The United Auto Workers (UAW) was a primordial struggle of David against Goliath. This triggered deep-rooted tropes: fat cat, Scrooge-y bosses versus noble, underpaid workers.
The recent strike is just one pendulum swing in a long struggle. For decades, unions have lost. Membership collapsedand support waned.
It took decades for the image of the labor movement to recover, but it has managed to recover. Last August, a Gallup poll found that 71 percent of Americans approve of unions, the highest percentage since 1965. The question facing the UAW is: How can it extend its economic and perceptual victory to maintain its momentum?
On the other hand, how can the automobile industry construct a discourse around the concessions it has just made? This may begin a process of making the American public – especially young car buyers of the future – less willing to hate the auto industrial complex.
The road ahead will be difficult. Americans have always had a love-hate relationship with automakers — and that feeling hasn’t gotten any better.
Cost is one reason. As analysts noted, new cars are aimed at wealthy people – and less affluent consumers have turned to the used car market or don’t own a car. If you can’t afford the industry’s cars, then it’s hard to love the industry.
Despite this reality, during the strike the auto industry’s response was an uninspiring combination of offense (attacking UAW leader Shawn Fain for challenging unwritten labor rules) and argumentative defense. .
Automakers need a jiu-jitsu step
Now that the UAW is poised to ratify the agreement, the industry should seize the opportunity and elevate the agreement to the level of a declaration of how much it respects and honors autoworkers – bartering their predictable corporate bluster versus a surprisingly human response.
Their message should focus on two key audiences: young consumers and people who already own their cars. The data shows that more than half of car owners would prefer to buy from the company they bought from before.
To build those relationships, Detroit should praise the strikers for doing what they thought was right and standing up for what they believed in – an unexpected but necessary jiu-jitsu move.
Automakers should also speak with pride about the significant wage increases they have conceded. “We are proud to support the skilled women and men who make incredible cars right here in America. »
Most Americans would be happy to receive an increase of this magnitude and, with proper framing, would be happy for UAW members to get it. These companies are losing revenue anyway – they should gain credibility.
The industry should also remind the American public of the middle class that its companies, in partnership with unions, have built, citing objective third parties.
Of course, each automaker will have to tell this story in their own way, powered by this narrative framework.
The union can now move on
During the strike, the UAW got caught up in its usual rhetoric about corporate greed and non-living wages. Sean Fain loves wearing his “Eat the rich” T-shirt – but the data shows that “support for redistributive policies tends to be low.”
Fain must move beyond his oppositional position and seize this moment to leave divisions behind him. This is an opportunity to strategically tie the union’s success to America’s “Great Rebalancing.” Wherever you look, power is decentralizing at the top: employees are demanding remote work. Unions organize themselves Amazon And Starbucks. Hollywood actors are on strike. The children are sue the energy giants. Millions of people are standing up for social and climate justice.
Deals with automakers should fuel this narrative: “We did our part in taking on the Big Three, which is why more than half of Americans support us.” Our country is changing and the UAW respects leadership that is responsive to this new reality.
In short, position the union as a culture changer. Let’s declare that the fight for higher wages, work-life balance, and a shorter work week is not just the fight of auto workers, it’s everyone’s fight. Remind people of what history has shown: “When we fight for ourselves, You are more likely to get what You to want.”
These new narratives will enable both sides to move beyond divisions and achieve unity. The industry can take credit for its concessions and the union links its success to broader social forces. America wants it and needs it. Vicious political debates have triggered a widespread chronic polarization fatigue syndrome.
Yes, it’s easier said than done. It’s difficult for the UAW and the Big Three to achieve this because their leadership grew up in an “us versus them” environment. Today, it is time to replace these calcified discourses with consensual thinking.
Adam Hanft is a brand strategist who advises Fortune 500 companies, some of the world’s most innovative startups and global leaders.
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