In the grand scheme of things, the latest installment of the UAW-GM battle has the makings of this fall's Army-Navy football game—a match between two ancient powers whose rivalry once dominated the headlines but who now play a largely symbolic role. GM and UAW—the largest American manufacturing enterprise and the nation's largest manufacturing union—brawled in bloody 1930s battles and ultimately reached an accommodation that led to a golden age. But GM and the UAW matter less and less to the U.S. economy, and the U.S. economy matters less and less to GM.
Both GM and the UAW will argue that the outcome of these contract talks is vital to the future of the U.S. auto industry. But the subject of the talks—the creation of a trust to guarantee health benefits for retirees and workers, the union's desire for job security commitments, and GM's demands for significant cost reductions so it can compete in the United States—prove that the showdown is really about the past.