The beginning of last September marked the first time in history that the UAW went on strike simultaneously at all three auto companies: General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. After six weeks, the strike ended with a contentious tentative agreement that did not have complete approval by all members of the rank and file. Now Stellantis is doing what all corporations do under capitalism to keep and maintain their profits, layoffs and cuts. Under Fain’s leadership, the strike didn’t go far enough. It’s true that only the workers, organized independently from the union bureaucracy and Democrats and Republicans, can achieve the demands they need.
At the beginning of December, Stellantis told 1,225 workers in Toledo, Ohio and another 2,455 at a Mack plant in Detroit that there could be layoffs in February. Additionally, an email from UAW Vice President Rich Boyer sent to workers stated that only about 1,957 supplemental employees (SEs) company wide and 900 in Toledo would be transitioned to full time in February, out of a total of 5,219. SEs, also known as Temporary Part Time or TPT workers, are what new Stellantis workers start out as before getting officially hired as full time. Before that happens though, SEs receive less consistent work, the chance of being laid off for weeks, less pay, and less benefits.
The email from Boyer goes on to say that the company will not only terminate remaining SEs who either have not been at the company for a long enough time or who have poor attendance/performance. But the company is also reducing the number of SEs they keep on staff over the next few months, the goal being to keep only about 500 SEs company wide. This would be good if they were planning on employing the rest as full time employees, but instead they are terminating them due to a so-called lack of work. So after being filled with the hope of more quickly being rolled over into full time employment after the new contract, these workers are now being laid off.
Sure enough, on January 15th, Stellantis announced that it would be cutting over 500 SEs, and that they would not be eligible for unemployment. Stellantis spokesperson Jodi Tinson stated, “This action will help improve the efficiency, productivity and market competitiveness of our facilities as we implement our Dare Forward 2030 strategic plan.” The Dare Forward plan is Stellantis’s approach to green capitalism, their attempt to “achieve a carbon net zero by 2038.”
Brian Keller, who is an active UAW member, recorded a livestream of himself on facebook, commenting on the announced layoffs and the lack of initiative from the union. “The TA was divisive. It didn’t go far enough. It didn’t meet the needs.” He says, “We’re getting played by both the Democrats and Republicans. Both parties have played us.”
Since Keller’s live stream, Shawn Fain has made a statement about the layoffs and cuts, simply saying, “The companies have played divide and conquer for years, and now they’re doing it again, bringing the pain to the lowest-paid workers and blaming the union. Stellantis can afford to do the right thing here and provide a pathway to good full-time auto jobs, but again they’re choosing to line executive and shareholder pockets.” Fain’s focus right now, however, is on bringing factories in the south into the union. It’s true that Shawn Fain is progressive and a militant leader. We can see that in his support of a ceasefire in Gaza, among other notable things he’s said. However the UAW also recently endorsed Biden, the man responsible for billions of dollars in aid and weapons to Israel to carry out the genocide. At the end of the day, Fain is in bed with the Democrats. So it’s doubtful that these “business as usual” cuts and layoffs will motivate him or the union to take any action.
Once again the working class is bearing the brunt of the sacrifice not only for the facade of green capitalism so that Stellantis can keep on turning a profit while appearing to be more “ethical” and “environmentally-friendly” to shareholders, but also for “business as usual” under capitalism. The fact that these layoffs and cuts are happening so soon after the strike is because it is simply the way that capitalism is meant to function, to make businesses profit. And the only way to stop business as usual and help workers is for workers to organize themselves.
What the rank and file need is organizing independently from the bureaucracy, from Shawn Fain, from the Democrats and Republicans, amongst themselves. The rank and file need strike committees that are independent, self-organized, and democratically elected without influence or control from the union bureaucracy. This way, decisions can be made by and for the workers.
If the strike had been controlled by the rank and file from the bottom-up, the strike would have continued, more gains would have been won, and layoffs could have been prevented. However, the TA was ratified and employees went back to work. And now, due to the strike having been controlled and all strategic decisions made by Shawn Fain and the bureaucracy, workers are at the mercy of the bosses and do not have the organization to act unless the union sees fit to. And right now, it does not seem like the union cares about these laid-off workers one bit.