A month on strike, GM workers won’t back down
Bulletin: On Wednesday, October 16, 31 days into strike, the UAW and GM announced that a tentative agreement had been reached. On October 17 local plant union leaders will vote on whether to bring the proposed contract to the rank and file for a vote. Then members will vote whether to accept it. The local leaders are also voting on whether to continue the strike until the vote results are known. Stay tuned for more details.
On Oct. 15, close to 50,000 General Motors workers will have been on strike for one month. The last time this many workers struck a single company was in 2007, also a GM strike but lasting only two days. Determination is growing, not waning with time, and the longer workers are out the less they say they will settle for when a contract is finally presented to them.
For the past week the United Auto Workers and GM have traded offers. The UAW says if GM agrees to its latest contract proposal, they will bring it to the striking members for a vote. But the company has not agreed to anything; the UAW says GM is “playing games.” (uaw.org)
One of GM’s “games” was sending a letter appealing to each striking employee directly. GM gave a vague description of its latest proposal and blamed the UAW for dragging out negotiations and prolonging the strike. This is an illegal Unfair Labor Practice known as “direct dealing.”
GM and CEO Mary Barra apparently see themselves as above the law, as they demonstrated previously when Barra announced in 2018 that four U.S. plants would close. Three were closed before the strike, violating contract language prohibiting closing or idling plants during the life of the agreement. GM is also violating conditions mandated by the state of Michigan when it granted billions in tax breaks.
But the unwritten caveat under capitalist law is that the exploiting class is not bound to respect laws or legal contracts when their class interest is impinged upon.
Strikers are not so fortunate, even though they are engaged in what’s known as “protected concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act. Police in several locations have been forcing strikers to let management and delivery drivers through the gates. Some supervisors have even brought in non-union workers to work on the lines during the strike. Pickets have been arrested at plants in Tennessee, Texas, and Kansas.
When GM sent its letter to individual workers, the company also released it to the media. This was a shallow ploy designed to leverage public opinion against the UAW, as was GM’s opportunistic decision to restore health benefits initially cut at the strike’s onset.
Spend a few minutes on any picket line and listen to the cacophony of honking horns, and you will witness the effectiveness of GM’s public relations gimmicks! Donations of food, water, coffee and now firewood to help strikers keep warm arrive regularly at the lines and local union halls. Other unions are joining strikers and raising money. Businesses are offering everything from free haircuts and pet food to $1 hamburgers at a bar and grill.
Backbone of the strike
The rank and file, holding down the line and making huge financial sacrifices, are the backbone of the strike. From social media comments and memes to hip-hop videos made on the strike lines, they are showing class awareness, thoughtfulness, humor, creativity and above all militancy.
Two members of UAW Local 163 in Romulus, Mich., have been holding regular pickets of GM world headquarters in downtown Detroit. On Oct. 9, they built a “red flu” protest via social media. Strikers and supporters traveled from Flint, Toledo and Cleveland to attend the action, which was not sanctioned by the UAW.
Opinion on the lines varies when it comes to trusting the top leadership. The head negotiator, UAW Vice President Terry Dittes, has thus far not been linked to the corruption scandal that erupted after a federal investigation made embezzlement and bribe-taking public. Many strikers see the federal government’s ulterior motives in going after the union right before the strike began.
Some union members feel Dittes is genuinely fighting in their interest, but others are leery of anyone at the International. Either way, the red flu action raised a serious question: Why don’t the UAW and the AFL-CIO mobilize their members and vast numbers of supporters for a mass strike rally in front of GM? Or how about mass picketing to defy — and defeat — court injunctions that limit pickets and enable line-crossers? Much more could be done to win this strike.
GM is still resisting union demands to make temporary workers full time with seniority and other rights. Reports on the latest company proposal indicate they would have to work three years without interruption to upgrade. In other words, they would have to start over after an unplanned “interruption” such as a layoff or medical leave.
Given the preponderance of low-wage, part-time and precarious work in today’s gig economy, strikers will tell you they are fighting for the whole working class.
Grevatt is a UAW activist who retired from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles after 31 years. She continues to serve on the board of UAW Local 869.