Fifteen hundred auto workers in Indianapolis made their New Year’s resolution public: unless Allison Transmission agreed to eliminate tiers in wages, benefits, shift premiums, and holidays, they would hit the bricks. “The fight plan throughout negotiations was ending tiers,” said Phil Shupe, a 10-year assembler on tier two and bargaining committee member. “We weren't going to accept anything from the company that had any more division. We stood firm that we all needed to be equal.” Workers at Allison make commercial heavy-duty automatic transmissions for fire trucks, school buses, and tanks, as well as hybrid propulsion systems.
In 1978, Volkswagen became the first foreign-owned company to manufacture cars in the United States since Rolls-Royce in the 1930s, setting up shop in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania. “This is one of the most important organized victories in years for the UAW,” said United Auto Workers President Doug Fraser after VW workers voted 865 to 17 to join the union. “We believe that there will be other foreign automakers deciding to open plants in the U.S. and we intend to organize those workers as well.” Since then, some 35 shiny new engine and assembly plants have been installed along I-75 and I-55, forming an automotive corridor from the Midwest to the South that today employs about 150,000 workers
“The company knows that Toyota workers are watching,” said Auto Workers President Shawn Fain on November 3. “And when the time comes, Toyota workers and all non-union auto workers are going to be ready to stand up.” That time has come—yesterday the UAW announced its plan, already in motion, to organize the whole auto sector. “Workers across the country, from the West to the Midwest and especially in the South, are reaching out to join our movement and to join the UAW,” said Fain in a new video. The union says thousands of workers have reached out asking for support in unionizing their auto plants. They’ve scoured the old websites from previous union drives and filled out forms to be put in touch with an organizer.
Having negotiated “record contracts” with the Big Three – and seen the bulk of its rank-and-file members approve them – the United Auto Workers says its work isn’t done. The union intends to try once more to persuade the rest of the U.S. auto industry’s workers to join the union. “We’re going to organize like we’ve never organized before,” said UAW President Shawn Fain. As labor scholars who have studied union finances, we believe this is a formidable objective. On top of the intense corporate resistance from the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, there’s the high cost of waging expensive campaigns in states like Tennessee and Alabama, which have “right-to-work” laws designed to discourage labor organizing.
The United Auto Workers on Monday secured a tentative agreement with General Motors that reportedly includes a 25% general wage increase over the life of the four-and-a-half-year contract as well as cost-of-living adjustments. According to Bloomberg, the UAW's agreement with GM has similar economic terms as the historic tentative deal the union reached with Ford last week and a subsequent agreement with Stellantis over the weekend. With the GM deal, the UAW has now reached a tentative contract agreement with each of the Big Three U.S. automakers, putting an end—at least for now—to the union's historic six-week strike that involved nearly 50,000 workers.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra started her day boasting to company investors how much car sales and revenues have recently climbed. Two hours later, Auto Workers reminded her who made those revenues happen. The Auto Workers (UAW) struck GM’s most profitable plant, the massive Arlington Assembly, just outside Dallas. On grounds stretching across 250 acres, the 5,000 workers at Arlington make every GM model of full-size SUV, like the Tahoe and Escalade. According to an industry analyst at Benchmark, it’s “the most profitable auto plant in the world,” producing about 30 percent of GM revenue.
The United Auto Workers union sent 6,800 Stellantis employees to the picket line Monday morning in a surprise, targeted strike at the company’s Ram truck facility. The Sterling Heights Assembly Plant is Stellantis’ “largest plant and biggest moneymaker,” UAW said in a statement Monday. The plant, about a half-hour north of Detroit, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, produces the Ram 1500 pickup. The union said the company, which makes vehicles under the Dodge, Ram, Jeep and Chrysler brands, has “the worst proposal on the table” in its negotiations on pay, converting temporary workers to full time and cost-of-living adjustments.
For the first time in recent history, the union is playing the automakers against each other—departing from its tradition of choosing one target company and patterning an agreement at the other two. And its gradually escalating Stand-Up Strike strategy has multiplied the pressure that can move the companies off the dime. Every Friday for four weeks, the CEOs waited with bated breath for UAW President Shawn Fain to announce strike targets. Two Fridays in a row, one company moved on major bargaining issues just minutes before workers were scheduled to walk out.
“I think organizing those [non-union] plants needs to be our number one priority after we get done organizing the Big 3,” says Ryan Ashley at Ford Cleveland Engine. “With how significant the gains are looking in this contract, they’ll see it. And it’ll help.”
Every Friday for the past four weeks, Big 3 CEOs have waited fearfully for Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain to announce which plants will strike next. But without warning on Wednesday afternoon, the union threw a haymaker: within 10 minutes the UAW would be shutting down the vast Kentucky Truck Plant. This plant, on 500 acres outside Louisville, is one of Ford’s most profitable—cranking out full-size SUVs and the Superduty line of commercial trucks. “We make almost half of Ford’s U.S. revenue right here,” says James White, who has worked in the plant for a decade. These 8,700 strikers join the 25,000 already walking the lines at assembly plants and parts distribution centers across the country in the union’s escalating Stand-Up Strike.
On Facebook Live Friday afternoon, United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain symbolically awarded roses to automakers General Motors, Stellantis, and Ford based on progress at the negotiating table, a reference to the reality show “The Bachelor.” The only thing missing was teary-eyed CEOs breathing a sigh of relief as the UAW agreed not to widen its strike to more factories for now. The UAW was poised to tap 5,000 members at GM’s assembly plant in Arlington, Texas, as part of its latest stand-up strike escalation. These workers would have joined 25,000 already on strike at five assembly plants and 38 parts distribution centers nationwide.
The province of Quebec was the first jurisdiction in North America to pass legislation banning replacement workers, in 1977, after significant increases in picket line violence across the province. One dispute was a 20-month-long strike involving UAW Local 510 and United Aircraft (later called Pratt & Whitney), which became one of the most violent strikes in Canadian history. In a blunt observation about replacement workers, Quebec’s Minister of Labour, Pierre-Marc Johnson, stated on the floor of the legislature that “where there are scabs there is violence.” Johnson said his government further supported a greater balance in the bargaining dynamic between labor and management.
One lesson is that member power does not have to start from a supermajority; that’s unlikely. UAW members are on strike today, with inspiring levels of rank-and-file energy, because four years ago a small group of activists founded a new reform caucus. That caucus, Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD), boldly took advantage of an unexpected opportunity, organized like crazy, and won elections. Its candidates are now leading the union. If UAWD had not existed and organized hard, this current fight that has potential to change the stakes for the entire labor movement would not be happening.
Yesterday, Joe Biden became the first sitting president to visit a picket line of striking workers. It is historic. A few hours later, Jacobin published an article entitled “The Militancy of the UAW Strike Forced Joe Biden to Take a Side and Walk the Picket Line,” by Nick French. Jacobin is right that Biden’s visit to the picket line results from the UAW strike’s strength. But Jacobin is dead wrong in its assessment that Biden is “on the side of the working class.” Instead, Biden’s visit is a product of the capitalist crisis in which both Trump and Biden are vying for influence over the working class in a tight presidential race.
It was late summer 2017 at the Overtyme Bar and Grill, a hotspot off a busy highway in Macon, Georgia, and Kumho Tire plant worker Mario Smith had important questions for local United Steelworkers (USW) president Alex Perkins: he wanted to know how he could bring a union to the one-year-old factory. Now six years later—after two elections, many National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cases, a virulent union-busting campaign, and the triumphant solidarity of the factory workers—that union has gained its first-ever collective bargaining agreement with Kumho Tire management, the first tire workers to unionize in the United States in 40 years.