From International Socialism (1st series), No.20, Spring 1965, p.29.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Collective Bargaining in the Automobile Industry
Robert M. MacDonald
Yale University Press, 63s.
Within its narrow limits this is a very useful book. MacDonald presents a deal of carefully sifted material on the wage structure of the US auto industry, especially with reference to the impact of the UAW. Because of the limits of his study, there is no discussion of the many issues that are vitally concerning US auto workers at present: automation, unemployment, speed-up, long-term contracts, the alienation of rank-and-file from the union leadership, etc. So, while he highlights the increasing importance of fringe benefits in the worker’s wage, there is no account of the extent to which fringes substitute for part of the wagepacket, rather than representing an addition to the worker’s share of the product. Fringes can be realistically viewed as merely a method in the change of wage-payment, whose effect is to reduce the freedom of the worker. MacDonald convincingly argues that the union’s impact in this area has been considerably less than it likes to claim – management likes fringes, after all! The union has effectively reduced differentials among skilled and production workers, but between these two groups differentials have increased. There is an interesting account of the conflicts between skilled and production groups within the UAW, and the decline of the principle of ‘industrial unionism’ consequent on the growing relative strength of the skilled group in the industry and the union. Of particular interest, though, is the section on ‘competitive relations’ (Chs.6 & 7) where MacDonald demonstrates how the union gained less from the larger and more profitable companies (GM, in particular) than it did for its members in the smaller ‘independents’ (Studebaker, etc.). This he rightly attributes to the greater class-consciousness and forward planning of the GM management, in resisting union encroachment, weakening ‘unofficial’ movements (here with the active connivance of Reuther), and so on. The study is openly oriented towards managerial norms, but without the smokescreen of idealistic brouhaha that is so characteristic of much writing in this field. Thus he evaluates managerial performance in terms of market-success rather than ‘good human relations’ with a refreshing and astringent brutality. In short, a model of scrupulous analysis, regrettably limited in its scope.
Last updated: 14 April 2010