Posts tagged 1980s Labor History

Final Offer

Sturla Gunnarsson and Robert Collison’s documentary on the 1984 contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers and General Motors.

This film, which you can stream online here, focuses on Bob White, president of the Canadian section of the UAW, and his attempts to get the rank and file Canadian members of his union on board with the deal he managed to agree with GM. White led the Canadian wing of the UAW out of the international union the following year to form the CAW, and Final Offer highlights many of the tensions between Canadian and American auto workers that led to this split.

The fundamental issue which divides Bob White and his Canadian members from UAW President Owen Bieber here is the traditional 3% annual raise in their hourly wage, but the underlying tensions within the UAW go back to the Automotive Products Agreement, known as the “Auto Pact,” agreed between the United States and Canada in 1965.

Under this treaty, Canada’s car industry based in southern Ontario towns like Oshawa, the setting for much of Final Offer, grew rapidly, but corporate control of Canada’s automotive assembly lines became much more centralized in the Detroit headquarters of the Big 3 car makers.

murdercycles:

 7/1/1987-Detroit, Michigan-  Teamsters  block a truck from entering DBD Distributors. 
Image by Bettmann
CORBIS

murdercycles:

 7/1/1987-Detroit, Michigan-  Teamsters  block a truck from entering DBD Distributors. 

Image by Bettmann

CORBIS

Cesar Chavez and California State Rep. Maxine Waters alongside General Motors employees at the Van Nuys Assembly plant in 1983. The Van Nuys workers had a rocky relationship with GM in the late 1970s and early 1980s, responding angrily to the company’s attempts to increase productivity. GM closed the plant in 1992.
Photo via LA Observed

Cesar Chavez and California State Rep. Maxine Waters alongside General Motors employees at the Van Nuys Assembly plant in 1983. The Van Nuys workers had a rocky relationship with GM in the late 1970s and early 1980s, responding angrily to the company’s attempts to increase productivity. GM closed the plant in 1992.

Photo via LA Observed

You can’t promise the people better wages and benefits because they already have better wages and benefits," [Bob] Wright said. "So, you have to try to sell them job security. You have to get them to understand that a handbook is not the same thing as a binding contract, that what the company gives you in one handbook it can take away in another.

"Powder River Basin Mines Try To Best Union At Benefits Game," Warren Brown, The Washington Post, 1 July, 1981, Section A2

Wright, a United Mine Workers organizer in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, explained to The Washington Post the difficulties of attempting to organize coal miners working in Wyoming’s huge surface mines, who were paid an average of a dollar or two an hour more than their unionized counterparts.

After the 1977-78 national coal strike, where the United Mine Workers membership rejected several versions of a nationwide contract between the UMW and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association before finally ratifying an agreement, America’s coal companies began mining a larger and larger percentage of coal in the western surface mines of Wyoming, where the UMW lacked support. As Bob Wright pointed out, many of the Wyoming miners were midwestern transplants who had moved west in the midst of the deep recession of the early 1980s. The coal companies could afford to pay these miners better wages and offer decent benefits because they weren’t tied to union contract conditions such as the tradition of keeping Sundays a holiday. The UMW eventually conceded Sundays off, among other givebacks, in negotiations later that decade.

Mine War on Blackberry Creek

Anne Lewis’ documentary on the long, bitter strike in 1984-85 by the United Mine Workers against the A.T. Massey company (later Massey Energy) over the coal company’s refusal to bargain with the union through the established Bituminous Coal Operators’ Association. Don Blankenship, then head of A.T. Massey subsidiary Rawl Sales, makes an early appearance here.