What were they thinking?
It was neighborly of the UAW to let U.S. Marine Corps reservists park their cars in the safe, secured lot at the union's Solidarity House headquarters on Detroit's near east side when there wasn't enough room at the nearby Marine training facility.
But then somebody in the union hierarchy decided that Marines driving international-brand cars and cars with bumper stickers supporting President Bush would be turned away. Marines responded with their own brand of solidarity: they pulled out entirely.
When the story broke in the Sunday, March 13, edition of the Detroit News, there was a public flap.
On Monday, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger backed off his decision and offered to let the Marines park at Solidarity House without restrictions.
Too late. The Marines declined Gettelfinger's conciliatory offer. And the union's enemies, especially those who don't want the UAW to organize the new American manufacturers, already are having a field day with it. For example, the American International Automobile Dealers Association has used the dispute in its fight to end the "Chicken Tax" on imported pickups, which the UAW supports.
The UAW's policy of not allowing "foreign" cars to park in the Solidarity House lot goes back to the late 1970s, when the old Chrysler Corp. was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and the Big 3 first began giving up chunks of market share to the imports.
Back then, some UAW supporters even stuck anti-import stickers on imported cars parked on the street near Solidarity House.
Banning cars with Bush bumper stickers is a more recent development.
No matter. Both policies are ill-advised, illiberal, and self-destructive.
The union's leadership believed it was acting in accordance with UAW principles. Unfortunately for the UAW, most people will view it as a petty act prompted by the union leadership's unsuccessful support of Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the presidential election last November.
Folks also will see it as an act of frustration by a union with eroding membership, plagued by the tumbling market share of the Big 3 and the growing strength of international nameplates, whether they are built here or overseas.
In the industrial North, people know, appreciate and respect the union's heritage and what it achieved on behalf of working people.
But in most parts of the country, especially the South where the union needs an organizing beachhead, Americans will support the Marines in any firefight, especially a skirmish over parking spaces and Republican bumper stickers.
And you can bet the union's enemies will let everybody know.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at