Why the GM Strike Makes Sense


GM strike makes sense to me. The key issue for the union, quite properly,

is the jobs of its members. The last time the UAW went on national strike, in

1970, it had 400,000 members; now, it has 73,000. It has failed to prevent the

loss of over 300,000 jobs, even as GM has been creating new jobs overseas. So

despite coming to an agreement on the crucial healthcare issue, GM wants to

be able to reduce its US workforce even further, and it’s hard to see how it

would be in the union’s interest to allow that to happen.

Note that this strike is not about pay, and not about benefits:

it’s about job security. So I’m puzzled when Matt Cooper says

that inflation hawks "will look at any settlement as pressure on prices".

They won’t, for two big reasons.

Firstly, GM does not have pricing power. It competes against Japanese manufacturers

who are perceived by the public as being higher quality than GM’s offerings.

If GM tries to charge significantly more than Honda and Toyota, it simply won’t

sell cars.

Secondly, a settlement would not imply higher car prices anyway, and neither

would it imply higher unit labor costs. The outcome of this strike will affect

one big thing: where the extra marginal dollar of GM revenue goes. Now Matt

might like to see that money to GM’s shareholders; personally, I’d rather see

it go to GM’s workers. But either way, the net effect on inflation is the same.

And in general, wage inflation is a good thing, if price inflation

remains controlled: it means people are being paid more money, in both nominal

and real terms. This strike might be a big deal for GM, but it has very little

in the way of macroecnomic consequences.

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