The then President of the UAW's resignation letter from the Labor Management Group. The letter outlines his disappointment with the group and rejects the strategy of collaboration. But it also reflects on the then contemporary class struggle and outlines the growing tensions between major corporations and the labor movement.
July 17, 1978
Dear Labor-Management Group Member:
I deeply regret that it was necessary to cancel the meeting of the Labor- Management Group scheduled for July 19. It was my intention to tell you personally at that meeting what I must now convey in this letter, because the Group is not planning to meet again until late September. I have come to the reluctant conclusion that my participation in the Labor- Management Group cannot continue. I am therefore resigning from the Group as of July 19. You are entitled to know why I take this action and you should understand that I have the highest regard for John Dunlop, my colleagues on the labor side and, as individuals, those who represent the corporate elite in the Group.
Attractive as the personalities may be, we all sit in a representative capacity. I have concluded that participation in these meetings is no longer useful to me or to the 1.5 million workers I represent as president of the UAW. I believe leaders of the business community, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in this country—a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society. The leaders of industry, commerce and finance in the United States have broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a past period of growth and progress.
For a considerable time, the leaders of business and labor have sat at the Labor-Management Group's table—recognizing differences, but seeking consensus where it existed. That worked because the business community in the U.S. succeeded in advocating a general loyalty to an allegedly benign capitalism that emphasized private property, independence and self-regulation along with an allegiance to free, democratic politics.
That system has worked best, of course, for the "haves" in our society rather than the "have-nots." Yet it survived in part because of an unspoken foundation: that when things got bad enough for a segment of society, the business elite "gave" a little bit—enabling government or interest groups to better conditions somewhat for that segment. That give usually came only after sustained struggle, such as that waged by the labor movement in the 1930's and the civil rights movement in the 1960's.
The acceptance of the labor movement, such as it has been, came because business feared the alternatives. Corporate America didn't join the fight to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act, but it eventually accepted the inevitability of that legislation. Other similar pieces of legislation aimed at the human needs of the disadvantaged have become national policy only after real struggle.
This system is not as it should be, yet progress has been made under it. But today, I am convinced there has been a shift on the part of the business community toward confrontation, rather than cooperation. Now, business groups are tightening their control over American society. As that grip tightens, it is the "have-nots" who are squeezed.
The latest breakdown in our relationship is also perhaps the most serious. The fight waged by the business community against that Labor Law Reform bill stands as the most vicious, unfair attack upon the labor movement in more than 30 years. Corporate leaders knew it was not the "power grab by Big Labor" that they portrayed it to be. Instead, it became an extremely moderate, fair piece of legislation that only corporate outlaws would have had need to fear. Labor law reform itself would not have organized a single worker. Rather, it would have begun to limit the ability of certain rogue employers to keep workers from choosing democratically to be represented by unions through employer delay and outright violation of existing labor law.
I know that some of the business representatives in the Group argued inside the Business Roundtable for neutrality. But having lost, they helped to bankroll (through the Roundtable and other organizations) the dishonest and ugly multimillion dollar campaign against labor law reform. In that effort, the business representatives in the Group were allied with groups such as the Committee to defeat the Union Bosses, the Committee for a Union Free Environment, the Right-to-Work Committee, the Americans Against Union Control of Government and such individuals as R. Heath Larry, Richard Lesher and Orrin Hatch.
The new flexing of business muscle can be seen in many other areas. The rise of multinational corporations that know neither patriotism nor morality but only self-interest, has made accountability almost non-existent. At virtually every level, I discern a demand by business for docile government and unrestrained corporate individualism. Where industry once yearned for subservient unions, it now wants no unions at all.
General Motors Corp. is a specific case in point. GM, the largest manufacturing corporation in the world, has received responsibility, productivity and cooperation from the UAW and its members. In return, GM has given us a Southern strategy designed to set-up a non-union network that threatens the hard-fought gains won by the UAW. We have given stability and have been rewarded with hostility. Overseas, it is the same. General Motors not only invests heavily in South Africa, it refuses to recognize the black unions there. My message should be very clear: if corporations like General Motors want confrontation, they cannot expect cooperation in return from labor.
There are many other examples of the new class war being waged by business. Everyone in the Group knows there is no chance the business elite will join the fight for national health insurance or even remain neutral, despite the fact that the U.S. is the only industrial country in the world, except for South Africa, without it. We are presently locked in battle with corporate interests on the Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill. We were at odds on improvements in the minimum wage, on Social Security financing, and virtually every other piece of legislation presented to the Congress recently.
Business blames inflation on workers, the poor, the consumer and uses it as a club against them. Price hikes and profit increases are ignored while corporate representatives tell us we can't afford to stop killing and maiming workers in unsafe factories. They tell us we must postpone moderate increases in the minimum wage for those whose labor earns so little they can barely survive.
Our tax laws are a scandal, yet corporate America wants even wider inequities. If people truly understood, they would choose not Proposition 13's, but rather an overhaul of the tax system to make business and the rich pay their fair share. The wealthy seek not to close loopholes, but to widen them by advocating the capital gains tax rollback that will bring them a huge bonanza. Even the very foundations of America's democratic process are threatened by the new approach of the business elite. No democratic country in the world has lower rates of voter participation than the U.S., except Botswana. Moreover, our voting participation is class-skewed—about 50 percent more of the affluent vote than workers and 90 percent to 300 percent more of the rich vote than the poor, the black, the young and the Hispanic. Yet business groups regularly finance politicians, referenda and legislative battles to continue barriers to citizen participation in elections. In Ohio, for example, many corporations in the Fortune 500 furnished the money to repeal fair and democratic voter registration.
Even if all the barriers to such participation were removed, there would be no rush to the polls by so many in our society who feel the sense of helplessness and inability to affect the system in any way. The Republican Party remains controlled by and the Democratic Party heavily influenced by business interests. The reality is that both are weak and ineffective as parties, with no visible, clear-cut ideological differences between them, because of business domination. Corporate America has more to lose by the tum off of citizens from the system than organized labor. But it is always the latter that fights to encourage participation and the former that works to stifle it.
For all these reasons, I have concluded there is no point to continue sitting down at Labor-Management Group meetings and philosophizing about the future of the country and the world when we on the labor side have so little in common with those across the table. I cannot sit there seeking unity with the leaders of American industry, while they try to destroy us and ruin the lives of the people I represent.
I would rather sit with the rural poor, the desperate children of urban blight, the victims of racism, and working people seeking a better life than with those whose religion is the status quo, whose goal is profit and whose hearts are cold. We in the UAW intend to reforge the links with those who believe in struggle: the kind of people who sat-down in the factories in the 1930's and who marched in Selma in the 1960's.
I cannot assure you that we will be successful in making new alliances and forming new coalitions to help our nation find its way. But I can assure you that we will try.
Douglas A. Fraser
Originally hosted on History is a Weapon.
1: The Labour Management Group was a class collaboration organization set up by President Carter to bring the American business community and the leadership of the AFL-CIO and other major unions like the UAW together to work out mutually beneficial policies for both American Capital and American Labor. An impossible task, and it soon broke down completely. Indeed this public resignation seems to have been the only noteworthy episode in its existence.