Strikers, Employers at General Motors Both Branded Ridiculous by Slichter
Each Side Making Unreasonable Demands Business School Professor Holds
The so-called strike at General Motors is not one strike, but a collection of strikes, some of which have been in progress many weeks and others of which have started only since about the turn of the year. Many of those strikes do not seem to have been called in any regular fashion by submitting the question to a secret ballot of Union members. In several plants a few employees seem to have started the strike by the "sit down" method, thus stopping the flow of work and preventing the rest of the plants from working. Apparently, this was true of the Fisher Body Company in Cleveland, the Fisher Body No. 1 and No. 2 at Flint, and several others. Consequently, no one knows how many of the employees who are out of work are really strikers and how many are simply deprived of work by the strikes. It is doubtful whether the Union itself has any idea as to how many real strikers there are even in the plants where spontaneous strikes have been started by some of the employees.
In response to the demand of the Union for a conference, Mr. Knudson, the Executive Vice President of General Motors, replied that collective bargaining must be met with the plant managers. This is ridiculous. Although it is a sound principle of industrial relations to settle all disputes as close to the source of the dispute as possible, there are many issues in every corporation which can be settled only by a conference with the top management. Furthermore, these issues are likely to be the very ones which are of the most concern to the workers Mr. John L. Lewis is correct when he said: "It is absurd for such a corporation to pretend that its policies are settled locally."
The Union has demanded that General Motors recognize it as the exclusive bargaining agency for all General Motors employees. This stand is just as ridiculous as the one which Mr. Knudson adopted. No one knows how many employees of General Motors wish to be represented through the Union. The Union itself does not know. In some plants of General Motors the Union membership is negligible, and it does not seem likely that the Union at present has enrolled half of the General Motors employees. In the course of time an exclusive bargaining agency may grow up in General Motors, but if this happens, the process should be one of natural growth and a minority organization should not be permitted by agreement with the employer to become the exclusive bargaining agency. Applied to industry at large, that principle would give employers altogether too much opportunity to decide who should represent their employees.
The immediate problem is to bring the parties together in negotiation. This means working out a mutually acceptable basis for conference. The company is demanding that the "sit down" strikers evacuate its plants before it negotiates with the Union The Union demands guarantees that the plants will not be operated or that the machinery be moved elsewhere. The company is probably glad to see a delay in striking negotiations because it believes that the real-strikers among its employees are relatively few and that prolonging the shutdown will make the strike and the Union unpopular with most of the employees. The Union leaders would probably welcome an opportunity to start negotiations at once because that would strengthen their prestige among the employees. Each side is gambling that continuance of the shutdown will strengthen its hand by showing that most of the employees are with it.
Sooner or later collective bargaining with independent unions is bound to become general in the automobile industry. In fact, it is already established in a rudimentary form in a large part of the industry. Automobile plants are peculiarly vulnerable to being shut down by the refusal of a relatively few employees to work. This is why the industry will find out sooner or later that sible labor organizations to protect its it needs trade agreements with respon-operations from interruptions