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

UAW Demands Big Raises, Pensions Back:
What Kind of Fight Will It Take?

Aug 7, 2023

UAW President Shawn Fain addressed UAW members on a livestream and laid out the contract demands that the union bargaining team is presenting to the Big 3 auto companies—GM, Ford and Stellantis.

Fain said the UAW will be demanding an upfront 20% wage increase and 5% increase every year after, as well as regular cost-of-living (COLA) raises. The union wants an end to two-tier pay and wants pensions and retiree health care for all the autoworkers hired since 2007, who now make up more than half of the workforce at the Big 3 companies. The UAW is also demanding a shorter work week, to be accomplished by giving every worker regular paid days off, on top of their holidays and vacation days.

Fain condemned the greed of the auto bosses and said that they could afford to give autoworkers what they were asking for. He put forward the slogan “Record Profits. Record Contract.”

Greed is right! Record profits is right! But, in fact, the demands that Fain laid out would not be a “Record Contract.” They would just be a return of the level of wages and benefits that autoworkers used to have, before the many years of concessions, if they got them all AND more.

From the end of World War Two through the 1970s, autoworkers and other workers were able to gain pensions, COLA, retiree health care, regular wage increases and more paid time off work when necessary to protect again heat or unsafe conditions. The U.S. capitalists had established economic domination over most of the world and were willing to give a little in the face of strikes by autoworkers and other workers. But starting in the early 1980s, the auto companies began to take back some of these gains.

Even bigger concessions were taken from autoworkers, starting in 2005, up through the 2015 contract. The UAW leadership always believed that the working class could address its problems within the framework of a capitalist society built on the exploitation of the workers. With that said, it’s true, there could only be takeaways.

Although many autoworkers were against these concessions and, at Ford and Chrysler, voted down contracts, these takeaways were finally imposed on UAW members. To go further would have required that workers have the perspective of fighting as a class.

Fain, the newly-elected UAW president, says it is going to take a fight for autoworkers to regain what they lost. Yes—and that fight has to aim at engaging other parts of the working class, right from the beginning. Today, workers are not just going against individual companies. For example, the biggest stockholders of both Ford and GM are the same investment firms, including BlackRock and Vanguard. Wall Street capitalists and investment firms own, not just the auto companies, but many other corporations and control much of the economy. These capitalists have imposed concessions on the whole working class and these bosses don’t want to see that reversed anywhere. A fight by autoworkers against even one auto company will be going up against, not just that one company, but against the whole capitalist class.

But that fight can start in auto, above all, with all the autoworkers making this fight together against Ford, GM and Stellantis.

In the past, fights by autoworkers opened the door for other workers to make a fight. Today autoworkers still play a key role in the working class, and the auto industry still has a major economic impact. A fight by autoworkers would bring the possibility that the fight could spread throughout the working class; it could spread to all those other workers who have been losing benefits and are paid wages that don’t keep up with prices.

This kind of fight by the working class would be going up against the whole capitalist class. But it also opens the door for the working class to see the power of a united working class against the bosses, a power large enough to bring the bosses’ system to a standstill.