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Japanese Trucks Will Challenge Big 3 in Texas

Our worker correspondent in San Antonio notices the importance of the Toyota plant that will be built and open for production there in approximately one year. Given that Ford Motor Company and General Motors, two of this country's "Big Three" auto producers, reported a drop in annual new car purchases, Toyota's plans to build full-sized pickups in Texas may be a particularly difficult sign of the times.

It may also be difficult for the United Auto Workers, who organized the Big 3 and nearly all of the industry in the late 1930s, but have seen major slippage since imports began eating away at the United States auto market in the 1960s. The UAW has organized very few Asian-owned car plants, with the notable exception of Mitsubishi, which has been reported to be in big financial trouble.

The Texas car market, and particularly the giant pick-up market, has been Big 3 country even while other auto styles and other parts of the country have embraced high-quality Asian products. Pick-up ads in Texas invariably rely on rampant machismo. Meanwhile, Asian brands were reported to have increased U.S. market share and posted a combined 7 percent rise in U.S. sales last month. The traditional Big 3 saw sales fall 1 percent.

In early March Toyota managers were anticipating 10,000 applications for 2,000 positions, including office workers. Toyota did not reveal the actual number of applications, but if there were 10,000, that could make it relatively simple for potential union members to be culled out.

In March of this year, GM said it will lose money in the first quarter of 2004. In 2003, Ford Motor Company was replaced by Toyota as the world's second largest automaker. Given that Toyota plans to have 15% of the global market share by 2010, it's not beyond the realm of possibilities that it could replace GM as number 1.

Critics of the Big 3, including union members, have been saying for years that the extra-large, high-profit margin, autos produced by the Big 3 will eventually get their comeuppance from smaller, simpler foreign automobiles. Environmentalists were particularly miffed when the Big 3, followed by the union, successfully opposed legislation that would have clamped down on auto emissions.

Toyota's Tundra pickup has not been rated as environmentally superior to those of the Big 3. If Toyoto plans to outsell the Big 3 in Texas, it would have to be because of the Japanese company's reputation for reliability.

Sadly, telephone information reports no UAW office in San Antonio. Community groups, who might be of great help in an organizing drive, report no contacts.

San Antonians have very little experience with any car manufacturer or auto union, but they care about trends in wages and benefits. Consequently, it makes sense that they will back the United Auto Workers if an organizing drive gets started. The success of the drive will be critical for San Antonio, for auto manufacturers, for the UAW, and for the future hopes of American workers.

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