Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

GM Strike at the Crossroads: the Strength is in the Picket Lines

Almost 50,000 striking UAW members at General Motors may return to work in the next few days, but much is uncertain. Does the (still secret) Tentative Agreement between GM and the union represent the type of gains workers have sacrificed so much for over the last month? Or will the agreement represent yet another bureaucratic sell-out?

Thaddeus Greene

October 16, 2019
Facebook Twitter Share
Photo by: Matt Rourke

The UAW strike against GM is the longest strike by American auto workers in almost fifty years. While striking workers have been scraping by with $250/week strike pay for the last month, America’s most iconic auto boss, GM, has also been taking a major hit. Bank of America estimated that the month-long strike has cost the company upwards of $2 billion, and the impact of the strike has forced GM to close, or reduce the output of factories in Mexico and Canada. The strike has also begun to spread, as 3,500 Mack Truck workers represented by the UAW recently walked out and are now on their sixth day on strike.

But the struggle could be coming to a close. As of October 16, the UAW bargaining committee and GM have reached a Tentative Agreement (TA) for a new contract. The content of the TA has not been disclosed yet to the workers, and remains the exclusive knowledge of the lawyers, union functionaries, and the GM bosses. According to the union’s official update, the UAW’s 175-person GM National Council will meet tomorrow morning (October 17th) to decide whether to continue the strike until members vote on the tentative contract, or call the strike off immediately.

But how is the UAW National Council supposed to decide on the continuity of the strike without the input of its members? Past experiences show that attempts to end the strike before members get a chance to scrutinize and vote on the TA is a sign that a sub-par contract may be in store. The power of the UAW rests squarely with the membership, not with union officialdom. Unfortunately, if the UAW is able to demobilize the rank and file, it will be much more difficult to go back to the picket line. GM workers can and should refuse to go back to work without first reading the TA and having enough time to discuss it and vote on it. 

Don’t settle for scraps, fight to win big

Many GM workers know the truth: the Big Three automakers got bailed out during the 2008-2009 recession, and workers got sold out. First it was the introduction of a tiered workforce, where newly hired workers receive lower wages and worse benefits than more senior workers. Then GM increased the percentage of temporary workers, establishing a stratum of highly exploited “permatemps” with few rights. Today GM aims to expand these practices of tiered and precarious employment while reducing the total workforce and chipping away at every other gain of the UAW. All the while, GM has reaped billions in profits over the last few years.

Today’s UAW strike represents a turning point, a chance for workers to win something meaningful after years of retreat. Indeed, GM workers have real momentum that intersects a broader uptick in class struggle. Tomorrow, on the same day that the UAW’s Council will discuss the tentative deal, 25,000 Chicago teachers and staff will likely begin their own strike. Across the country there is widespread support for working people rising up and fighting for justice. The labor movement has the power to win solid victories if it uses its greatest weapons: mass action, solidarity, and a willingness to shut down production as long as it takes.

While the content of the TA is not yet known, it is likely that UAW leadership will try and push through a contract that, at best, makes very partial gains. At worst, the tentative contract could deepen the inequality and divides between tier 1 and tier 2 workers, between “permatemps” and those with permanent status, between retirees and current employees. Or, the company could make concessions to the union on the question of employee status but demand the right to close facilities and lay off workers at will. Such divide-and-conquer tactics should be forthrightly rejected by the union. Workers have the power to win a solid contract that significantly improves conditions for every member. Uplifting the hardest-hit sectors of the UAW membership is necessary to build the unity and confidence necessary to take on the auto bosses for the long haul.

For democratic mass meetings to decide the way forward!

The struggle of auto workers extends far beyond GM. Over a hundred thousand UAW members are working with an expired contract with Fiat Chrysler and Ford. Many have walked the picket line with GM strikers and shown solidarity in other ways. Yet, the workers at the Big Three have not yet had the chance to democratically decide the way forward together. While the UAW’s method of “pattern bargaining” has some rationale, there is also a powerful argument to be made for spreading the strike to Ford and Fiat Chrysler, to factories that supply parts, and even to GM plants abroad. Indeed, GM workers in the Mexican Silao plant have been victimized for showing heroic solidarity with the current UAW strike. Mass meetings of all UAW members (and perhaps other auto workers!) are necessary to chart the best path forward.

The outcome of the GM strike can change the arena of class struggle for the next period. The whole US working class is watching. Victory to the GM strikers! 

 

Facebook Twitter Share

Thaddeus Greene

Thaddeus is a logistics worker and a revolutionary socialist based in New York City.

Labor Movement

Two large signs that read "UC Divest from Genocide" and "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" behind the two signs a "UAW on Strike sign" pokes out

Dispatch from Day 2 of the UC Santa Cruz Picket Line

Left Voice member and City University of New York worker Olivia reports on the second day of her trip to Santa Cruz for UAW 4811’s historic strike to talk to workers.

Olivia Wood

May 25, 2024

Why Won’t PSC-CUNY Stand with Palestine Now?

While other higher education unions are going on strike in defense of their workers and against the genocide in Gaza, the bureaucratic leadership of PSC-CUNY just crushed a resolution calling on the university to divest from Israel and to drop the charges against Palestinian activists arrested on April 30. 

James Dennis Hoff

May 24, 2024
A sign for the University of California at Santa Cruz with a line of UAW signs in front of it

Dispatch from Day One of the UC Santa Cruz Picket Line for Palestine

Left Voice member and City University of New York worker Olivia traveled to Santa Cruz for UAW 4811’s historic strike to talk to workers. This is her dispatch from the first day of the strike.

Olivia Wood

May 22, 2024
Signs and banners at the picket line in front of the UC Santa Cruz in May, 2024. UC student workers are beginning a historic strike for Palestine, against genocide.

University of California Student Workers Begin Historic Political Strike against Repression and Genocide

This week, student and postdoctoral workers at the University of California began a historic strike in response to the brutal, violent repression of students, faculty, and staff protesting for Palestine. The action marks an important escalation of the labor movement’s struggle in defense of Palestine and the right to protest.

Olivia Wood

May 21, 2024

MOST RECENT

Attack on Pro-Palestinian Protestors at UMich Latest Example of Democrats Defending Israel’s Genocide in Gaza

Capitalist apologists from the Democratic Party have chosen their business partners in Israel’s far-right government over Palestinian lives. In Ann Arbor, those same so-called “progressive” Democrats decided to bring felony charges against protestors earlier this week, encouraging harsh police violence against the University of Michigan encampment.

Ryan McCarty

May 24, 2024
Activists in Detroit speaking at a press conference condemning repression of the pro-Palestine movement on May 20, 2024.

Detroit Activists Hold Press Conference to Condemn Repression of Pro-Palestine Protesters

Detroit Will Breathe organized a press conference to discuss the police violence and repression against pro-Palestine protesters. The movement must stand in solidarity and unite to combat the increase of repression.

Kyle Thibodeau

May 23, 2024

CUNY Workers Should Support the Five Demands of the Student Encampment

As the PSC CUNY Delegate Assembly prepares to debate a vote to endorse the five demands of the CCNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment, some members of CUNY on Strike penned the following rebuttal to the bureaucratic union leadership that has been trying to distance itself from the struggle against the genocide in Gaza. 

A Russian tank fires toward Kharkiv on the May 10 offensive against Ukraine.

Russia’s Offensive in Ukraine May Be a Turning Point in the War

Russia’s May 10 offensive in Ukraine may be a turning point in the dynamics of the war, and the specter of Ukraine’s defeat is exposing the cracks that divide the Western powers.

Claudia Cinatti

May 21, 2024