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 17, 2023

At the United Auto Workers (UAW) Bargaining Convention held March 27–29 in Detroit, leaders and delegates spoke of taking on a fight against companies whose contracts were about to expire: U.S. auto companies, parts companies, Blue Cross, and several universities.

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.

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 clear message that the fight wasn’t restricted just to auto: “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.”

Does this mean the UAW is united, and ready for a fight? Does it mean that the UAW will get ready for strikes when contracts expire in September? Does it mean that information will go out to every workplace? Will there be a strike?

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 give up anything. They aren’t ready 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, laid off workers, and increased the intensity of work. 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.

Negotiations at a bargaining table are not going to win these jobs, wages and benefits back. But if auto workers decide to try to get back what they have lost, they can begin a fight that will pull many other workers into a much wider fight. Solidarity and organization must be built from the ground up. On every floor, in every plant, in every office, in every workplace, workers need to flex their muscles on day-to-day fights—right now.

Old concessionary policies can be thrown out the window, replaced by fighting policies. But that depends on whether there are enough workers ready to take the fight as far as it will go. Take on all the auto companies at once, instead of setting a target. Look outside of one union to the power of the many millions of workers who are facing the same speed-up, the same cutbacks, the same layoffs—in unions, or without a union. The policy of fighting in separate units at different times is a policy that serves only the bosses.

To go up against auto bosses means to go up against Wall Street. They are the main stockholders of the auto companies. The Wall Street bosses today are all workers’ bosses—they determine what happens at a Michigan insurance company or a university in Carolina. What’s needed is a wide-open fight, one that would require the forces of many more workers than the number organized today in the UAW. But if the UAW were to start fighting, it could touch off a wider fight.

If the UAW workers are ready to organize and take on the companies, they have the weight to begin a real social struggle, one that can unite the working class into a powerful force against capitalism and all its inequalities and exploitation.