members who believe in everyone's inalienable right to permanent, high-paid employment. I'm not upset by this. As I've said before and continue to maintain, any response is a good thing. If I force readers to sit up, take notice and get involved in the discussion, then I have accomplished my goal.

Beyond the e-mail, much of which is so rife with grammatical and spelling errors as to be hilariously pathetic, the Free Press published a letter to the editor in todays paper. Here it is:

Auto workers only want decent living standard

Regarding the Ink Blog, Big Three, CAW running out of gas (Nov. 23).

Carmi Levy argues that it is our unwillingness to be "competitive" that has led to the current dilemma of North American automakers.

He is misguided. All unionized workers have ever asked for is a fair shake. That means fighting for liveable wages, adequate benefits and secure pensions, so that workers can raise a family, purchase a house, send their kids to school and retire comfortably. Is that too much to ask?

One of the main reasons Asian autoworkers cannot unionize and aspire to the standard of living we enjoy in the West is that unionization is banned in many Asian countries (China, especially). Is that the type of undemocratic society to which we should aspire?

Mike Hurley

1 comment:

rabsteen said...

indeed. such is the nature of our globalized world. your commentary is quite right--keen insight.