Belmont Club

As the World Turns

In 1970 the Supremes performed their last concert in Las Vegas. Three members of the Weather underground died when a bomb intended for a military dance exploded in Greenwich Village. The Concorde made its first flight. Apollo 13 landed safely in the Pacific. The EPA was founded. It was also as NPR recalls, the year the UAW struck against General Motors. The world in 1970 was a different place.

In 1970, General Motors was the biggest automaker and the largest employer in the world. The 1973 oil crisis was years away, as was the threat from low-cost Japanese automakers. GM, along with Ford and Chrysler, could barely keep up with demand.

The UAW, meanwhile, was enjoying a Golden Age. Its membership was growing, with 400,000 workers at GM alone, as was its political clout. It was big labor at its most muscular, and strikes were common. That same year, more than 2 million American workers in various industries walked off the job.

GM had deep enough coffers to weather a two-month strike and the UAW turned to the powerful Teamsters Union for financial support. In the end, the union prevailed, winning a 13 percent pay raise and other concessions.

By 2009 the world had changed. General Motors had filed under Chapter 11. The government owned 27% of what was once the mightiest company in the world. Its sales, which had been continuously plumetting since 2000, fell 30 percent that year. The UAW was also a shadow of its former self. From a high of 1.5 million members it had declined to an active membership of 390,000 with 600,000 retired members covered by pension and medical care plans. Detroit itself, once the industrial workshop of America, was literally reverting to weeds.

What happens in the next 40 years?

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