Doug Henwood: What’s the likelihood that GM, Ford, Chrysler — all running low on cash, they’re talking about having only a couple of months of money left to keep going — they could enter bankruptcy, wipe out a bunch of their debts, and break those contracts? It could be the effective end of the UAW. Isn’t this a real possibility?
Dan La Botz: I think it is. I think it’s a really very dangerous possibility. . . . I was struck by Mitt Romney’s essay in the New York Times a couple of days ago, when he says, let them go bankrupt, let these companies go bankrupt: of course, that’s exactly what they want — that is, people in the management, economic, political conservatives, wanna see this bankruptcy take place, so the bankruptcy can be used as a whip to break these contracts, lower wages, get rid of the union altogether perhaps, as you’re suggesting. I think that is a very real danger — that bankruptcy could be used to wipe out the union. The union should be defended against that. People should join to defend the UAW from having that happen, because unions play such an important role in society. Those better organized sectors of workers, they do represent a certain benchmark, they do establish a certain pattern, they represent a goal to aim for for other workers, they represent a certain liberated area sometimes in terms of the workplace where they may be able to establish decent conditions that might not exist in other workplaces. Unions have played such a key role in democratizing our society. They’ve been such a factor in many social movements in the past. So, to see unions destroyed, and destroyed really in the heartland of the industrial labor movement, in the UAW, would be a terrible thing.
Dan La Botz is a Cincinnati-based teacher, writer, and activist. He is the author of Rank-and-File Rebellion: Teamsters for a Democratic Union (1990), Mask of Democracy: Labor Suppression in Mexico Today (1992), and Democracy in Mexico: Peasant Rebellion and Political Reform (1995), and Made in Indonesia: Indonesian Workers Since Suharto. Doug Henwood, editor of Left Business Observer, is the author of Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom and After the New Economy. This interview was broadcast by WBAI on 20 November 2008. The text above is a partial transcript of the interview. See, also, “What’s to Be Done about the Auto Industry?” (MRZine, 18 November 2008).