“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Oct 25, 2019
GM workers ratified their new contract, but with 43% of the workers voting “no.” The no-vote was especially strong among workers from the four GM plants that are definitively closed by this contract and from the workers at GMCH parts plants as well as those at parts depots who earn a lower wage with fewer benefits than the workers at the manufacturing plants. But they were not the only ones saying “no,” even after six weeks on strike. There were all the others, the ones with a supposedly more stable situation and somewhat “better” wages. They understood how important it was to protect everyone, to bring everyone to the same wage. As for the 57% who voted to accept this last offer, undoubtedly not many workers believed they had gotten everything they deserve and need—not at all. But after six weeks on strike, they may have decided they had taken this fight as far as they could take it.
We can be sure that in coming weeks and months, GM workers will be subjected to propaganda aimed at dividing them from each other. We can be sure that all sorts of people—people who have no idea what it means for workers to be on strike—will now try to convince them their strike wasn’t worth it. In those states which are so-called “right-to-work” states, which mean states where there has been a big push to convince workers to leave unions, there will be a steady propaganda aimed at convincing workers to blame the union for what they didn’t get. The purpose of this propaganda will be obvious: to break workers’ solidarity and undermine the union. (States like Michigan, which is the center of GM’s empire, as well as in Texas, Indiana and Tennessee, where there are other big GM plants.)
GM workers have nothing to regret. They did something that hasn’t been done in decades. It was the longest auto workers’ strike in 49 years, and it was the first big national industrial strike since the UPS strike in 1997, 22 years ago. The GM strike broke through the malaise that has pervaded the working class for decades, the feeling that nothing could be done.
The GM workers showed there is something that can be done. It is possible to fight and defend yourself. And their fight opened the door for other workers.
The issues they were fighting over—the loss of jobs and the push by GM to use temporary workers and different tiers of pay—are the issues that run through every industry today, lowering the standard of living of the whole working class. Workers at one company, no matter if that company is as big and important as GM, won’t solve these problems by themselves. But workers at one company can start the fight.
That’s exactly what GM workers did—their strike started what can become the fight that other workers take up. GM workers have every reason to be proud of what they did, and of each other. They stood up together during the long six weeks of this strike, and they now have an experience that will allow them to take future fights where all of our fights need to go.
We will have to call in question the right of companies to make a profit, to put their monetary interests before the human needs of their workers and, in fact, of the whole population. We will have to call in question the right they claim today to make the decisions about who will work, at what wages, for how long, and how fast.
These are problems the whole working class has the capacity to take up. It has the forces, and its position in today’s society gives it the means to do so, to make the decisions, to run the whole society. GM workers alone could not have done this. But they moved the working class out of neutral gear.
The PDFs that follow are the editorials from SPARK workplace newsletters during the six weeks of the GM strike.