Everyone from Tokyo to Washington is aware of the issues facing General Motors and Ford Motor Co., but that doesn't mean the cavalry will ride in and save the day. Like it or not, Ford and GM must work out their own problems in the same way that many of the problems were created: across the bargaining table from the UAW.
There is more evidence that the U.S. auto industry is a new world. The continual slide in market share - the Big 3 collectively lost more than 10 points in the first quarter of 2005 compared with the first quarter of 2000 - is a nagging reminder.
Another part of the new reality is that since 2000, the Big 3 combined have shed 130,394 jobs in North America while the new American manufacturers have added 27,183. That has aggravated the already lopsided ratio of retirees to employees. Pension and health care costs are an oppressive burden.
And the legacy cost burden that dates back to an earlier epoch will only get worse as more workers retire and the number of active employees continues to drop.
Neither the Bush administration nor Congress is philosophically or politically inclined to offer any significant aid through national health care or by exerting diplomatic pressure on Japan and China to let their currencies float freely. That means self-help is the only option.
So far the UAW has said it won't reopen the collective bargaining agreements, which expire in September 2007. But that might be too late if market share continues to erode and legacy cost burdens crush Ford and/or GM, the source of UAW jobs and benefits.
The union can't stick its head in the sand. As UAW leader Walter Reuther was fond of saying: It's time to reason together.