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Workers Vanguard No. 1161

20 September 2019

UAW: Strike to Win!

SEPTEMBER 17—Some 50,000 auto workers have hit the picket lines, idling General Motors plants across the country. Two major opposing class forces are now in open battle, and the impact could soon be felt at parts suppliers and in other sectors of the U.S. economy, as well as the GM empire in Canada and Mexico. United Auto Workers (UAW) members, fed up with years of forced sacrifice, are set against a manufacturing giant riding a wave of over $30 billion in profits in the last three years alone—amassed from the blood and sweat of the workers. The automaker, like all capitalists, is far from satisfied. GM wants to squeeze more out of the workers, including by saddling them with higher health care costs and a paltry, below-inflation wage raise. It must be stopped. A hard-fought strike that wins could also help invigorate other union struggles to beat back the profit-hungry bosses elsewhere, not least at Ford and Fiat Chrysler.

As was evident from discussions with workers on the picket lines, the toxic tiered wage system and ever-growing pool of temporary workers burn deep for auto workers. The low-tier and temp workers toil at jobs alongside union brothers and sisters for vastly unequal compensation. The shrinking number of workers who started at GM before 2007 earn roughly $31 an hour; the great majority hired since then make far less, and temps are at the bottom, paid less than half that amount. These temp positions tend to be filled by a greater share of black and women workers, part of the ploy by the bosses to sow further division within the workforce. The last time UAW members went on strike against GM, for two days in 2007, the settlement imposed on them introduced the low-wage tier for new hires. No more betrayals! There must be a fight to end second-class union membership and win equal pay and benefits for equal work, at the highest levels for everyone.

The strike has met with an outpouring of support from working people across the country, and the Teamsters president pledged that carhaulers would refuse to transport GM vehicles during the strike. In the hours before the walkout began, though, the scene was very different outside five GM plants where UAW-represented janitors went out on strike and set up pickets, only to have union officials instruct production workers to cross and report for their shifts. “This isn’t what solidarity looks like,” one UAW member bitterly commented.

Indeed, the directive was a punch in the gut to everyone involved. Picket lines must be respected. They are battle lines in the class struggle. Industrial unions were built on core principles like “one out, all out” and “picket lines mean don’t cross.” Now that the janitors and production workers are out together, they should stay out together until all their demands are met. Their pickets should be further reinforced by the mobilization of the ranks of labor, especially UAW members at Ford and Fiat Chrysler, as well as the parts plants.

It is crucial to weld bonds of solidarity across national borders as well. Mexico now accounts for over a quarter of GM’s production in North America. Those laboring in the plants there are natural allies of UAW members. Earlier this year, tens of thousands of union workers at sweatshop factories in the border city of Matamoros successfully waged combative strikes, including against a manufacturer of parts for GM vehicles. The joint struggle of auto workers in the U.S., Mexico and Canada would deliver a mighty blow to management efforts to grind everyone down, irrespective of plant location.

This perspective is decidedly not that of the UAW bureaucracy, which retails the lie that jobs in the U.S. can be saved by appealing to the bosses and the likes of Donald “America First” Trump to take measures that would cost workers in Mexico their jobs. Last November, when GM announced plans to close five plants, UAW president Gary Jones railed against companies that “choose foreign workers over American workers.” This chauvinism has seeped into the workforce, with some strikers telling Workers Vanguard reporters that Mexican workers are to blame for job losses. Protectionism is poison, pure and simple. It cripples the potential for international labor solidarity, while treating the automaker as a prospective “partner” of the union.

The union can put a halt to job cuts and the other attacks of the bosses only by relying on its numbers, organization and solidarity. As it has time and again come contract time, GM is today insisting on further closing what it calls the “labor cost gap” between itself and the non-union, foreign-owned auto plants in the U.S. Well, it is high time the union closes that gap on its own behalf, by launching a concerted drive to organize the sea of unorganized workers in the industry, so that all auto workers can enjoy the best wages and decent work conditions. Any such campaign will, as a matter of course, entail taking head on the system of racial oppression and segregation, which has historically served to divide workers and keep unions out, especially in the South.

Various Democratic Party politicians have voiced support for the strike. Watch out for these false “friends” who are in fact enemies! The UAW tops tie the fortunes of the union to the election of such Democrats, who, no less than the Republicans, are the servants of the capitalist exploiters. The current cheering of the UAW strike by the field of 2020 Democratic hopefuls is a transparent attempt to get votes and nothing more. Joe Biden was part of the Obama administration, which brought the hammer down on the union in order to bail out the auto bosses in 2009. The UAW leadership had a hand in the affair, including by agreeing to a no-strike pledge, and to this day claims the orgy of mass layoffs and wage-slashing preserved jobs. Others among the Democrats, like Bernie Sanders, are not fundamentally better. This so-called progressive is an old-fashioned protectionist, whose preferred economic policy is based on pitting workers against one another across national lines.

The Obama administration also made its mark on the UAW by launching the now-expanded federal government investigation into alleged financial chicanery by union officials. This probe is a clear and present danger to the union, calculated to go after more of its leadership amid contract negotiations. On the eve of the strike, UAW regional director Vance Pearson was added to the list of current or former union officials so far arrested. This meddling in the union should make clear to every UAW member that the police and other state authorities are repressive agents of the bosses. Government hands off the UAW! Labor must clean its own house!

One striking worker, expressing a widely held sentiment, described the union leadership as “corrupt and nepotistic.” Shady dealings for private gain are one thing. The underlying problem, though, is the political corruption of the union bureaucracy, which proceeds from the starting point of class collaboration, including by extolling one Democrat after another. Class collaboration is a recipe for union defeat.

A dubious outfit calling itself the “World Socialist Web Site” has seized on the corruption scandal to claim that “the UAW has been thoroughly discredited” (, 14 September). Beware these anti-union scoundrels, who equate the basic defense organizations of the working class with their pro-capitalist misleaders. Our purpose in denouncing class collaboration is to facilitate the struggle that will strengthen the unions.

What is needed is a class-struggle leadership of the unions forged in opposition to the Democrats and all other capitalist parties. Armed with the certain knowledge that the working class has no interest in common with the bosses, a union like the UAW could play a leading role in a broad fight against capitalism’s ravages, drawing in other workers and the unemployed as well as black people and immigrants targeted by the capitalist rulers. To hold to such a perspective against the many obstacles that the bourgeoisie will put in the way requires building a workers party committed to the expropriation of the capitalist class and the establishment of a proletarian government that represents the working people and is answerable to them.


Workers Vanguard No. 1161

WV 1161

20 September 2019


UAW: Strike to Win!


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