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 Leaders Settle Strike
—But What Has Been Gained?

Oct 30, 2023

On October 26, the UAW leadership announced a tentative contract agreement with Ford and told striking workers to go back to work, even before workers could vote on the contract. Union leaders had called a partial strike at the “Big Three” auto companies, and Ford was the first to settle. An agreement with Stellantis soon followed, and one with GM is expected soon after.

When the UAW leaders announced that they had reached a first tentative agreement with Ford, they called this a “record contract.”

If a “record contract” means that auto workers gained back all the concessions they have lost, this contract is certainly not that. Auto workers did not even gain back what they have lost to inflation since 2007. They would need an immediate raise of about 30% to do that. But they got only an 11% raise upfront. Even with the 11% raise, auto workers’ wages would still be less than they were in 2019 when adjusted for inflation. And the additional 14% total, plus a cost-of-living allowance (COLA), over the rest of the five-year (not four-year) contract, may be enough to stay even, but it will never catch up with what they have lost.

The UAW leaders also said that their goal was to get rid of tiers. That didn’t happen either. While lower-tier workers will get raises and get to full pay faster, this contract does not get rid of tiers, especially when it comes to retirement benefits.

The new UAW leadership ran this strike the same way the old UAW leadership ran the strike against GM in 2019—from the top down. The union leadership never proposed anything that would have led to the workers beginning to organize their own strike. They just told the workers where and when to man the isolated picket lines for a few hours a week.

There were no meetings organized where workers could come together to discuss and make their own decisions: What are the most important things that we want to fight for? What is the bottom line that we can accept in a contract? Should we stop the trucks from driving through the picket lines? Should we strike every plant at all three companies?

Many auto workers felt that this should have been a full strike at the Big Three. If auto workers had struck all three auto companies, it could have unleashed a level of power that would have been a force to be reckoned with. We don’t know how far the strike could have gone. We do know that, in the past, strikes by auto workers have been a catalyst for other workers to follow and resulted in strikes that spread throughout the whole working class. We do know that workers in many other industries today were excited by the possibility of an auto strike, hoping it would spread elsewhere. Why does this matter? Because the bosses, led by Wall Street financiers, are fighting together as a class. It takes a wider fight and a bigger disruption to shake them, especially now with their system in crisis. If workers were not held back, they could, at the very least, have gained experience for fights to come.

While this contract addresses some pay equity issues, the killing speedups, the unlivable schedules of work that result in workers living shorter, harder lives with no letup—the real lack of job security—all these concessions, which are the real problems for auto workers, remain in place.

When their system is left unchallenged, the bosses do whatever they want to control production for profit—and use our bodies as commodities to be exploited to the last drop. This strike, as limited as it was, testifies to the desire of workers to challenge this system.