Over 25,000 autoworkers are on strike at selected plants of General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. The strike began at three plants when the contracts with the United Auto Workers expired midnight Sept. 14, and was expanded the next two Fridays to include 38 parts warehouses and two more assembly plants.
The union changed its plans to further expand the strike Oct. 6 after securing a big win at GM: a written commitment to place current and future electric vehicle battery plants under the same contract that now covers GM plants and warehouses in the U.S. This is a game-changing victory for the union, which has demanded “No EV tiers.” Tiers are job classifications that allow companies to divide workers, paying some less than others for the same or similar work.
Until Oct. 6, the auto companies were crying that they could not afford to give battery plant workers — who are essentially power train workers, similar to engine and transmission plant workers — the pay and benefits provided under the master contract with the UAW. They further claimed that the battery builders can’t be covered by the collective bargaining agreement being negotiated, because they work for supposedly separate companies — joint ventures between one of the Big Three and another firm such as LG or Panasonic.
UAW President Shawn Fain believes the power of the strike and its threat to shut down GM’s highly profitable Arlington, Texas, assembly plant forced the company to give in on battery plants.
The push is on to get Ford and Stellantis to follow suit and for all three companies to agree to demands including substantial pay increases, restoration of the cost-of-living allowance (COLA), making all employees permanent after 90 days, no pay or benefit tiers, a raise in pensions. pensions for everyone and a shorter work week with no cut in pay.
The capitalist media are filled with denunciations of the UAW’s new militancy. The Oct. 5 New York Times headline read: “New U.A.W. Chief Has a Nonnegotiable Demand: Eat the Rich.” The Times bemoaned Fain’s “disdain for the billionaire class.”
Undeterred, UAW International President Shawn Fain gave his weekly Facebook live update sporting a T- t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Eat the Rich.” Since the update, seen live by over 60,000 viewers, UAW members are clamoring for a similar shirt.
Picket line spirits strong
Strong labor and community solidarity has been the norm in every locality touched by the strike. Picket lines at the Stellantis PDC in Streetsboro, Ohio, were visited Oct. 5 by members of United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 506, who made the drive from Erie, Pennsylvania. They explained to this writer that the UAW had supported their 70-day strike against Wabtec earlier in the year, so they were returning the solidarity.
Also present that day, backing the striking Local 573, were supporters from UAW Locals 14 and 869. The Cleveland Teachers Union and the Northeast Ohio Workers Center are among many other groups who have sent delegations to picket with the UAW.
Striking UAW members and community supporters faced off with scabs attempting to drive trucks carrying parts out of the Stellantis Parts Distribution Center in Portland, Oregon, on Oct. 6. The trucking company hired scabs after the Teamsters refused to cross the UAW picket line.
The workers at the PDC have been picketing day and night since they joined the strike on Sept. 29. The strike captain said the strike was a good example of union solidarity because of the large number of Portland area union representatives who have joined the picket line. Many members of the Portland community and groups like Jobs with Justice have also bolstered the strike line.
‘Unite as a global working class’
UAW Local 551’s hall was filled to capacity Oct. 7 during a solidarity rally, with hundreds more members and supporters watching outside. Another 1,100 people watched the rally live on Facebook and over 7,000 individuals have viewed the rally on YouTube. Over 5,000 members of Local 551 are currently striking Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant.
The rally featured Local 551 President Chris Pena and Shop Chair Coby Millender, Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates, Chair Ka Bong of the Kilusang Mayo Uno union in the Philippines, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson and UAW Region 4 Director Brandon Campbell. The final speaker, President Fain, received a loud standing ovation.
Fain again blasted the wealthy class, a message that has resonated with workers far beyond the UAW membership. Addressing Ka Bong, the union president declared, “We have to unite as a global working class.”
Martha Grevatt is a retired UAW Stellantis worker who served on the executive board of UAW Local 869.
Lyn Neeley contributed to this article.