The clearest fact arising from the United Rubber Workers merger with the United Steelworkers of America is this: The URW joined out of weakness, not strength.
Many things will change in URW member-management relations because of the union. But the basic problem for the Rubber Workers, and unions in general, remains. The union movement is in retreat.
The Steelworkers will be hard-pressed to deliver anything of substance to the former URW members.
The USWA plans to jump into the fray against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., which for all intents and purposes, has crushed the union at five tire and rubber plants. The Steelworkers will continue the boycott against Bridgestone products, and plan to take the fight to the Japanese company's home turf.
From the union's point of view, taking on Bridgestone is a good idea. If the USWA could reverse the URW's defeat, it would show new and potential members it has the clout to back up its rhetoric.
The USWA's chance of winning against Bridgestone? Virtually none.
Ken Coss, former URW president and now a USWA executive, said the union will conduct ``a concerted, widespread, well-financed'' effort to explain to the Japanese people what Bridgestone is up to. ``Just about everything they're doing to American workers is considered immoral or illegal in Japan,'' he said.
Who's to say the Japanese would consider that a bad thing? American workers care only about their own fortunes, and, likewise, the Japanese primarily are concerned about themselves. If the Japanese thought otherwise, they'd buy more U.S.-made goods to improve relations with this country. And they don't.
The Steelworkers would better serve its new members by preparing for future battles with the other tire companies. No manufacturer will sit still when its competitor becomes the low-cost producer because of labor concessions. A war is looming in the tire sector.
Open season is about to begin on URW contracts with non-tire companies, too. That's because the benchmark for all rubber industry wages-the URW pattern contract with the major tire makers-is pretty much dead. The companies that negotiate the hardest will end up with the best cost structure for labor.
It will be no surprise if the average wage for a rubber worker, at non-union as well as union shops, stagnates or even falls in the coming years.