Monday, September 24, 2007

UAW on strike in Lansing

UAW Strikers
Originally uploaded by Apocaplops
As of 11 this morning the United Auto Workers went on strike from General Motors facilities. Anyone who has been in Lansing for any period of time knows that the city is tied indelibly to General Motors, and as a result the UAW. For many years it was GM and the UAW that provided a living wage to the area residents, and to a large extent this is still the case. Of course, General Motors has fallen on hard times, and as a result, Lansing and its citizens have felt the pain.

I decided to go out and take a few photos of the people directly affected by this strike, so of course I reached for my digital camera. As happens often, the batteries were completely dead and I reached for a few more reliable, if antiquated, pieces of equipment: Olympus XA, Konica I, and Polaroid SX-70. It is, of course, the Polaroid you see here - more later when I get the 35mm film developed.

It was odd, me using a Konica from 1952 to photograph an organized strike. An old rangefinder has been the camera to use for journalistic photography since about World War II. I realized that a lot of what the UAW fights to preserve are the values that went into the making of my old Konica. High level of quality, hand-crafted precision, these are qualities that have since been replaced by automated manufacturing processes, cost-saving materials, and overseas construction and assembly. There is no way you could build a camera like the Konica today, things just aren't made that way anymore. What was once done by skilled labor with metal is now done by computer and robot with plastic.

It's much too late to turn that boat around, as the UAW and its members long ago realized. The media has reported that this strike is about retiree benefits, but the real meat of the matter has to be long term job security. These workers are rightly concerned about staying employed, as they have watched countless coworkers sent packing in the last couple decades, their jobs replaced in foreign countries by fewer workers, paid less.

It's not a problem I can solve, but I do support the UAW and its members. Nobody wants the strike to last forever, and people wrongly blame the union for GM's downward spiral. As one of the strikers put it, "I'd love to see GM make a billion dollars next quarter." These people don't want the moon, they want a reasonable compromise that makes sure both parties can stay afloat in difficult waters.

As a note about the photography, most of the strikers seemed upbeat and eager to talk and have their photos taken. From my experience the early hours of the strike are when people feel the most optimistic and free to cooperate, if you're inclined to take photos. A digital SLR would probably be the best for this kind of photography, but any "normal" lens will do, and just work with what you've got. Don't try to get people to pose for you as they are in this Polaroid - rarely will that work.

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