The coalition of unions resisting Delphi Corp.'s efforts to cut wage and benefit costs is like the 1960s poster in which a mouse raises its middle finger at the eagle that is about ready to grab the rodent with sharp talons.
It's a great act of defiance. But like that mouse, the unions can't win.
Whether the unions willingly negotiate or the bankruptcy court voids Delphi's labor agreements -- perhaps leading to work stoppages -- wage rates and benefits will be cut, plants will close, and workers will lose their jobs.
It is inevitable.
Labor leaders were right when they predicted that globalism and free trade would put pressure on the American standard of living. But there was no way to stop what is part of the natural order because protectionism never works over the long haul.
That giant sucking sound described by Ross Perot when he opposed President Clinton's North American Free Trade Agreement is actually U.S. wage and benefit rates being pulled toward a new competitive point of equilibrium.
This is about more than Delphi. The union leaders know it and so does Delphi CEO Steve Miller.
Once the new equilibrium point is set during the Delphi bankruptcy, it will become the standard for other suppliers and the bogey for the Big 3 when they head into bargaining in 2007.
Assuming that they don't implode first, the next round of negotiations will be make-it-or-break-it time for General Motors, Ford and even the Chrysler group. Big 3 wages and benefits probably won't take as big a hit, but they must move toward equilibrium.
The falling tide will ripple across America, hitting other industries and eventually affecting nonmanufacturing sectors, just as the rising economic tide did last century.
And don't think white-collar workers are immune. Some have been soaked already; others will be. When times were fat, companies gave salaried employees most of the benefits won by unions, so take-backs are inevitable.
Just ask the mouse.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at