The Spark

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

Six Weeks of the GM Strike

Oct 28, 2019

GM workers ratified their new contract, with 43% of the workers voting “no.” The no-vote meant a willingness to remain out on strike, even after six weeks on picket lines on strike pay of less than 300 dollars per week. The high no-vote is a reflection of the GM workers’ determination to fight.

The no-vote  was especially strong among workers from the four GM plants that are definitively closed by this contract. As well, workers at GMCH and parts depots who earn a lower wage with fewer benefits than the workers in manufacturing plants voted “no.”  But they were not the only ones saying “no,” even after six weeks on strike.

This strike was marked by a high level of consciousness on the part of high seniority workers to support lower tier workers and temporary workers and to demand equality for them. This was expressed openly on picket lines—that what happened to others could easily happen to all: plant closures, lowered wages, cuts in benefits, all of it. 

As for the 57% of GM workers who voted to accept this last offer, no doubt most understood that they had not gotten everything they deserve and need. But after six weeks on strike, they decided they had taken this fight as far as they could take it.

So what were the outcomes of the strike?

Permanent workers won increased income from bonuses and raises. The bosses appear to have backed off on proposals to transfer health care costs to individual workers, although it is not clear that they could have obtained this in any event.

The issue of the unfairness of lower paid  tiers and temporaries was not settled. Even the promise to bring all second tier permanent workers up to top rate is delayed until literally the last weeks of the four year agreement. And there is no agreement to eliminate the tiers for future hires.

This is not a surprise. Tiering was put in place decades ago, and has been getting worse ever since. Was it going to disappear after one strike, one fight? No.

It is a system imposed by all the bosses across the board in one form or another to lower wages and cut benefits. It will take a wider fight of the working class to roll it back.

But the fact that GM workers finally took a stand against it—fought some of it back—is perhaps the most substantial gain of this strike. While the contract is not all that workers wanted and deserved, it is certainly not what the company wanted, either. 

No doubt there will be a steady stream of  propaganda in the months to come aimed at convincing workers to blame the union for what they didn’t get. The purpose of this propaganda will be obvious: to break the workers’ solidarity and to undermine the union.

But GM workers have nothing to regret. They did something that hasn’t been done in decades. Their strike broke through the demoralization that has infected the working class, the feeling that nothing can be done.

The fight of GM workers opened a door for all workers.

The high level of support both on and off of picket lines shows that workers in other workplaces felt that the fight was their fight as well. Their support opened the way for solidarity between larger sections of the working class.

Workers at one company, by themselves, cannot solve the problems of jobs, tiered wages, etc. But workers at one company can start the fight.

And GM workers did that. They have every reason to be proud. They stuck together during the long six weeks of this strike, and gained experience that will allow them to better fight for their rights into the future.