LAS VEGAS - United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger on Monday challenged his union to battle against corporations that declare bankruptcy and export jobs, and he singled out the Bush administration as a major political foe.
In his speech to hundreds of delegates at the UAW's 34th convention at the MGM Grand Hotel, Mr. Gettelfinger also warned of difficult times ahead as the union fights to preserve a middle-class lifestyle won over the past 70 years.
Mr. Gettelfinger said some people in management and some industry analysts believe the UAW is not up to the fight.
"They think we've run out of gas intellectually and emotionally, that we've lost our will, our creativity and our nerve. Some even question our solidarity. We'll, we've got news for them!" he said.
Mr. Gettelfinger said the decline of the Big Three automakers and the rise of their Japanese competitors means the union must accept big changes in its approach to health insurance and other contract issues.
The challenges facing General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group are greater than earlier crises, including Chrysler's escape from bankruptcy in the late 1970s, the recession of the early 1980s and GM's record losses in 1992, Mr. Gettelfinger said.
Non-union U.S.-based auto plants made 1.1 million more vehicles in 2005 than they did in 2001, while unionized plants fell 1.1 million, he said.
He said U.S. labor laws heavily favor management and allow employers, such as Japanese automakers that have opened plants in this country, to intimidate workers seeking to unionize.
He called for universal health care to level the playing field between U.S. and foreign automakers, which do not yet have significant retiree health costs.