A look back at a time when 'forced' overtime was a labor issue.
Note: This editorial is from the Sept. 3, 1973, edition of the Minneapolis Tribune:
There's nothing new about "blue-collar blues" in the auto industry, or in many other American industries, for that matter. They are the result of work that is boring, monotonous, stiflingly rigid; some of it done in filthy and unsafe conditions.
Sometimes the blues turn sour and strife and strikes result. Such was the case in 1972 at the then-new, super-modern General Motors auto assembly plant at Lordstown, Ohio, and at two Chrysler plants in Detroit last month. The rebellious mood that has been swirling up among some of the younger industrial workers is shaking both factory management and union leadership.
Now, for the first time in the history of the American auto industry, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) are putting the quality of workers' lives ahead of wage demands in their current contract negotiations with the Chrysler Corp. The union in the past has talked about such things, but then gone on to settle for money. This time, it appears that they mean business; the quality-of-life issue is very much on the table.
What the UAW is saying to Chrysler, the target company for the 1973 round, is that if Chrysler does not yield to its demands for voluntary overtime, early retirement ("30 years and out") and improved health and safety conditions, Chrysler faces the prospect of a strike when the present three-year contract expires on Sept. 14.
The voluntary overtime demand is a touchy one. Auto workers complain that their personal lives are being seriously circumscribed by the auto companies' forced-overtime requirement, especially so this year when many plants have been operating seven days a week. Chrysler and the other auto companies argue that mandatory overtime is essential to meet production goals. They fear that if a voluntary overtime provision is written into the contract, workers might refuse overtime and tie up production.
Where the negotiations will lead is anyone's guess this Labor Day. A strike in the automobile industry or an inflationary wage settlement is the last thing the Nixon administration wants as it struggles through Phase IV of its battle against inflation. Some of the UAW's locals are more interested in big wage hikes than the union leadership's non-economic demands, but the leadership is sticking to its guns. In the words of Leonard Woodcock, UAW president: "We are challenging, in effect, whether human beings exist for the sake of production and profit, or whether we are engaged in production for the sake of human beings."
Efforts to involve workers in ways to humanize their labor are relatively new in the United States. Two or three years ago, they were almost unheard of. But now a number of American companies are encouraging employees to influence their working environment, and some even are giving increased power and freedom to lower-level employees in an effort to diffuse -- or democratize -- decisionmaking throughout the organization. In general, though, there is still only limited interest in industrial democracy, as such, in this country.
The situation, however, is very different in Western Europe, where there is -- and has been for some years -- a widespread effort to deal with workers' blues. Specifically, there is a well-established movement to modify or abolish authoritarianism in industry and to replace it by some form of democracy. Although the reforms being promoted vary from country to country, they have one point in common: the transfer of decisionmaking power to employees.
Perhaps it is the first tremors of this movement that are now being felt in the United States.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.