The strike by Canadian auto workers against General Motors Corp. validates the predictions of industry analysts who said the automaker wasn't likely to reach agreements with its labor unions as neatly as did Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. That's because GM was not in a position to do so, which isn't a positive testimonial to its management.
For more than a decade, Ford and Chrysler effectively have managed to cut operating costs by reducing inventory, eliminating parts manufacturing and stabilizing their work forces. While unions understandably view the move to parts outsourcing as menacing, labor leaders also understand the nature of the international marketplace. In places like Tijuana, Mexico, the minimum wage is only $2.90 a day. So the United Auto Workers pragmatically opted to work with Ford and Chrysler management by following a practice of enlightened self-interest.
GM - in sales the world's largest industrial firm - has not been nearly so nimble in dealing with its labor unions and suppliers in the United States or Canada. It has a reputation for corporate arrogance, excess and narrow thinking, a combination guaranteed to produce confrontation over compromise. Perceived challenges to the company's authority typically merit a strong response.
Given that part of the Canadian auto workers bargaining strategy is to force shutdowns at GM plants in the United States, GM doesn't necessarily see the strike as a bad thing. It will use the down time to help sell part of its inventory of new vehicles.
Serious bargaining is not expected to take place at least until the end of the month. That perception is underscored by the behavior of the union and company during the past several weeks. Neither side has given any indication of feeling that the timing is appropriate to expend much energy at the bargaining table.
Such tactics will change once GM, which has stockpiled parts, and the union calculate that the strike is nearing the point of diminishing returns. Unfortunately, some plastics suppliers - whose workers will not receive supplemental pay benefits when the labor dispute closes their plants - will reach the end of the road much sooner.
You wonder whether anyone feels their pain.