Well, I grew up in Detroit, and I know that these workers hated those jobs. Taylorism, even modified by union representation, was a miserable way to make a living.
That's why the UAW in 1970 got the Big Three automakers to agree to "30 and out" -- retirement after 30 years on the line with a generous pension. And that's why the UAW had to bargain for retiree medical benefits, because workers retiring at 50 were 15 years short of Medicare.
"The Company and the Union," William Serrin's fine book on the 1970 UAW strike, makes interesting reading now. Serrin argues that the UAW should have asked for more, because the companies would never go bankrupt. On that, he was clearly wrong.
But also he wondered why the union and company couldn't work together to make assembly-line work more creative and fulfilling. That struck me as nonsense at the time. But in retrospect, it's what the Japanese and other foreign auto companies were able to do.
In contrast, the UAW stuck to contesting the Taylorism Big Three managers clung to. And the then-new public employee unions -- like the National Education Association, led by Michigan teachers -- took the UAW as their model.
They would never allow management to speed up their work. Promotions and firing would be governed by seniority. They would never, ever allow merit pay.
This adversarial unionism assumed that management would always be Taylorite. But that has been increasingly untrue in the private sector and was never really true in the public sector.
As a result, non-union private-sector companies have thrived, while unionized companies have gone under. And public-sector unions, with their bought-and-paid-for politicians, have produced public-sector workforces that are unresponsive, unaccountable and impossibly expensive.
Countering Taylorism is an obsolete and unsustainable strategy. Union leaders need to realize that Frederick W. Taylor is dead.
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