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

Auto on Strike:
What Are Workers Ready to Do?

Sep 18, 2023

On September 15, the leaders of the United Auto Workers union (UAW) called out workers to begin a strike against GM, Ford and Stellantis.

The new UAW leadership started negotiations by demanding, among other things, a 46% wage increase over the life of the contract and the restoration of cost-of-living (COLA) raises. They demanded an end to tiers and temporary workers—bringing every worker up to full pay and giving every worker a pension and retiree health care.

Damn Right! Auto workers, whose back-breaking labor has produced billions of dollars of profits for the auto companies, deserve every penny of those demands, and they deserve much more than that. All of the demands presented by the UAW would not nearly make up for the concessions that auto workers have lost.

Before and after the strike started, the news media all said that it wasn’t possible for the companies to meet all of the union’s demands. They said the companies would go broke. Bullshit! The auto companies, who are owned by Wall Street capitalists, can easily afford to grant those demands. In fact, the demands presented by the UAW leaders didn’t even touch upon restoring all the hundreds of thousands of jobs lost to years of speed-up and outsourcing. This is where the auto bosses have made most of their profits, by producing more vehicles with fewer workers.

The day the strike started, there was a rally in Detroit in support of the strike, where Democratic politicians joined the UAW leaders. The headline speaker was Bernie Sanders who condemned the auto company CEOs for being too “greedy.” But the problem goes way beyond greedy CEOs and billionaires. The real problem is a system, where the capitalist class owns all the factories. And because they own the means of production, their laws give them the right to make all the decisions—how much workers are paid, how many jobs there are, how many hours people work, how fast they work.

The only thing that challenges the bosses’ ability to decide everything about workers’ lives is when workers organize and use our power over production to fight for more of what we deserve.

From the mid-1970’s until 2019, auto workers and their union have not challenged this. There was no major companywide strike for over 40 years. Facing no resistance, the auto companies have taken away wages and benefits and jobs, and taken them away again.

In 2019, there was a strike that put up a slight barrier to these steps backward. The old UAW leadership called a strike at GM, the first major companywide auto strike since 1976. But it was only at one company.

Today, the new leadership of the UAW has called a strike. They started out this current strike by calling out 3 assembly plants—one at each company—only 13,000 workers out of almost 150,000 UAW auto workers.

It’s possible that auto companies, faced with the threat of more strikes, will give up some raises to avoid a long strike at a time when they are preparing to transition to building more electric vehicles. But some raises—even if at first glance they look good—are not going to give auto workers the comfortable life we all need. Raises don’t address the long hours, horrible work schedules and overloaded jobs. Raises don’t return the jobs eliminated through outsourcing and speedup. Auto workers deserve wages that provide a decent standard of living. They also deserve jobs that don’t exhaust them, jobs that aren’t threatened to be eliminated, jobs that will be there for the next generation. They deserve a future with a chance to retire and live comfortably without a broken body.

Up to now, in this current strike and in the 2019 strike, the auto workers have been used by UAW negotiators as a kind of negotiating tool, a scare tactic, using the threat of a strike or even using a limited strike as a way to negotiate a better contract, to get a couple dollars more for auto workers.

But the question is, what are the workers going to do?

Workers have a far greater power than that. Workers have the power to fight for more than just a couple of dollars. They have the power to fight for the kind of future they deserve, the world they want to live in. The 150,000 UAW auto workers have hundreds of thousands of allies in the auto parts plants, in the non-union auto plants, allies who face the same problems. And they have millions of allies in every industry and workplace. Workers have the power to make a fight everywhere—inside the factories, outside the workplaces, and in the streets.

The working class has the power to make a fight that can improve our lives and change our futures. We can make a fight to get rid of the whole system that exploits us.