The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Fighting Words at the UAW Convention

Apr 3, 2023

At the United Auto Workers (UAW) Bargaining Convention held March 27–29 in Detroit, leaders and delegates spoke of taking on a fight with the auto companies. A new president, Shawn Fain, was sworn in only a day before the opening of the convention. Despite all the difficulties it presented after a hotly contested election with Ray Curry, Fain was able to direct the meetings of the union. Top leadership of the Administration Caucus, to their credit, were able to contain the disappointment of their delegates over the defeat of their candidate, in order to present a leadership united against the corporations.

Chuck Browning, of the defeated caucus, gave a message of militancy and unity. “To our enemies who are not in this room, to the rich and powerful that want to attack labor, to the employers who want to make profits at our expense through the exploitation of workers, to those people I send a message today…Let the world hear we’re united when it comes to taking on our enemies.” Fain sent a similar message, “When are we going to rebuild our power as a working class? When are we going to reclaim our dignity as working people? Now we are ready to fight against our only true enemy, multi-million dollar corporations who refuse to give our members their fair share.”

The new president has committed to fight all concessionary demands; to fight to get rid of lower-tier pay scales, and to restore pensions to all the auto workers who don’t have them. Fain has attacked the concessionary stance that has prevailed for decades in the UAW, and said, “No more, that is it.” Going into bargaining, he has committed to that policy.

Does this mean that the UAW will take on a strike fight when the contracts expire in September?

Certainly, Ford, GM and Stellantis (formerly Fiat-Chrysler Corporation), after having imposed concessions year after year, having taken what were known as “good paying” union jobs down to the level where new hires have to work a second job, having replaced permanent jobs with temporary jobs—surely, auto bosses won’t be looking to increase their labor costs. Not only have they, since the 1970s, reduced pay, they have intensified exploitation. They have pushed auto workers to a killing pace, imposed schedules that are unhealthy and unsafe. They have closed down plants and laid off workers whenever they want.

They are in the process of doing even more of that, with an accelerated plan to make even more profits off fewer vehicles; eliminating car lines and smaller, less-profitable vehicles and whole lines, in favor of producing luxury cars and trucks that average upwards of 60,000 dollars.

Certainly, negotiations at a bargaining table are not going to win these jobs, wages and benefits back. But it is certainly possible that the workers, through their actions, can.

If autoworkers decide to try to get back what they have lost, they have the power to do it. It cannot happen without their power, without their organization. Solidarity and organization must be built from the ground up. On every floor, in every plant, once a decision is made to fight, the workers will need to get ready.

Old concessionary policies can be thrown out the window. New fighting policies can take their place. Like, taking on all the auto companies at once, instead of setting a target. Like, looking outside of the one union to the power of the many millions of workers who are facing the same speed up, the same cutbacks, the same layoffs, some even coming up on contracts, and uniting our fighting power together. Why do we keep fighting in separate units, when together, we are much stronger?

To go up against auto bosses means to go up against Wall Street, those who own the auto companies as the main stockholders. It means a wide open fight, one that would require the forces of many more workers than the number organized today in the UAW. The Wall Street bosses today are all workers’ bosses. And a wider fight, if realized, would have the potential to shake the system off of its foundations.

If the autoworkers are ready to organize and take on the companies, a powerful union like the UAW, when it fights, has the weight to begin a real social struggle, one that can unite the working class into a powerful force against capitalism and its inequalities and exploitation.