Historic auto strike hits Big Three at once

By Martha Grevatt
September 15, 2023

Toledo, Ohio

For the first time in its 88-year history, the United Auto Workers is striking Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (which includes Chrysler) simultaneously. When the 2019-23 contracts between the union and the corporations expired at midnight the night of Sept. 14, the selective strike targeting one assembly plant at each company was launched. Workers at GM’s Wentzville, Missouri, plant; Ford’s Wayne, Michigan, plant; and the Toledo, Ohio, Jeep plant are maintaining militant picket lines around the clock.

It was a noisy scene in Toledo with nonstop honking from supportive drivers, including working truck drivers. Only a small minority were quiet. Donations of food and beverages began to pile up on the first day of the strike. A recent poll showed that three out of four people in the U.S. were sympathetic to an auto industry strike.

Messages of support are flowing from around the U.S. and globally. The AFL-CIO and many of its member unions put out statements in solidarity with the UAW strike. UAW-represented graduate students at Harvard and UMass Boston held signs on campus backing the strike.

The Teamsters union stated that its members will not make pickups or deliveries at struck plants, and Teamster car haulers will not transport vehicles during the strike. Teamsters President Sean O’Brien reminded the auto companies that, “Teamsters don’t cross picket lines.”

Autoworkers in Brazil, Mexico and South Africa have all voiced their solidarity with the auto strike in the U.S.

The 13,000 workers now striking represent almost 10% of UAW members at the Detroit Three companies. UAW President Shawn Fain has stated that workers at more plants will walk out if the companies don’t deliver an acceptable contract proposal that addresses union demands that include higher wages, an end to tiered pay and benefits, a raise in retiree pensions, job security and a shorter work week with no cut in pay.

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No more tiers!

Ending tiers — where workers’ pay and benefits vary based on their date of hire — was one of the key issues of concern that Toledo Jeep workers shared with this writer. In the current contract, workers hired after October 2007 do not get a pension or health insurance when they retire. Temporary or “supplemental” workers are paid even less, have fewer benefits and have far less protection from discipline and firings.

On the shop floor and on social media, rank-and-file autoworkers are expressing a range of views on the strategy of only striking a few plants. Some have the position that “if one goes out, we should all go out.” Others see the need to target plants that make components such as engines or body parts because of the impact a strike there would have on the overall corporate supply chain. Assembly plants only build certain products.

However, workers at the struck plants build some of the three companies’ most profitable vehicles. The decision to strike three assembly plants created chaos at Ford and GM after the bosses had product moved out of some engine plants on the assumption that those essential plants would be struck — but weren’t. Some autoworkers describe as “brilliant” the strategy that “keeps the companies guessing and builds economic leverage against the Big Three over time if they refuse to negotiate a contract we deserve.” (uaw.org)

The option of striking all the facilities at all three companies has not been ruled out. In the meantime, Toledo workers are loud and proud when they chant, “No contract, no Jeeps!”

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