Since July 19th, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has been in contract negotiations with General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Stellantis. The previous union contract is set to expire tomorrow, September 14 and a tentative agreement has yet to be reached. The UAW has stated that they will strike should no agreement be reached. Shawn Fain, UAW president, said in an interview with The Associated Press “At the end of the day, If we don’t have agreements with the three of them by September 14th then there will be action.”
On Friday, September 8th, the union leadership discussed carrying out “targeted” strikes instead of a full strike. This strategy was relayed to local union leadership on Tuesday but exact details (such as which plants would be targeted or how many workers would strike) were not shared. The day before this meeting, Fain, when asked about targeted strikes said “We’ve mapped out a lot of different strategies. But it’s really just going to depend on where we are on Sept. 14. That will dictate how we react.” Clearly the UAW does not want to commit to a strategy just yet. Though given that this strategy was relayed to local leadership, it’s likely that this will be how UAW responds on the 14th. If they do, it’s likely that UAW will target parts plants as they are both lucrative to the company but also vital for other plants’ daily operations. The thinking is that this would be a way to put pressure on the companies while saving money on strike funds.
Shawn fain is set to appear on Facebook Live at 5 pm this afternoon to provide an update to rank and file. After this, we should have a clearer picture of the strike strategy that UAW plans to implement. Though given what we know, a targeted strike would be a mistake. Even if it is justified by the argument of saving money or stretching the strike fund, this makes no sense. There are a total of 146,000 UAW-unionized workers employed at the ‘Big Three’. If they were to strike they would receive $500 in strike funds every week. Currently, the UAW strike fund has $825 million. These funds, in the event of a full strike, would be enough to last 2.6 months or about 80 days. The last strike of UAW GM workers lasted only half that.
Anderson Economic Group, a bourgeois research firm estimates that even a 10-day strike would cost the whole economy $5.6 billion. Further, it would cost those specific capitalist, the Big Three, $989 million. The president of Anderson Economic Group goes on to say “In 2019, General Motors could look at their inventory and say, ‘We can take a 10-day strike, and hardly anybody who wants one of our cars is going to be unable to get it. That’s not the case in 2023.” It is clear that the bourgeoisie fears a strike for what it could do to their profits. They don’t want a 10-day strike when, with these funds, the union could go eight times longer than that.
The union has the correct idea in that should an agreement not be reached then they will strike but they must strike decisively and not with half measures if they actually intend to win. The fact is that there is no such thing as a “halfway struggle”. Either we struggle, or we don’t. There are those who would reduce real struggle to mere social dialogue. A conversation between classes, between the workers who create the value and the capitalists who appropriate it. As if the interests of both these classes were not diametrically opposed. The only way to advance is not through dialogue but through social struggle. Workers of this country did not win the 8-hour workday or the weekend through dialogue but through social struggle. The Haymarket massacre, a strike for the 8-hour workday turned bloody by state repression, is just one of the many examples of this. This idea of social dialogue must be rejected in favor of social struggles if the working class is to emancipate itself.
In speaking about negotiations, Fain, has already made a mistake when he said “There’s a lot of back and forth in bargaining and naturally when you go into bargaining you don’t always get everything you demand but its a process” A leader of a union, if he is to be truly militant, should not be speaking about negotiations in this way. This is already ceding ground unnecessarily to the capitalist. Of course, one cannot dogmatically hold to a simplistic “no compromises” position at all times since, as in war so too in class struggle, there are ebbs and flows, advances and retreats. During ebbs in the class struggle it may be necessary to accept less favorable terms but we are not at such a point.
We are witnessing a burgeoning labor movement that has the potential to be as militant and revolutionary as those of the early 20th century. To call for an advance when possessing the advantage, to refuse to compromise in these situations, is the duty of all communist and militant trade unionists. Conversely, to meekly concede the necessity of “not always getting what you want”, to refrain from advancing during an upswing in the class struggle, is characteristic of treasonous yellow trade unionism. Now is the time to push and push hard to secure as much as possible. A prerequisite of ensuring that you receive every concession possible is to negotiate from a powerful strike.
Of course, strikes are but one of the many ways in which the working class and popular strata struggle for their liberation. It would be a mistake for the working class to think that it can secure substantial gains let alone its liberation through strikes. Regardless of the real gains that workers can obtain through strikes, these gains can never truly be secured if the working class does not take state power. So long as the capitalist class retains control over the levers of power, these gains will be, steadily or rapidly, rolled back year after year, decade after decade.
Workers must not confine themselves to strikes or union struggle but must understand this as a piece of the larger struggle, the struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the seizing of state power by the working class and its allies, and the construction of socialism-communism. A prerequisite of which is a strong communist party – one that, having proven itself as an unceasing fighter of the proletariat, of the working class, enjoys the confidence of the working class and can combine these separate struggles into an effective attack on the capitalist class. To build such a party in our country is the duty of all class conscious workers, of all communists.