Socialist Worker

The strike that’s driving the resistance in the US

A mass strike over pay and jobs at General Motors has swept across the US— Gabby Thorpe says the dispute could inspire many more workers’ struggles

Issue No. 2673

General Motors strikers on the picket line

General Motors strikers on the picket line (Pic: UAW/Twitter)

Nearly 50,000 workers in the US have walked out in the largest strike against any manufacturer there in 12 years.

Workers at General Motors (GM) factories—members of the UAW union—have stopped work in 33 plants across the US.

They are demanding higher pay and the permanent hire of temporary workers.

GM also announced last year that it was planning to close several of its plants.

Workers at GM are outraged by the closures and bosses’ refusal to raise pay. They were told that accepting concessions in 2009—including lower pay—when GM faced bankruptcy, would protect them in the future.

The closures also come after US president Donald Trump promised in 2017 that closed factories “are all coming back”.

Trump said last Tuesday that “federal mediation was possible if it was wanted”.

But both the White House and GM have denied that there is any such mediation taking place.

Announced

The strike was expected to go on after GM announced last week that it would no longer pay striking workers’ health insurance.

Trump’s hatred for unions means that workers’ rights are constantly under threat.

But there are signs of renewed class struggle in the US. The number of strikers there last year was the highest since 1986.

Teachers in West Virginia walked out in a victorious strike over pay in October last year.

Parents and students marched in solidarity with the teachers, and the success led to further teacher strikes in other states.

Later that year, 7,700 workers at Marriott hotels and up to 30,000 workers at Stop & Shop supermarkets struck this April.

They were all widely-supported—reflecting a deepening dissatisfaction among ordinary people in the US.

Wage stagnation in the US means that some 40 percent of households can’t afford an unforeseen expense as low as £300.

Earlier this year US analytics company Gallup found that approval for trade unions has risen from 48 percent in 2009 to 68 percent.

Up to half of non-union members also say that they would join a union if their workplaces allowed it.

The strike at GM could take advantage of this. If it is victorious then it could well inspire more action by workers in the US.


Trump’s war on unions

Throughout his 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump did a very good impression of someone who is pro-worker.

He often spoke about the return of factories and industries such as coal and manufacturing.

The result was the highest number of votes for a Republican presidential candidate by union members since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Strikes show workers have power to change society
Strikes show workers have power to change society
  Read More

In his first week of presidency in 2017, Trump kept up the charade by holding a meeting with union management in the White House.

But the love-in didn’t last. Trump’s first budget made clear his intentions.

He increased funding for the Office of Labour Management Standards, which enforces anti-union laws.

And in May last year he passed two executive orders—announcing laws without needing Congress to back them—further restricting union organisation.

This included limiting the amount of paid time that workers can use for union-related activities.

The executive orders were overturned by a court, but Trump is fighting this decision.


How the GM workers were ­betrayed after years of cuts

In 2007 some 70,000 General Motors workers walked out of 80 workplaces in 30 US states.

The strike took place for similar reasons to the one that’s happening now.

In the recession of the mid-2000s, GM closed a dozen factories.

Hundreds of thousands of workers faced a stark choice between losing their jobs or forced retirement—essentially the same thing.

Despite the closures, the recession led to GM facing bankruptcy in 2009.

Workers accepted a package of cuts to pay and health benefits.

They were told that this would protect their jobs and save GM from complete closure.

Now GM is posting billions in profits. But the concessions that the workers made to the company still stand.

GM has used and tossed aside its employees in favour of profit.

The only way this strike should end is in complete victory.


Strike comes on the heels of UAW corruption allegations

UAW union leaders are embroiled in a corruption scandal involving bribes from bosses at carmaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

The UAW bureaucrats took tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of money meant for workers’ training and spent it on themselves.

The money, from bosses at FCA, was supposed to keep the union leaders “fat, dumb and happy”—that is, to influence negotiations and avoid strikes.

It included £22,000 on a party for former UAW union vice president Norwood Jewell. The party involved “ultra-premium” liquor and models who lit the union leaders’ cigars.


US health workers set to strike

In the latest in a wave of workers’ struggle, 80,000 workers at pharmaceutical company Kaiser Permanente (KP) are set to walk out for seven days on 7 October.

Pickets will be set up outside hospitals and offices across the US.

The workers are fighting over increases to executives’ benefits, outsourcing and the raising of payment rates for patients.

The workers are in a coalition of trade unions, including the Service Employees International Union.

The coalition says that it wants to protect jobs and ensure safe and compassionate use of facilities for the comfort and safety of patients.


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