Advances in Industrial & Labor Relations

ISBN: 978-0-76231-028-9, eISBN: 978-1-84950-215-3

ISSN: 0742-6186

Publication date: 4 July 2003


JoAnn Wypijewski, reflecting on the experience of workers laid off from General Electric’s (GE) Bloomington, Indiana refrigerator plant, as GE announced profits of $12.7 billion, and the relocation of half the production to Celaya, Mexico, asks: What will it take to match fire with fire at GE, not just in Bloomington but everywhere? Twenty years ago, Jack Welch openly articulated a strategy for taking the company to where it is today. The GE unions never developed a parallel strategy, and 100,000 lost jobs later, most of them still haven’t shed their faith in what the AFL-CIO likes to call “high-road capitalism.” During the 2000 national contract talks, Robert Thayer, the Machinists’ representative to the CBC, was trying to convince the company to agree not to interfere in future unionization drives, arguing that a “contract is a partnership, not a hindrance.” To which the company coolly asserted, “GE has never been neutral and doesn’t intend to be neutral” (Wypijewski, 2001, p. 22).GE has become an icon of global capital mobility and union avoidance. However, GE’s current capacities can be traced back to a long term, explicit strategy of corporate reorganization initiated in the 1940s. At that time GE was a vertically integrated manufacturing conglomerate, based in a series of huge, northern U.S. plants, organized at extremely high density by the left and militant UE. In the sixty years since, GE has transformed itself into a networked and globalized conglomerate, whose manufacturing capacity has been relocated endlessly, first into smaller U.S. greenfield sites and then increasingly overseas, decimating U.S. union density, and replacing UE with a patchwork of AFL-CIO affiliates that have embraced a far more conservative and limited vision of unionism. U.S. labor has been unable to halt this transformation.


Borgers, F. (2003), "CAPITAL MOBILITY AND THE SOCIAL ACCORD: A CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF THE GE COORDINATED BARGAINING COMMITTEE", Advances in Industrial & Labor Relations (Advances in Industrial & Labor Relations, Vol. 12), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 73-114.

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