“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Nov 22, 2021
In 2021, before over 10,000 UAW workers at farm equipment maker John Deere went out on strike, the company gave the CEO a raise of 160% and said profits of 6 billion dollars were expected for the year. On October 14, over 10,000 UAW workers went out on strike.
Five weeks later, having voted 61% YES and 39% NO on November 17, strikers are returning to work, having approved the company’s third offer. It is impressive that after 5 weeks on strike, staring at the coming holiday season, 39% of the workforce was ready to continue the fight! This solid group of workers can bring a militant mindset into the workplaces, serving up a warning to the company.
After a close ratification vote back in 2015, when 51% voted YES and 49% voted NO, the 49% began urging their coworkers to prepare for and save money for a strike in 2021. It worked!
The approved third contract differed from the second because the company agreed to some changes around productivity bonuses called the Continuous Improvement Pay Program. Strikers wanted adjustments to better account for circumstances beyond a worker’s control, like supply chain disruptions. The third contract made some steps.
Upon voting yes and going back to work, workers are to receive an immediate 10% pay raise and a ratification bonus of $8,500. The 6-year agreement includes 20% in total raises and 3% lump sum bonuses in the 3 years without raises.
In the first rejected contract offer, the company had created a new 3rd Tier with lower pay and benefits. That 3rd Tier was GONE in the ratified agreement. New hires will have the same healthcare as all workers. New hires will also have a pension—the same pension as the 2nd Tier workers have—those hired since 1997.
Benefitting all workers, a new health fund will be created to pay for retiree healthcare, something that was lost for all workers since 1997.
The issues raised by this strike touched problems many other workers face today: Pay not keeping up with inflation, the company trying to create new tiers of lower paid workers so the next generation has it harder than parents and grandparents, and underhanded company work rules that swindle workers.
This question of fighting the company to prevent a lower standard of living for the new generation came up in the previous nationwide General Motors strike of 2019. That strike did bring some improvements for workers.
The determined and well-organized workers at John Deere went about as far as a group of workers can go within one workplace and within one industry. Yet the confidence this fight can give to other workers can lead to a more generalized fight.
John Deere workers stood up not only for themselves but for future generations. Said one striker, "It’s a decent win for the American labor movement. Hopefully it will help empower workers."