GM Never Surrendered: Antiunion Politics on Auto Industry Shop Floors during the 1960s
The organizing victories of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) in the automobile factories of the 1930s and 1940s heralded major working-class wins over employers’ antiunion practices during the early-to-mid twentieth century. Autoworkers’ triumphs in Flint, Detroit, and Dearborn, at the large factories of General Motors, the Ford Motor Company, and the Chrysler Corporation signaled a high water mark for organized labor and pointed to a momentous break with the past, as organized workers had now imposed on industrial employers a new balance of power and a new semblance of democracy in what were now unionized plants. Labor and working-class historians’ master narratives of the labor movement in the twentieth-century auto industry most frequently consider the theme of antiunion measures as a set of wrongs that reside in the industry’s brutal past and were significantly checked by unionization from below. However, this paper peers behind the doors of the unionized shop in an effort to highlight some of the ongoing, everyday presence of antiunion culture and its forms in auto industry workplaces, including the UAW’s main base of strength: Michigan. This paper focuses on 2 factories in the GM system – General Motors’ Pontiac division plant in Pontiac, Michigan; and the Chevrolet Van Nuys, California, plant in the 1960s. As post-World War II conflicts at Pontiac and Van Nuys over managers’ treatment of committeemen and their handling of bulletin boards for the union reveal, antiunion politics and culture on auto industry shop floors outlasted the labor wars of the 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps General Motors never surrendered: The shop floors of unionized auto plants continued to be battlegrounds over the status and presence of organized labor, as a selection of post-World War II National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cases and surviving UAW records demonstrate.