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 Strike:
Workers Need Jobs and a Future

Oct 2, 2023

On September 29, the UAW leaders expanded their partial strike against the Big Three auto companies, calling out one more assembly plant each at Ford and GM. Stellantis was spared, at least for now. That meant that about 25,000 out of 145,000 UAW members were now on strike at the Big Three.

Ford CEO Jim Farley responded by blasting UAW president Shawn Fain, saying that the union was holding up a contract settlement and was holding the company “hostage” over the issue of battery plants. What bull! The Big Three have made 250 billion dollars in profits over the last ten years, and they could easily afford to meet every one of the UAW’s initial demands—which are economic—and still address job security issues.

It is not clear what the UAW leaders are asking for regarding the battery plants. But it is clear that the auto companies are using the excuse of the transition to electric vehicles to do what they have been doing all along, cutting jobs and lowering wages.

The Big Three auto companies openly admit that they are planning to reduce jobs in powertrain plants, where workers build gas-powered engines and transmissions. They’ve been doing it. This is not new! So now, the auto companies are building new plants where batteries will be made for electric vehicles. And all the talk is about the fact that the auto companies want to pay the battery plant workers much less than they pay full-time auto workers. And, so far, that’s the reality. But it’s not because they are battery plants. It’s because the capitalists will drive down wages, using whatever pretext they think will convince people.

UAW leaders may be making an issue with the battery plants. The battery plants being built by the Big Three do not fall under the national contract agreements with the UAW. Even if there is some agreement with the UAW leaders, so what? If workers are laid off in an engine plant in Michigan, for example, what good is it if they are allowed to transfer to a job in a battery plant down South? These battery plants are not being built in the same city or even the same state where the old plants are.

Auto workers need jobs where they live; they need jobs that provide a decent standard of living; they need jobs and wages that will be there for their children and the next generation. Over the past couple of decades, auto companies cut wages and hundreds of thousands of jobs by outsourcing most of their production to supposedly “independent” auto parts companies, paying lower wages. Auto companies have eliminated thousands of jobs by speed-up—getting more work out of fewer people. Did these jobs just disappear in the air?

During these decades of job loss and wage concessions, there was little resistance by auto workers and their unions. In 2019, there was finally a strike at GM—the first companywide strike at the Big Three in 43 years. Today, some UAW auto workers are again engaged in a strike called by the union leaders. Both fights were limited—just in different ways. But that still can change.

A fight can start over what happens at the battery plants. But the fight can also be over keeping jobs at the engine and transmission plants. When the companies say they don’t need as many gas-powered engines and transmissions, everyone can still be kept working on all the jobs eliminated in the past. The fight for jobs can be in the assembly plants by putting the jobs back to the way they used to be—where one person does the work of one person, not three or four people.

If all the 145,000 UAW workers at the Big Three were in the fight together, they could engage all the other auto workers, who have their own reasons to fight. All the hundreds of thousands of workers in the auto supplies plants. The many thousands of auto workers who work at Tesla, Volkswagen, Nissan, Hyundai, and all the other auto companies. All these auto workers are underpaid and overworked, too.

Any fight by auto workers for their jobs and their future goes up against the same Wall Street capitalists who own all of these auto companies and auto suppliers. What is needed is a class fight, a fight by all the auto workers and all workers, a fight to shake the whole system that exploits them all today.