Center Line, Michigan
Just seven and a half days into a historic strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler), on Sept. 22 at noon the union expanded its targeted strike of three plants to include all 38 parts distribution centers (PDCs) of Stellantis and GM. These warehouses, located in 20 different states, house parts that get shipped to dealerships for repairs.
The expansion raises the total number of striking Big Three members of the United Auto Workers to 18,600, up from 13,000 at the three assembly plants that began the strike Sept. 15.
Spirits were high when this writer visited picket lines at PDCs in Streetsboro, Ohio, and Center Line, Michigan. Strikers in Center Line chanted, “What do you want? End tiers. When do you want it? Now!” and “No deal, no wheels!”
The union has made 10 core “Members Demands” on the companies, centered around wage increases, restoration of the cost-of-living allowance, ending unequal pay and benefit tiers, pensions, job security and a shorter work week. Feeling the impact of the strike, Ford has conceded to a number of these demands, thus the decision not to expand the strike at Ford for now.
Workers on the line expressed strong feelings against the tiered pay and benefit structure. Tiering allows the companies to give some workers lower pay and/or lesser benefits than others doing the same work based on their date of hire or if they are classified as “temporary part-time” or “supplemental.” For example, at the Big Three, production workers hired after October 2007 will not get a pension or health insurance when they retire. Temporary workers have lower pay, fewer benefits and far less protection from discipline and firings.
Labor and community support growing
Solidarity is building on many fronts. Big Three UAW members at plants not on strike are engaged in the contract struggle, organizing support rallies, joining picket lines, holding “Red Shirt Wednesday” actions in the plants and refusing voluntary overtime. Strikers from two assembly plants an hour’s drive apart, Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant and Stellantis’ Toledo Jeep, have been supporting each other with car caravans from one plant to the other that then circle the plant of their UAW counterparts.
Beyond the UAW, many major unions have made statements backing the auto strike and have sent members to pickets and rallies. The Teamsters union has made it clear its member drivers will not cross the picket line.
Speaking about the importance of the auto strike, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson stated in a Sept. 23 interview on MSNBC, “Workers are making our demands up front, we’re very clear about what our demands are. It has gone in the wrong direction for too long … We’re going to wreck their [the billionaires’] economy.” Workers understand that, “This strike is about all of us.”
Labor and community supporters stop by regularly with coffee, water, firewood and snacks.
Worldwide, labor federations and metalworker unions are expressing solidarity, including in Mexico, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Brazil and Venezuela. Mexican autoworkers are prepared to refuse overtime if the companies try to shift work from struck plants to Mexico to break the strike.
The World Federation of Trade Unions issued a statement on the day the strike was expanded, saying, “The WFTU expresses its firm internationalist solidarity with workers in the USA and fully supports their just demands, especially at a time when the companies are gaining millions in profits and the workers are suffering the aftermath of the new capitalist crisis and inflation.”
From India: “First of all, from the entire rank and file of [the All India Central Confederation of Trade Unions, affiliated with the WFTU], we extend our unwavering solidarity and support to the on-going historic strike of United Auto Workers (UAW) against the ‘Big Three.’ We also congratulate the UAW and its leadership, who have successfully ushered a new era of radical working-class movement in the union.” AICCTU, with about 2.5 million members, is one of 10 labor federations in India.
UAW President Shawn Fain stated that the UAW supports Italian autoworkers who have recently held intermittent strikes against Stellantis.
Biden says he will picket
Vying for labor support in the 2024 elections, a number of Democratic Party politicians have said they support the strike. Some have spoken at rallies or joined picket lines. President Joe Biden joined striking workers on Sept. 26, one day before former President Donald Trump was to be in Detroit to try to woo autoworkers away from support for their union. This is all happening right as UAW President Fain, in office only six months, is taking on the corporations in a big way after decades of what Fain calls “company unionism.”
While Biden said he would “stand in solidarity with the men and women of UAW,” in the same tweet he called for “a win-win agreement.” But in the struggle between labor and capital over the wealth created by labor, there is no “win-win.” One side’s gain is the other side’s loss. The less the bosses pay the working class, the more they keep for themselves in the form of profits. Any gain for workers cuts into the bosses’ profit-taking.
Neither Biden’s appeal to the UAW nor Trump’s demagogy will help autoworkers win a decent contract. It’s by weaponizing their power to withhold their labor that autoworkers can make good the slogan, “When we fight, we win.”
Martha Grevatt is a retired UAW Stellantis worker who served on the executive board of UAW Local 869.
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