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An auto union history (Part II of II)

The most popular auto industry union is the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union. Founded initially in the 1930s as part of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, UAW grew quickly between 1936 and the 1950s. It held a strong position in the Democratic party and to this day still champions the desires and positions of many autoworkers throughout the country. In 1936 UAW held a sit-down strike at a GM plant in Atlanta and later in Flint, Michigan. The strike ended after Michigan Governor Frank Murphy mediated and negotiated an agreement between the UAW and GM. Later, the UAW targeted Ford whose manager, Harry Bennett, at the time used brute tactics to resist unionization. A collective bargaining agreement was eventually met come 1941.

The 1970s were a fascinating time for the auto sector at large. European and Japanese competition really began to heat up and once Volkswagen, Honda and others arrived stateside, they began to gravitate towards the south where they could operate with greater liberty, and without unions. The oil embargo of 1973 but stress on fuel prices which resulted in ripple effects on auto manufacturers. Layoffs ensued and many of the benefits unions had previously bargained for and achieved were wiped out.

Membership in the UAW hit a peak in 1979 with 1.5 million folks. By 2006 this had plummeted however to 540,000. The mid to late 2000s were then riddled with challenges recession, auto industrycrisis of 2008 10, Chapter 11 reorganizations (GM and Chrysler).Membership dipped even further to 390,000 in 2010, but the bright news, at least for the UAW, is they were widely considered to be key players in the overall industry rebound. Since then the UAW has tried several tactics to increase membership. Organizing employees outside of the Big 3 U.S. auto companies has been one strategy, and they nearly scored an impressive goal in 2014 with workers at Volkswagens Tennessee plant. The vote came down 712 to 626 in favor of not unionizing. But the UAW responded by setting up an informal union, free of dues, which still managed to wield an impressive amount of influence.

As of late the UAW has had to keep innovating in order to keep membership from further decline. Via similar unions, they have branched out into organizing employees in academia as well as writers. The union road hasnt been paved with gold over the 21stcentury but this is a fascinating piece of American history that continues to be relevant today. Quite a run for the UAW.

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