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Just Transition for Auto Workers: The Answer to Auto’s Race to the Bottom

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 6, 2023

Organized labor and the climate movement, often portrayed as opponents, have made an auspicious start toward cooperation in the autoworkers strike. The UAW, eschewing Trumpian blandishments to attack the transition to electrical vehicles (EVs), have instead endorsed the transition to climate-safe cars and trucks. One hundred climate organizations, rejecting the blandishments of auto industry allies that low wages in the non-union South will make EVs cheaper and therefore help fight global warming, have instead signed a letter of solidarity with UAW workers and are organizing to support union picket lines.[1] The purpose of this Commentary is to explain the context of this convergence and to indicate the elements of a “just transition” for the auto industry that can provide a joint program for the labor and climate movements.

UAW Wins Just Transition at General Motors

Workers are Paying the Cost for the Electric Vehicle Transition; It Doesn’t Have to be That Way

Let them eat steak; UAW Pickets at G.M. in Rancho Cucamonga

By Dana Cloud - Tempest, October 3, 2023

On the afternoon of September 26, I visited a UAW picket line at a G.M. parts distribution center in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. The workers there belong to Local 6645. Because the center only employs sixty workers, and they are deployed to the picket lines in rotating shifts, there were only about six people walking the line that afternoon. I spoke to five workers at length about the strike, the reasons behind it, and what they hoped to achieve.

On the question of tiers

Everyone agreed that the biggest issue is a tiered wage structure that starts and caps newer employees’ salaries unfairly low relative to longer-term employees.

A worker who asked to be called Sarah M. is a picker in the facility. Although she has worked there for six years, she earns just 17 dollars an hour and maxes out, given her occupying a lower tier, at $25. “We’re out here to get rid of tiers,” she said.

Michael Reed, a machine driver, told me, “You got some people doing the same thing as me, driving the machine around. They can pay people who’ve been around 37 [dollars an hour], and another person will get 24. You don’t want to be doing the same work as somebody over there and getting half your pay.”

Workers emphasized how the tier system is not only unjust, it also divides the workforce. Charles Dones, a worker with 46 years on the job, told me, “Traditionally, when you hired in and you did your 90-day probation, then you were equal to the guy who had five years. You were all one family. Now the disparity in pay creates an innate friction.”

The picketers were clear in blaming the company for the tension created by the tier system. Lou Varga, president of the Local, commented, “It’s kind of like a divide-and-conquer strategy. They use every tactic in the book to keep us divided. Tiers are unfair in principle. But they also keep people divided from one another.”

Francis (no surname provided) echoed this thought: “The thing about it is that you can’t have people doing the same job and getting different money, because then you get a little bit of animosity going on. That’s just unfair.”

Reports from UAW picket lines: Tappan, New York

By Haley Pessin and Mel Bienenfeld - Tempest, October 3, 2023

Haley Pessin, October 1

About forty people showed up at any given time throughout the morning and afternoon on Sunday to stand alongside UAW Local 3039 autoworkers on strike outside the Chrysler parts distribution center in Tappan, NY.

After a week of heavy precipitation that subjected the lower part of New York State to 5-8 inches of rainfall and flash floods, the sunny, 77-degree weather proved perfect for walking a picket line.

In addition to the autoworkers, the crowd included community supporters, autoworkers’ friends and family, members of DSA chapters in the Hudson Valley and NYC, Left Voice (who came with drums to keep up the energy), and others. Drivers passing by the plant honked enthusiastically in support of the picket as workers handed out signs and hats that read, “Union Strong.” Workers also described the support they received from other unions, including UPS Teamsters, teachers, and others.

Importantly, with the exception of FedEx (which is not unionized), most delivery workers have strictly honored the picket line and refused to cross. So far, with few (if any) scabs, the workers have largely succeeded in shutting the plant down.

This solidarity matters a great deal, not only for bringing the plant’s operations to a standstill, but for sustaining a 24/7 picket. As one worker put it, “If you don’t have anything to do at 3 a.m., come join us!” The energy and confidence on the picket line also reflects hard work: the local has been preparing its members for the possibility of a strike for over a year, even before the election of new union leadership under UAWD-member Shawn Fain.

To get to the picket, I drove an hour north from NYC, along with four of my co-workers from the Legal Aid Society, which includes members of both UAW Local 2325 – Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA) and 1199 SEIU, and two workers from New York Legal Assistance Group (also members of ALAA). The drive itself was a rare opportunity to talk across our different unions and shops about our own ongoing contract fights and why winning the best contracts possible will require our unions to work together to organize more militant action in our workplaces.

Donald Trump Holds Scab Rally to Court Shawn Fain’s Endorsement while Joe Biden Hits the Picket Line

UAW Strike Expands, Ford NOT SPARED This Time, CEOs BEGGING For It To End

As UAW Strike Heats Up, Allied Groups Plan National Day of Action, Activating Members to Rally Alongside Workers

By Public Citizen - Common Dreams, October 2, 2023

Environmental, advocacy, consumer, and civil society groups, including Public Citizen, Labor Network for Sustainability, Greenpeace USA, Jobs with Justice, Sunrise Movement, Democratic Socialists of America,, Working Families Party, Evergreen Action, and Green New Deal Network, today announced plans for a national day of action on October 7, aimed at supporting striking auto workers and urging the Big Three automakers—Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis—to meet the demands of 150,000 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW).

Participating groups will rally their supporters to advocate alongside UAW members for a fair contract that protects worker rights and prioritizes workers in the United States as the vehicle fleet transitions towards electric vehicles.

“The transition to EVs must not be a race to the bottom that exacerbates harm to workers and communities,” said Erika Thi Patterson, auto supply chain campaign director for Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “We need a just transition to EVs that protects our planet and people. That’s why 130+ groups representing millions of people are ready to partner with UAW in a national day of action to stand with auto workers. The implications of this strike could drastically raise standards across the auto industry and broader supply chain.”

The national day of action, planned for October 7, 2023, will mobilize members and grassroots activists to attend active picket lines where UAW members are on strike, and to join the UAW’s nationwide “community canvass,” where advocates will offer the public informational leaflets about why they support the auto workers in front of Big Three auto dealerships.

“Now is a decisive moment in whether the Green New Deal’s promise of creating millions of good-paying, union jobs will be fulfilled–or not.” said Sydney Ghazarian, a Labor Network for Sustainability organizer who has been coordinating UAW solidarity work. “UAW’s fight for an economically and socially just EV transition is our fight too.”

The Language Trump Used To Demonize EVs During His Michigan Rally

By Carolyn Fortuna - Clean Technica, September 30, 2023

Instead of joining a debate with 7 Republican candidates vying for the position of party presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump decided to visit a non-union auto parts plant in Michigan. During the stop, Trump excoriated the Biden administration for its push toward transportation electrification. The language Trump used during his Detroit stop was part of a broader goal to divide a self-identified pro-union advocate in President Joe Biden from an automotive workforce that is in turmoil.

The campaign rally was concurrent with the ongoing UAW strike, in which concerns over wage loss, diminishing benefits, and the length of workweek have led to an impasse between Detroit automakers and their workers. Moreover, the UAW feels the billions of dollars in tax incentives and loans sprinkled on automakers to retool their factories for EVs was flawed, as the incentive had not stipulated that automakers with a union-only workforce would benefit.

Trump sought to use the campaign stop to appeal to white working class voters in a critical swing state. The UAW malaise has been positioned by both parties as a gauge for potential votes, and the strike is having its effects on automakers — Ford halted production on its CATL project this week.

The language Trump used during his Detroit area stop is indicative of his powerful and quite scary persuasive capacity. Let’s zoom in on how he described EVs and his personal commitment to autoworkers. We’ll deconstruct facts, fantasy, and the ever-so-difficult gray areas that auto manufacturers are facing as they open a door to a new era of innovation – and the costs thereof.

The UAW Fight is an Exercise in Class Struggle Unionism


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