I think we should do something about upcoming union contract negotiations. As I understand it, the contract between General Motors and the United Autoworkers Union elapses in mid September. It’s important.
Relatively speaking, the autoworkers have some of the best contracts in America. True, their contracts aren’t as good as they were; but everybody else’s pay and working conditions have been suffering about the same way, so the autoworkers are still ahead. Relatively speaking.
If things go along the way they have been going, the union leadership will take some concessions and sign a new contract early on. If things go along the way they have been going, the membership will grumble but stay on the job. The union will grow weaker.
Most of the time, things do go along the way they have been going. But not always. Sometimes the tiny steps of a trend begin to add up to a giant step, and some fundamental changes occur. In the case of General Motors, too many straws are already on the camel’s back. The announcement of five major plant closures this year was more than just a single straw! The UAW may be forced to strike, if things go along the way they have been going – against working people –, the strike could be disastrous for all of us, not just for the autoworkers.
That’s why we need to start thinking, now, about how we can help.
Take a look backward
The sit-in at GM made history
The successful strike against General Motors in Flint, Michigan, in 1937 was a gigantic breakthrough for America’s working families. The old craft union mold, organizing only the most skilled workers, was broken forever. Unions starting industrial organizing. In other words, everybody in a given industry joined the same union. It didn’t matter if they were skilled or unskilled, black, brown, or white. Women were welcomed. Everybody joined the same union, and, in 1937, that union was the UAW!
Almost immediately, the low-paid and exploited assembly line workers in the auto industry shot to the top of the pay scale. Detroit became the richest per-capita city in America. Other unions followed the example, and economic inequality took a nose dive for the first and only time in capitalist history!
So it matters what happens to the UAW.
Take a look forward
Despite the careful camouflage of the pundits, there is only one reason for the weakening of America’s unions. It isn’t outsourcing because we could be bringing up the wages and living conditions of foreign workers. It isn’t automation because we could be shortening the work week every time productivity climbs. It isn’t some psychological problem.
American unions have been on the decline since government policy turned against us. If government policy were organized around the idea of benefitting Americans, working people would prosper. Instead, they have been cutting us at every opportunity and they intend to continue.
Take a look around
Many progressive activists are involved in a myriad of causes. But one of them should be, must be, support for union contract negotiations. It’s the bosses or us. Which side are you on?
Fortunately for us, the school employees are showing us how to win. Major victories for working families are being won by teachers and other school workers. The reason is simple: they have friends everywhere. Teacher can barely announce a concerted action before students, parents, churches, and community groups swoop in to help them.
Sure, it’s not like that in manufacturing. People don’t see the autoworkers as their community pals the way they see the school workers. They don’t see any stake for themselves in whether or not the autoworkers prevail over General Motors. That’s what we need to overcome.
Starting now, let’s start building support for every union in every contract negotiation. Let’s pay particular attention to the big national contracts that have far-reaching effects. Remember the Teamsters in their UPS contract back around 2006? The Teamsters won big time because they started early and they developed wide support for their contract negotiations.
Let’s do it for the autoworkers in September, starting now!