“Grass-Roots” Union With Ideas:
The Auto Workers: Something New in American Labor
The most impressive thing about the United Automobile Workers union is the spectacle it affords of ideas in live contact with power. The ideas are neither new nor thorough-going. The power with which they are connected is considerable, but it is not great. At most this power is held by less than two per cent of the wage and salary workers of this country, and about seven per cent of the organized labor movement.
Nevertheless, the feel of this power and the tang of these ideas in their enthusiastic conjuncture at the last UAW convention, held in Atlantic City in November, was impressive and stirring.
This conjuncture occurs in the midst of an ideological slump on the political front in general, and particularly among New York intellectuals. The failure of the democratic Left all over the world, especially in the American labor movement, testifies to the tragic split between the radical intellectual and the rank and file of organized labor. In this situation, the UAW’s show of ideas and power seems like something out of another, more youthful epoch. Cynics may see here only Detroit’s lag behind the New York intellectual’s sophisticated hopelessness, but there is much more to the UAW than an ideological lag.
About the Author