For the seventh year in a row, rank-and-file United Auto Workers members and supporters picketed outside the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 11. This year, the theme of the protest, sponsored by Autoworker Caravan, was “People Before Profits.” The NAIAS is the biggest auto show in the country and is where the auto bosses tout their billions in record profits and car sales, which have exceeded pre-recession levels.
In September, the contracts between the UAW and Ford, General Motors and Chrysler expire. Workers are tired of givebacks and want to see an end to two-tier pay; a pay raise, which many have not had since 2005; the elimination of temporary work; and an end to inhuman “alternative work schedules” that undermine the eight-hour day.
In addition to raising contract issues, the pickets drew attention to the fact that the profit motive has compromised vehicle safety, resulting in hundreds of deaths. As in previous years, Autoworker Caravan chided the industry for contributing to climate change and called for the reopening of closed plants for green jobs, demanding that people be put to work making solar panels, wind turbines and products for mass transit.
Solidarity with Colombian GM workers who were fired after they were injured on the job was a theme, as it has been since 2012, when the president of their association conducted a 72-day hunger strike here in Detroit.
There were many chants on a variety of issues. “Sit-downs then! Die-ins today! Solidarity is the way!” linked the struggles of the past, present and future.
At a get-together after the action, conversation focused on how to build a campaign inside the plants to make ending divisive two-tier pay scales a make-or-break contract issue. Workers hired after October 2007 now make two-thirds or less than what their higher-seniority counterparts earn.