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UAW launches offensive to unionize Volkswagen, Toyota and Tesla workers in the US

The autoworkers’ union made an address to 150,000 employees at 13 manufacturers following its successful strike at Detroit’s Big Three

Miguel Jiménez
Shawn Fain, presidente UAW
Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers union, pictured in July at a plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan.REBECCA COOK (REUTERS)

The president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), Shawn Fain, had already announced his intention, but now he has put it into practice. The union that groups together U.S. autoworkers from companies such as General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, the “Big Three,” wants to expand its scope of action. On Wednesday it launched an offensive to unionize workers at more than a dozen companies in the sector, including U.S.-based Tesla, Japan’s Toyota and Germany’s Volkswagen.

The success of the recent auto worker’s strike, the first to be held simultaneously against Detroit’ Big Three, has given the union wings. The agreements reached to bring that stoppage to an end — involving wage increases of more than 30% and other concessions on the part of the companies — have caused a chain reaction in the plants of other manufacturers, which have also approved significant wage increases. Still, non-union workers lag far behind those in UAW-affiliated plants in terms of wages, benefits, and rights on the job. Now, the UAW is openly reaching out to more than 150,000 employees at other companies to join its ranks.

In the United States, it is common for preparatory work to be carried out discreetly in order to avoid being short-circuited by the company in question. This time, however, the UAW is going with a direct and open appeal. “In an unprecedented move, autoworkers at more than a dozen non-union automakers have announced simultaneous campaigns across the country to join the UAW,” the union announced in a statement. “The organizing drive will cover nearly 150,000 autoworkers across at least thirteen automakers,” it added.

“One of the strongest campaigns is at Toyota’s Georgetown, Ky., assembly complex, where 7,800 workers make the company’s iconic Camry and highly profitable RAV 4 and Lexus ES,” the union stated.

In a video, Fain details the common issues facing all workers in the sector, which the union groups into the Big Three (Ford, GM, Stellantis), the German Three (Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW), the Japanese and Korean Six (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru, Mazda), and the electric car sector (Tesla, Rivian, Lucid). Fain underlines in his message the record profits being posted by some of these companies, the same strategy he employed to seek improvements during the recent strike.

“To all the autoworkers out there working without the benefits of a union: now it’s your turn,” Fain says. " Since we began our Stand Up Strike, the response from autoworkers at non-union companies has been overwhelming. Workers across the country, from the West to the Midwest and especially in the South, are reaching out to join our movement and to join the UAW [...] The money is there. The time is right. And the answer is simple. You don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. You don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay your rent or feed your family while the company makes billions. A better life is out there.”

The new campaign kicks off on the same day that General Motors soared on the stock market after announcing a multibillion-dollar share buyback and a dividend increase. The company has been optimistic about its ability to offset post-strike wage increases by cutting other fixed costs.

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