General Motors: What Did We Learn?

Those of us who have been pulling for the General Motors strikers might begin today to evaluate what we have learned.

  • Striking can pay off in the current economic and political situation
  • General Motors employees showed incredible gumption
  • Union solidarity is terrific
  • Public solidarity with union members is rising
  • Union-busting can be beaten
  • We could have done a lot more than we did
  • The American people are learning which side they are on and what to do about it

On the day before voting is supposed to end, it looks like at least a 60% ratification vote. 

That’s Courage!

There’s a lesson right there. Apparently, 40% of the union members were willing to continue the strike beyond its 6th week! Being on strike is really, really hard! Whether one agrees with them or not on the contract, one surely must concede that they really have guts!

The contract summary is on http://uaw.org. Some of the newspersons have written that it comes up short in providing job security and in bringing the “perma-temps” into full-time employee status. But the people who actually know what they’re talking about consider it quite a victory.

We Win! 

The top American union leader, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, wrote:

“I’ve never felt prouder to be a union member. Backed by millions of brothers, sisters and friends across the country, UAW members stood together to win the fair treatment that they’ve earned over years of selfless sacrifice. I commend the UAW’s national negotiators for standing firm to deliver on what their members demanded and hope this will bring an end to one of the most courageous fights I have ever seen. This is the latest victory in a wave of collective action happening across America. Working people won’t allow greed to dictate our lives, and we won’t tolerate a system that’s been rigged against us. Bosses everywhere should take note—we’re not going to take it anymore.”

On the picket line on day one, it was like a carnival! There were any number of people who were not UAW strikers. Some were from other unions, but some were not union members. Many of the passing cars honked approval.

Social media started spouting all kinds of solidarity messages. Some of them came from the union, but a lot of them were home-made. Political office holders and candidates started posting “I stand with the strikers” and proud pictures of themselves on the picket lines. Several presidential candidates were among them.

A lot of people were asking how they could help. Cases of water were stacked up. People brought cookies and other snacks. In my area, one AFL-CIO unit started raising money to help strikers with financial problems through United Way. They weren’t asked by the union, and they didn’t ask the union. They just did it!

Yard signs of solidarity started going up, and lots of people were asking how to get one.

Beating Union Busting

The newspersons talked more about this strike than they usually talk about anything to do with the union movement. They completely missed the important part, though.

What they could have said was that the 2019 General Motors strike represented an all-out union busting effort by General Motors, other corporations, right-wing ideologues, and the federal government. The result was an historic victory for working families!

Most of the coverage came from two Detroit newspapers. Every article and opinion piece always included the government’s investigations of top UAW leaders on charges of corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement. Investigations had been going on for a while, but they really hit the news on September 15, when the strike began!

Writers on our side, people like me, didn’t talk about these investigations because we recognized them for what they are: union busting. They were hoping to divide the strikers from one another, from their leadership, and from their growing public support. Now that the strike is over, I expect the fanfare to fizzle.

We Could Have Done More

I am a long-time UAW member from the aerospace section. I did not expect the UAW leadership to utilize the lessons that won unprecedented victories for the teachers of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. I hoped they would, but I didn’t expect it and, unfortunately, they met my low expectations.;

Basically, all the UAW leadership did was call a strike and set up the financial structure to pay the members who carried out their strike duties. What might they have done?

  • They could have organized their retirees and other supporters to join the pickets and carry out other solidarity actions
  • They might have suggested that supporters could carry out informational pickets at car dealerships
  • They might have had an ongoing union educational program for off-duty strikers
  • They might have had social events for strikers, and even for supporters

But, as far as I could tell, they didn’t.

Contrast the General Motors strike with the Chicago Teachers strike that started just as the autoworkers were winding down. The Chicago Teachers held a national solidarity day, today, in which everybody published selfies of themselves or their organizations. Their hashtag, #putitinwriting, will give them thousands if not millions, of contact information for supporters all over the world! If they should decide on expanding the strike or, for example, on raising money, they now have an incredible base of support!

If the Chicago School Board doesn’t cave soon, we are likely get a real lesson in modern fighting tactics from the Chicago teachers!

Summing Up

News coverage of the 2019 General Motors strike will continue to nit pick over the contract details. A few of them might discuss the strike tactics. But they will continue to miss the historic importance: The American people are ready to fight, and we are learning how to win!

–Gene Lantz

I’m usually on http://knon.org/workers-beat every Saturday at 9AM, unless a tornado destroys the studio. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

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