CAN I SELL YOU A NEW CAR TODAY?
I woke up this morning to the startling news that I will likely become a part owner of the Chrysler Corporation, thanks to the curious fact that National Writers Union, to which I belong, is Local 1981 of the UAW, apparently slated to become the majority shareholder of the company.
Another sign of the strange and wondrous times in which we live.
Especially so for a guy who grew up riding in a 1936, 1941 and 1946 Plymouth, a 1945 surplus Army Dodge personnel carrier (in which I learned to drive at 14 - complete with double clutching), a 1947 Chrysler and a 1951 DeSoto finally abandoned when one of its wheels fell off on some highway. I carried on the family tradition with my own 1985 Plymouth minivan (a sister car is now in the Museum of American History) and its 1993 successor.
I have no idea of whether this is a good deal or not and I doubt, despite the aforementioned extensive company experience, they'll consult with me on it, but I'm delighted to find the concept of union ownership finally considered worth discussing and that the UAW has moved so swiftly from a social status somewhat beneath Bernie Madoff to representation in the board room.
Much of the public and media treatment of auto workers in the recent crisis has been disgusting. These are the folks who helped build an America in which 21st century liberals could sit in front of their 52" flat screen TV complaining about workers' health benefits and never raise a finger for single payer.
All you have to do is look at the economic improvement in the life of ordinary Americans in the fifty years before 1980, in which unions played no small part, compared to the forty years since to recognize that the viral anti-union rhetoric in the media and elsewhere is just more of the rightwing economics that have led us to our current miserable state.
Which is not to say that union leaders haven't botched their role badly. Like other forms of power they have regularly shortchanged and abused those whom they were supposed to represent.
Even more important, perhaps, they have shown little imagination as times have changed.
For example, while there has been some effort to create a complimentary organization for non-unionized workers, this has been pretty weak, which is one reason non union workers lack the power of members, says, of the AARP or NRA. In the end the solidarity should be between workers, not just amongst the unionized.
Another problem has been a long antipathy towards union ownership participation. Because of labor's history, it has been assumed that management and workers would forever live in two separate worlds. This, however, is not true in many cooperatives (a concept as little mentioned by the media as worker ownership) or in many business in Europe and elsewhere. And how could the original dreams of the union movement ever be realized if workers could never reach the board table?
One doesn't has to agree with the specifics of the Chrysler deal to recognize its importance and the importance of that seldom heard phrase that bears great repetition: worker ownership.