On Monday, November 20 United Auto Workers announced that workers had voted to ratify the contract at the Big Three auto manufacturers GM, Ford, and Stellantis. The contract falls far short of the pseudo-radical picture painted by the UAW and its president Shawn Fain. On multiple fronts from wage increases, provisions for temporary workers, ending the tier system, to cost of living adjustments and more the contract represents nothing less than a betrayal of the workers in the union.
Under the ratified contract, the wage increases for the life of the contract would bring the top pay rate to $40 per hour, below the inflation-adjusted $41.56 top pay rate from 2008. It is not the role of labor unions to keep apace with inflation, let alone let the wages of their members slip behind it! Trade unions are bulwarks of organized working class power, acting as centripetal forces in their respective industries, amplifying the power of the working class a hundredfold with access to resources, strike funds, and the protection (however vacuous) of bourgeois legality. It is the role of trade unions to act as vectors for accelerated and fortified working class organization. What the UAW has done instead is play the role of facilitator in the exploitation of the auto workers at the Big Three.
To prevent the workers’ sentiments from bubbling over to genuine threats, the UAW took advantage of discontent – making a great show of appearing radical and militant with President Fain using language such as “class war” and infamously wearing an “Eat the Rich” shirt during a press release. The pomp and circumstance around the “Stand-Up Strike” strategy was nothing more than this yellow trade union laundering class collaboration under a banner of radicalism. In actuality, Fain remained publicly cozy with the ruling bourgeois class, standing side-by-side with President Joe Biden on a picket line in September.
As the CWPUSA has consistently maintained since the announcement of the “Stand-Up Strike”, this strategy was a deliberate disarmament of the fighting strength available to the UAW and their workers. UAW’s strike fund stood at around $825 million prior to the strike. The active choice to limit the impact of the strike on the Big Three was clearly not for lack of resources and had the effect of perpetuating the increasing exploitative conditions in the factories. Indeed, a key aim of the strike – to eliminate the tier system – was not accomplished. When the union chooses not to use the resources available to them and the bosses gain these wins for themselves, this is either a serious error or a deliberate attempt to protect the business union’s comfortable status as a facilitator of exploitation, a complacent lapdog to the capitalists who own the factories and extract profit from workers’ labor.
The results of the elections further illuminate the willingness of the UAW workers to expand and advance their struggle. In GM, 14,429 out of 30,860 (47%) workers in production voted no on the contract. Clearly, the energy and might of the most exploited workers went untapped, abandoned by the union leadership. The numbers in Stellantis and Ford also shine light on the fact that a great deal of the workers in production were dissatisfied with the negotiated contract, with 7,601 (33%) in Stellantis and 10,560 (33%) in Ford voting no on the contract. In contrast, trade workers voted by and large more in favor of the contract, with 61% yes in GM, 81% in Stellantis, and 79% in Ford.
This stark contrast comes as no surprise when we consider the fact that skilled trades work is generally considered the best work at an auto plant. For the workers in production, conditions are physically demanding – a worker at a GM plant in Fairfax stated: “You’re working seven days a week, 12-hour shifts and can only take one day off a month. It’s just insane. There are days when I wake up where both of my hands are numb because of the work and I just can’t feel them. And there’s nothing I can do other than stretch it out or shake them. When you’re working insane hours, you have no time to recover…It’s not uncommon for an auto worker to have knee surgeries, elbow surgery, hand surgery, wrist surgery, back surgery.”
Contrastingly, skilled trades are paid more, have a certain autonomy, and in certain regions even have advisory councils that promote their interests within the UAW. While all of this is true, skilled trades must not allow themselves to be separated from production workers by their specific interests but must uphold the common interests against the bosses. Nor can the skilled trades allow their higher wages to delude them. Since 2009, skilled trades have seen their number decreased through the combination of crafts, deskilling of work, and the delegation of skilled work to production workers due to the implementation of so-called “lean production.” Solidarity between the skilled trades and production must prevail less it jeopardizes the common fight against “The Big Three.” A contract that fails to meet one of the major demands of production workers, even if it meets all of the skilled trades’ demands, must be rejected by the skilled trades with the same vigor they would one that met none of their demands.
Consistent with their history as a class collaborationist trade union, UAW and its leadership decided to abandon the workers’ aims and neuter their energy through the “Stand-Up Strike” strategy which accomplished nothing more than a limitation of the strike’s impact on the bosses’. The numbers indicate that tens of thousands of workers remain dissatisfied – rightly so as their union (what should be a bulwark of organized working class power) left them out to dry.
We at the Communist Workers’ Platform USA strongly condemn the UAW leadership for its deception and facade of radicalism. We call for a rank-and-file strategy to organize the workers and develop the militancy necessary to take leadership positions within the union, end its class-collaboration, and orient the trade union towards a genuine, revolutionary class-struggle trade union strategy.