The UAW's leaders and members deserve praise for allowing General Motors and Delphi Corp. to do what needs to be done as they try to build sustainable, long-term business models.
The 47,600 workers who accepted buyout offers from GM and Delphi did so as part of an arrangement with the union. It took political courage and a clear, farsighted understanding that auto companies, including some that employ UAW members, must reduce costs to be competitive.
The health care and pension costs that hobble GM and Delphi are not the UAW's fault, but the union and its members are part of the system and must be part of the solution.
After World War II, the collective-bargaining partnership built by the Big 3 and the UAW was an engine that drove the U.S. economy. It was a simple system: Every three years, the UAW asked and the automakers gave, using a 3 percent annual improvement factor for wages as a base and building benefits on top of that. The cost that wasn't recouped with productivity gains was passed on to consumers through price increases.
Along the way, the wage increases and benefits won by the UAW spread to other industries. That raised the standard of living for American working people, created a broader middle class and bolstered prosperity across the nation.
But the world changed. Competition from abroad made it impossible to keep passing on cost increases to car buyers.
Today, GM, Ford Motor Co., the Chrysler group, many of their suppliers and the UAW must re-engineer the partnership. With next year's contract negotiations looming as an auspicious time for change, it's encouraging that the UAW has stepped up to the challenge.