I read a great story written today by Cory Doctorow about the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike.
As Doctorow points out:
This is an historic strike, the first time that the UAW has struck all of the Big Three automakers at once. Past autoworkers' strikes have marked turning points for all American workers. The 1945/46 GM strike established employers' duty to cover worker pensions, health care, and cost of living allowances.
In a year that has already seen groundbreaking strikes in Hollywood, a near-strike among Teamsters working for UPS that won them hard-fought concessions, and even more labor votes pending, this UAW strike will likely prove to be pivotal.
[The automakers] are refusing to allow unions to organize Electric Vehicle (EV) factories. Given that no more internal combustion cars will be in production in just a few short years, that's tantamount to eliminating auto unions altogether.
The UAW union has made unionization of the EV factories one of their key demands. I see this as analogous to the Screen Writers’ and Actors’ Guild strikes that are fighting to keep the use of AI out of their industry. The onset of a new technology gives corporations an opportunity to integrate that new technology into their systems without including the necessary worker protections. Corporations, of course, will take any opportunity to leave off worker protections, which is why unions exist in the first place.
It sounds as if the UAW strike has been planned very well. In order to make their strike fund last as long as possible, they are starting off by simply refusing to take voluntary overtime. Their bosses have become dependent on a system of voluntary overtime in many factories.
At GM's "highly profitable" SUV factory in Arlington, TX, normal production runs a six-days, 24 hours per day. Workers typically work five eight-hour days and nine hours on Saturdays. [...] when bosses circulated the usual overtime signup sheet last week, every worker wrote "a big fat NO" next to their names.
This strike initiative is called “Eight and skate.”
Of course, bosses will strike back: the next step will be forced overtime, which will lead to the unsafe conditions that unionized workers are contractually obliged to call paid work-stoppages over, shutting down operations without touching the strike fund.
Per the last UAW contract, any changes to work stoppage or overtime rules require a bargaining session. It’s a neat trap that the automakers have built for themselves.
I am greatly encouraged after having read this article. I was a bit downhearted about the auto strike after I had read some earlier news stories that pointed out how much of the auto markets are not American (and therefore not represented by UAW) these days, but now that I am better informed about how this strike is unfolding I feel more hopeful.
It looks like the striking workers are being very smart and tactical about their strike; exploiting the gaping weaknesses in their bosses’ standard practice for the last decade or so.
Their real goals are probably to unionize the EV plants and to have an actual 40 hour work week, instead of 40 hours plus “voluntary” overtime, and I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t get that if they continue as they are.
I do recommend reading the full article (unpaywalled), which goes into much more detail than I’ve included here, but I’ll leave you Doctorow’s closing paragraph:
Reversing two generations of anti-worker politics is a marathon, not a sprint. The strikes are going to run for months, even years. Every worker will be called upon to support their striking siblings, every day. We can do it. Solidarity now. Solidarity forever.
I’m working on organizing my own workplace right now. Every piece of encouraging news gives me more energy to make those house calls. Solidarity now. Solidarity forever!