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It's Happening: United Auto Workers Strike!
Why this strike is different than all the other strikes
To preface, I want to say that there are links with ways to learn more and help throughout this piece. But I have concentrated a summary of all these resources at the end for your convenience. How to see what’s happening, be in solidarity, and spread the good word are all linked at the bottom of this page. So here we go!
At midnight last night the United Auto Workers hit the picket lines at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. Workers are out on strike at key facilities on Missouri, Ohio, and Michigan. Videos are already coming out showing massive crowds of union workers, and tons of supporters, cheering and chanting in front of these plants. Today marks the first time the union has ever gone on strike at the three huge American car manufacturers simultaneously. It’s a historic event, and it comes at a crucial time. But I’m not going to focus too much on the details of what’s happening here. There are labor reporters on the ground, and great folks covering this beat, and I’ll link you to them thoroughly at the end here. What I want to tell you is why this strike is different than all the other strikes.
In speaking to thousands of UAW members on a livestream just the other night, union president Shawn Fain said, “We fight not only for the good of our union or for the good of our members and our families. We fight for the good of the entire working class and the poor.” And that’s what I want to focus on as this strike begins. This is an inflection point for the labor movement and for the U.S. working class as a whole. What that means is we should all be supporting United Auto Workers in this struggle, in every way we can.
The strike that began today marks a pivotal moment for several reasons. First, the auto industry and the particular brands involved, from Ford to General Motors to Jeep and beyond, hold a special place in the popular imagination. To many, they’re as American as Apple pie. Secondly, these companies have made a staggering quarter of a trillion dollars in profits over the past decade. They aren’t just representative of our country in the abstract, their business practices embody the modern capitalist economy where workers generate more and more money and see next to none of it. Instead, auto companies conduct stock buybacks, $5 billion in the last year alone, and raise CEO salaries. When adjusted for inflation, CEO compensation skyrocketed 940% over the last 45 years, while worker wages only increased 6%. This is, unfortunately, a perfect embodiment of the modern U.S. economy.
But there’s something else, something maybe even more significant. While the Big 3 automakers have helped make this a pivotal moment, because fighting them means fighting corporate America in so many ways, the workers have also turned this into a crucial fight, because they embody our hope. Not only is the union explicitly fighting for the working class, they’re open about the class war nature of this struggle. UAW president Shawn Fain was recently asked about corporations and pundits accusing him of engaging in class war, to which he replied, “It's hard when I hear that not to just die laughing because the truth is the working class in this country has been under attack in a one-sided class war for decades.” And it’s true. What else could you call the CEO raises and the investor paychecks, when you stack them up next to the stagnant wages of workers? Not to mention the stripping of pensions, the creation of tiers where newer workers get screwed, labeling workers as temporary employees for years and years, and so much more.
It’s not a coincidence that the United Auto Workers are leading this charge. Ordinary workers in the union, or rank-and-file members, have worked and organized their asses off for years to get to this point. They transformed the way union leaders are elected to a straightforward, democratic one-member one-vote approach almost two years ago now. This win took intentional and deep organizing by members who wanted militancy and worker democracy. And then, in the first election in the union’s nearly nine-decade history held using this procedure, reformer Shawn Fain swept in. Well, to be more precise, he won in a runoff by about 483 votes: union democracy at its finest.
This is how we got to the scene you see before you today, with one of the nation’s biggest and most respected unions striking the Big 3 at the same time, for the first time in their history. And, just so we’re clear, they’re not just striking to flex their newfound muscles. They’re on strike because workers are hurting. Stagnating pay, with temporary workers and second-tier workers suffering even more, means that a lot of jobs once considered comfortable middle-class jobs can no longer pay those bills. In many cases, these jobs have gotten more brutal as well. After recent decades, with the decline of union power we’ve seen in this country, car companies feel comfortable making people work for 90 days straight, on 12-hour shifts, with no days off. So you better believe they’ve had enough.
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And this is yet another reason the UAW strike could be transformative. Fed up workers are demanding 40% raises to keep pace with CEO pay increases. They’re also demanding the restorations of pensions, the elimination of tiers, a 32-hour workweek for 40-hours pay, and more. There was rightfully a lot of talk about the Teamsters and their negotiations with UPS. But now autoworkers are raising the bar much further. As of last night, Ford was reportedly offering 20% pay increases over the course of the next contract, and the union still went on strike. The refusal to back down, the willingness to fight, and the willingness to raise our demands when we know that companies can afford to pay and workers need more is a vital lesson for the entire labor movement and the entire working class in their country.
So now it’s go time. If there’s one thing made clear by the history of labor organizing it’s that we might not win every time we fight, but the only times we win are when we fight. And that the only way to fight is together. Solidarity is the greatest tool of the working class. We don’t have to agree on everything, but when it comes to a clear-cut struggle of the workers against the bosses, everyone has to show solidarity, support however we can, and never cross a picket line.
As Mariame Kaba says, “everything worthwhile is done with other people.” There’s no way to transform your workplace alone. There’s no way to take on a company like Ford alone. There’s no way to change society alone. And that’s why we need a union, why we need to come together with our coworkers and organize and act. That’s why we need solidarity, need to support the strikes of other workers. That’s why we need a labor movement, a whole surging working class building power together. Thousands of people pledged to join the UAW picket lines, and from the looks a it many of them already have. Dozens of other unions have pledged their support and pledged to not cross a UAW picket line. Workers in Mexico, Brazil, and around the world have expressed their solidarity. There’s only one wrong way to fight, and that’s alone.
Instead, let’s do this together. Let’s stand with these autoworkers, let’s hold the line, and let’s recruit our friends and neighbors to come too. This is one of those events on which history can turn. The labor movement has been surging in this country, and momentum is a powerful thing. Especially when a huge piece of the puzzle falls into place, when a big and militant union sets new standards for workers across the country, and for how we can organize and win. Their victory will be a victory for all of us, for the whole working class. So all power to the workers. Let’s do this.
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Okay, here are some key resources, as promised!
First, everything you need from United Autoworkers themselves linked here.
Third, a great piece from Alex Press that beat me to the punch linked here. Specifically, the emphasis on fighting for the whole working class is excellent.
Fourth, I can personally guarantee that More Perfect Union will be covering this until the final day. Everything you need from them linked here.
Oh and there is also Unite All Workers For Democracy. In their own words, they are a grassroots movement of UAW members united in the common goal of creating a more democratic and accountable union. For union members in particular, a lot to consider at their page here.
The time is now. We have a world to win. Solidarity.