United States: Auto workers launch historic strike

By Luis Meiners

Midnight on Thursday, September 14 marked the expiration of the contract and the start of a UAW (United Auto Workers) strike. It is the first time that auto workers have gone on strike simultaneously against the “Big Three”: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.

Negotiations between the companies and the union began in July. In August the strike authorization vote overwhelmingly passed with 97% of participants voting affirmatively. It is a key sector of the US economy with around 146,000 workers in 10 states. Due to its magnitude and importance, the strike has the potential to become a key struggle for the entire working class with effects far beyond the automotive industry. Aware of this, in the last hours before the deadline, Biden himself tried to intercede to stop the strike. However at midnight thirteen thousand workers from 3 assembly plants located in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri walked out and began the fight.

The demands of the strike are bold and crucial to begin reversing decades of concessions in the sector. Regarding wages, the demand is for a 40% increase, equaling the increase that company executives have received during the last contract period. In addition, they demand a reduction in the working hours from 40 to 32 per week without a salary reduction. One of the main setbacks that the sector had suffered in previous years was the introduction of a tier system that resulted in new hires having lower salaries and not having health benefits and retirement pensions. The union demands the elimination of this system. Finally, they demand the implementation of a Cost of Living Adjustment clause.

An important fact to understand the strike that is beginning is that it occurs in the wake of a change in the leadership of the UAW. After 80 years of leadership by the administration caucus, in March of this year the victory of an opposition platform brought Shawn Fain to the presidency. This platform was backed by the UAWD (Unite All Workers for Democracy), which defines itself as a grassroots movement of UAW members united by the common goal of creating a more democratic and accountable union. The main banner of the campaign that defeated the traditional bureaucracy was: “no corruption, no concessions, no tiers”. The fight ahead will be tough. Companies have recorded years of great profits. In the first half of this year alone they had profits of more than 20 billion dollars. They have built up reserves and inventory for the fight. The mobilization and democratic participation of workers and the solidarity of the entire working class will be essential.