American Axle strike: Unionists from all over join picket lines
Published Apr 18, 2008 8:19 PM
“It’s a historical struggle here in Detroit, in a city with all
these mass layoffs and people losing their homes. The workers here at American
Axle are keeping some energy in our movement and revitalizing the class
struggle. So we feel it’s very important to be out here to show them
support,” said Dante Strobino, an organizer with United Electrical
workers Local 150 and a member of the youth organization Fight
Imperialism—Stand Together (FIST).
UAW strike is a magnet for workers
wanting to resist.
WW photo: Cheryl LaBash
As Strobino spoke to this Workers World reporter on April 12, the chants from
an impromptu rally at UAW Local 235 rang out for blocks.
Led by Black women workers from SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, hundreds
chanted before heading back to their vehicles: “Tell the whole damn
world, this is union territory! On strike, shut it down, Detroit is a union
Three buses and car caravans from a Labor Notes conference in Dearborn, Mich.,
had traveled to the site of the world headquarters of American Axle in
Another group of 50 people from UAW Local 211 also came in solidarity.
Led by strikers, the supporting unionists fanned out in groups to various
picket lines where they were greeted with hearty handshakes and cheers.
The internationalist spirit and power of workers from around the world
“I’m ecstatic. It’s amazing to have members from different
locals and different countries—Germany, Brazil, Colorado, Japan and
Australia,” Bill Alford Jr., vice president of Local 235, told Workers
World at the union hall.
“I had workers from Brazil telling me that they are going to picket
American Axle there. It’s just wonderful to see folks up and down the
street. They basically came in, took control of the street and let everyone
know they were here. They had their own chants and their own songs to support
my brothers and sisters on strike.”
Alford said workers from UAW locals at Delphi, Dana Corp., General Motors, Ford
and Chrysler in the U.S. and Canada, plus other unions and community
organizations, have been walking the picket lines, donating provisions and
funds and participating in outreach on a daily basis.
Local 235, which represents over 1,900 Black, white, Arab and Latin@ workers,
is now also operating an “adopt-a-worker” program where workers not
on strike pledge a one-time or ongoing monetary contribution for a sister or
brother on strike.
Fighting for all workers
Over 3,600 workers at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York have
been on strike for almost two months. Charging an unfair labor practice, the
UAW says the company refused to open its books in a serious manner.
American Axle wants to cut the workers’ pay in half, eliminate pensions
and gut benefits—despite the fact that the company made $37 million in
profits last year. CEO Richard Dauch himself made $10.2 million last year,
while the workers make on average about $45,000 to $50,000 before taxes.
The online Living Wage Calculator estimates that a family of four living in
Dearborn, Mich., needs a gross income of $48,249 to cover basic
expenses—and this estimate was for July 2007, before the recent steep
rise in energy and food prices.
The company has run ads to recruit scabs and is reportedly training them at
various sites in Michigan, New York and elsewhere. It recalled 400 laid-off
workers in late March in an attempt to make them lose their unemployment
benefits and to encourage them to scab, but they reported for work and then
walked right out to the picket line.
A total of 30 GM factories have been fully or partly shut down, with more than
40,000 workers now on layoff. About 80 percent of American Axle’s
products are sold to GM. American Axle also produces parts for Toyota, which
are being made inside the plant in Detroit by management scabs.
American Axle, the UAW International and the local’s bargaining teams are
in ongoing talks. The company has barely moved on its original
“proposal” and has thus far rejected outright two contract
proposals made by the UAW, saying the concessions offered weren’t enough
and that, if the union didn’t agree to American Axle’s demands, it
would move its plants. The UAW rejected a mediation request by the company on
The rank and file continue to fight, refusing to accept any concessionary
contract similar to those implemented at Delphi, Dana Corp. and the Big Three.
Such agreements would drive the workers into poverty with buy-outs, buy-downs
and a two-tier wage structure.
Those on the picket lines are clear that they are fighting for all workers. If
American Axle, an extremely profitable company, can get away with massive
concessions, that would open the door for an even bigger bosses’
onslaught in the auto industry as well as in other sectors.
In the midst of the American Axle strike, UAW locals at three Michigan
factories—in Flint, Lansing and Warren—issued five-day strike
notices the week of April 6, telling GM the union will go out if local
contracts aren’t agreed to soon.
Revitalizing international class struggle
FIST organizer Strobino added, between chanting at the union hall:
“We’re under attack. We’re getting shipped over to Iraq. Our
schools are underfunded. A lot of folks can’t even afford to go to
college. A lot of them go straight to the work force right out of high school.
It’s brought on by the bosses spending trillions of dollars on this
imperialist war that could be going to fund people’s needs, give
people’s homes back, give money for some good union jobs, for health
care, for getting real education. So the war is very connected to the struggle
Quynh Nguyen, a student at the University of Minnesota and a member of
Socialist Alternative and Education for Social Change, said, “I think
it’s important to support the workers—this strike is
crucial,” as she hoisted a UAW placard while walking the picket line.
Todd Ferguson, a chief steward in Communications, Energy and Paper Workers
Local 591G in Toronto, Canada, was excited to walk his first UAW picket line in
Detroit. “We can’t separate the struggle. It’s the same
struggle. It’s the same fight,” said Ferguson.
Benedicto Martínez, one of three national officers of the Authentic Labor
Front (Frente Auténtico del Trabajo or FAT), an independent labor
federation in Mexico representing labor unions, worker-owned cooperatives, and
farm worker and community organizations, joined the picket line in solidarity
and to learn about the conditions of workers in the U.S. FAT was a founding
member of Mexico’s new, independent labor federation, the National Union
of Workers or UNT. Martínez’s comments were translated by Dan LaBotz
of the Teamsters.
“Today I am convinced that workers can’t carry out a struggle just
in one plant or in one country. These companies have been globalizing, and
they’ve been putting their plants all over the world. If there’s a
strike, they say we can put this plant in another country. That’s why I
believe we have to create unions based on the industries and firms,” said
He added: “I wish them victory and hope they’re successful and that
they’ll carry on and fight as hard as they can because that’s the
only way to defend the benefits and wages that we have. The strike is the
ultimate weapon that workers are left with and we have to use it.”
A UAW rally to build support for the striking workers will take place April 18
at Hart Plaza in Detroit. For more information, 313-926-5312 or www.uawaam.org.
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