UAW continues to fiercely “stand up” despite company attacks

The three largest automakers in the US will stop at nothing to pit workers against each other

September 19, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
UAW workers on strike at the General Motors plant in Wentzville, Missouri (Photo: UAW via Twitter)

Entering the fifth day of the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike, 13,000 out of 146,000 UAW workers continue to walk the picket lines in front of three auto plants in Missouri, Michigan, and Ohio, belonging to each of the three largest automakers in the country, GM, Stellantis, and Ford. This partial strike has the potential to build up to a strike of all 146,000 members depending on how the auto companies respond to contract negotiations. The UAW has dubbed this strategy, which keeps the union a step ahead of the automakers at all times, the “Stand Up Strike”.

UAW President Shawn Fain appeared on MSNBC Sunday to talk about updates in negotiations. “Progress is slow, and I don’t really wanna say we’re closer [to reaching an agreement],” Fain said. “It’s a shame that the companies didn’t take our advice and get down to business from the beginning of bargaining back in mid-July. They did what they always do, they delayed until the very end, til the last week, and then they wanted to get serious about this.”

“I find it really pathetic to hear a couple of these CEOs, when they were asked about their 40% increases in the last four years, on top of their already excessive million-dollar salaries, to say that they’re paid for their performance,” he added. “That’s completely incorrect. They’re paid for our workers’ performance. And it’s a shame that they make those millions off the backs of exploiting those workers [for] poverty wages.”

The auto manufacturers have thus far viciously fought back. On day one of the strike, Ford announced that it was laying off 600 non-union auto workers at one of the striking plants in Wayne, Michigan, as a direct result of the strike, in the company’s own words.

“Our production system is highly interconnected, which means the UAW’s targeted strike strategy will have knock-on effects for facilities that are not directly targeted for a work stoppage. In this case, the strike at Michigan Assembly Plant’s final assembly and paint departments has directly impacted the operations in other parts of the facility,” said Ford in a statement.

“This is not a lockout. This layoff is a consequence of the strike at Michigan Assembly Plant’s final assembly and paint departments because the components built by these 600 employees use materials that must be e-coated for protection. E-coating is completed in the paint department, which is on strike.”  

The UAW quickly responded, promising that those laid off workers would receive an income, despite not being part of the union. “Let’s be clear: if the Big Three decide to lay people off who aren’t on strike, that’s them trying to put the squeeze on our members to settle for less. With their record profits, they don’t have to lay off a single employee. In fact, they could double every autoworker’s pay, not raise car prices, and still rake in billions of dollars,” said the UAW in a statement. “Their plan won’t work. The UAW will make sure any worker laid off in the Big Three’s latest attack will not go without an income. We’ll organize one day longer than they can, and go the distance to win economic and social justice at the Big Three.”

General Motors told 2,000 of its employees of the Fairfax car assembly plant in Kansas that their plant will be shut down and they will be out of work this week. GM claims that this is due to a shortage of parts stemming from one of the striking plants in Wentzville, Missouri. Under normal circumstances, a company would give employees partial pay if another plant is idle. However, GM is shutting down the plant solely because of the strike, as the company states, “We are working under an expired agreement at Fairfax. Unfortunately, there are no provisions that allow for company-provided SUB-pay in this circumstance.”

UAW announced on Saturday that a Stellantis executive had rescinded an offer to reopen the Belvidere Assembly Plant in Illinois as a direct result of the strike. That’s how they see these workers. A bargaining chip,” wrote the UAW. “Belvidere Assembly was a profitable plant that just a few years ago supported around 5,000 workers and their families. Now that number is zero, and Stellantis wants to keep playing games. Their attitude is: Stellantis giveth, and Stellantis taketh away. Our attitude is: Save Belvidere.”

UAW workers are demanding an end to plant closures as part of this contract campaign. The closure of plants and the moving of production to Global South nations with lower-paid workers is a result of the neoliberal economic model, and contributes to the further exploitation of workers in impoverished nations while decimating the US working class. UAW worker and Belvidere transfer Korbin Friend shared with Labor Notes what a Belvidere co-worker told him about the experience of the plant closure. “Imagine if everyone you worked with all of a sudden either gained 50 pounds or killed themselves… That’s what happens in these communities when these companies choose numbers in a spreadsheet over the American workers that build the vehicles.”