Autoworkers expand strike to new General Motors and Ford plants

Stellantis was spared from the third round of strikes, which will spread to 7,000 union workers in Chicago and Lansing

Autoworkers strike expands to new General Motors and Ford plants
United Auto Workers (UAW) union president Shawn Fain last Tuesday in Bellville, Michigan, in front of a General Motors facility.EVELYN HOCKSTEIN (REUTERS)
Miguel Jiménez

Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, has decided to take the union’s history-making strike against Detroit automakers up a notch. In a speech broadcast Friday via social media, Fain announced that the walkout will extend to two additional plants, a General Motors (GM) factory in Lansing (Michigan) and a Ford plant in Chicago (Illinois), which together employ 7,000 union workers. With the new round of walkouts, a total of 25,000 autoworkers will be on strike. The UAW union has 146,000 members working in the Detroit Big Three: GM, Ford and Stellantis.

The union president said that during the last week negotiations have been ongoing, but that “sadly, despite our willingness to bargain, Ford and GM have refused to make meaningful progress at the table.” Fain’s announcement was delayed 25 minutes by a last-minute offer from Stellantis that spared the company from the third round of strikes. The details of the offer have not yet been disclosed.

“To be clear, negotiations have not broken down,” Fain said. “We’re still talking with all three companies. And I’m still very hopeful we can reach a deal that reflects the incredible sacrifices and contributions that our members have made over the last decade. But I also know that what we win at the bargaining table begins on the power we build on the job. It’s time to use that power. That’s why I’m calling on an additional 7,000 members across Ford and GM to go on strike starting at noon today,” he added.

The two affected plants are Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, which makes the Ford Explorer and Explorer Police Interceptors, as well as the Lincoln Aviator SUV, and GM’s assembly plant in Delta Township, near Lansing, which makes large crossover SUVs such as the Chevrolet Traverse.

The strikes announced Friday are a new step in the union’s strategy of selective and gradual pressure, in which it bets on keeping companies on tenterhooks until the last moment and rewards and punishes companies depending on how the negotiations go. The UAW union is seeking increased salaries and pensions, as well as the elimination of the tiered wage system, in which new employees make half ($16 per hour) of incumbent workers, and guarantees for workers at the automakers’ electric vehicle (EV) battery plants.

The union went on strike two weeks, on Sept. 15, when it couldn’t reach agreements on new contracts with the companies. The walkouts started at a General Motors plant in Wentzville (Missouri), which manufactures the GMC Canyon and the Colorado; a Ford plant in Wayne (Michigan), which assembles the Bronco and the Ranger pickup truck; and a Stellantis plant in Toledo (Ohio), which produces the Jeep Gladiator and Wrangler models. In total, they employ some 14,000 workers. Last week, Fain added 38 parts distribution centers run by GM and Stellantis. Ford was spared the second escalation because talks with the union were progressing at that time.

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, striking autoworkers in Belville, Michigan, received an unusual visit from President Joe Biden, who joined them on the picket line at a GM facility. “Let’s keep going. You deserve what you’ve earned, and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you’re getting paid,” the president said, megaphone in hand. During Friday’s announcement of the additional strike, Fain referenced the president’s visit: “I want to be clear about one thing about the president’s historic visit. The most powerful man in the world showed up for one reason only: because our solidarity is the most powerful force in the world. When we stand together, united in the cause of economic and social justice, there’s nothing we can’t do.”

On Wednesday, it was Donald Trump’s turn. The former president and Republican frontrunner held a rally at a factory for non-union workers in Clinton Township, just outside Detroit. During his speech, Trump tried to ridicule Biden and electric cars. The Detroit News claims that some of the workers who attended with signs supporting the former president with slogans such as “Union Workers with Trump” or “UAW with Trump” were in fact neither union workers nor UAW members.

For many workers in the industry, this is their first autoworkers strike in decades. It is also the first time the UAW union has decided to strike at the same time against the Big Three, albeit gradually and selectively. It is a conflict of workers trying to hold on to the middle class, from which they are being pushed out while the industry’s companies make record profits and pay multimillion-dollar salaries to their top executives.

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