Militant Journalism

On the picket line with Indiana GM workers

Workers in the United Auto Workers are voting this week (Oct. 21-25) on whether to accept a potential deal with GM to end their weeks-long strike. Meanwhile, workers in UAW Local 977 in Marion, Indiana, and Local 292 in Kokomo, Indiana, are holding strong and resolute.

Indianapolis workers sent solidarity teams to the plants on September 29 and October 6 for “Solidarity Sunday” pickets.

Workers on the picket line shared their reasons for striking with Liberation News as cars driving past the line blared their support .

“It’s this two-tiered system,” said one Marion worker. “The union should’ve never gone along with it.” The two-tiered system he and his coworkers oppose was agreed to after the 2007-2008 financial crisis, a crisis caused by the capitalists but paid for by the workers. Under this system, General Motors has been able to keep a “subclass” of workers on hand, workers that get paid less, get fewer benefits, and are at constant threat of job loss. They are only entitled to three unpaid days off a year.

As another worker explained, “GM lets them go and then brings them back, all so they can keep counting them as a temp instead of giving them full benefits.” One man said his brother-in-law had been working at the Marion plant as a “temp” for 12 years.

The GM steel plant in Marion and components assembly plant in Kokomo are still important sources of employment in their respective cities. Around 6,800 people in Indianapolis work at the four plants in the state.

However, they have already been hit hard by the downsizing, automation, and outsourcing GM bosses pursue in the name of greater profits. The Kokomo plant, for instance, once employed well over 10,000 people. Now it employs just over 300 workers. Workers on the Kokomo picket line, several of whom were transferred over the last two decades from plants GM had either closed or sold, emphasized that their local is especially concerned with ensuring the plant’s survival.

As of 2018, only 8.8 percent of the Indiana workforce is unionized. In other words, over 90 percent of Indiana workers have no one to represent them if they’re harassed by their manager, unfairly written-up, disciplined, or fired, and have no bargaining power when the company starts cutting wages and benefits. A single individual can’t do much against a huge corporation, but for every day the UAW workers have been on the picket line, GM has lost $82 million in profits, according to an estimation by analysts at JP Morgan. That’s the true power of a union.

It’s for these reasons the solidarity team, which included the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Democratic Socialists of America and Our Revolution, stood on the picket lines with UAW workers. The delegation included representatives of the Service Employees International Union and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. One delegate, Cambria York, told Liberation News, “As a union apprentice in the IATSE, it is my responsibility to answer the call of other unions when they engage in labor struggle so they know they aren’t alone.”

The capitalist class has no shame in taking from the workers who produce the value they exploit. When workers stand together, all workers benefit, “skilled” and “unskilled” alike. Through education, understanding, and action, workers can fight together for a better world.

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