Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Trouble in paradise.

Well almost.

There's a strike at Harley Davidson's plant in York Pennsylvania.

Workers there voted 2,533 to 52 in favour of strike action to defeat the MoCo's (as HD is known) plans to introduce a two tier wage structure with reduced rates for new employees; to double pension contributions; and to make the previously free company health scheme contributory.

The MoCo claims that it needs to make these cuts to ensure that the company does not go the way of the US car industry.

But the truth is that it is in a very different position. Harley have posted record profits each year for the past twenty one years, and account for something like 60% of heavy-weight motorcycle sales in the US.

Strike-free for sixteen years the MoCo has encouraged the use of stickers that proudly proclaim 'made in the USA by union labor'. Of course it's partly a myth - many components are actually imported (some from Japan shock horror) - but it has established the Harley brand as a powerful part of American blue-collar culture.

This may now come back to haunt the management at the MoCo. They have a bad record of taking things for granted, including the passionate loyalty of many of their customers who are faced with over-priced products and often shoddy service from the dealer network. The 'hardcore' bikers who supported HD through the grim years of the late seventies and early eighties when the company was under the ownership of AMF are now regarded as something of an embarrassment. Instead the marketing strategy is aimed squarely at what in the US are called 'RUBs' (rich urban bikers), or yuppie born-agains over here in Britain.

So I hope all Harley riders join me in wishing the best of luck to the members of the International Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 175.

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