Autoworkers hold Illinois practice picket

At midnight tonight, United Auto Workers (UAW) are set to strike across the nation as their contracts with Ford, General Motors (GM) and Stellantis expire. 

For months, UAW organizers and members have been preparing as their contract has neared its end. Through practice pickets, media training, Facebook Live events, and more, workers have demanded a reinstatement of cost of living adjustments (COLA) they had forgone during the Great Recession in order to keep the companies afloat, significant pay raises, an end to tiered systems, a reduction in the working week to 32 hours and more. 

Less than six months ago, Shawn Fain, the grandson of UAW workers, was sworn in as the new UAW president. Fain was elected on a platform to increase democratic participation within the union, build multinational, all-gender solidarity, and fight for wins for all workers, no matter their tier or retirement status.

PSL organizers, labor organizers with the Chicago Federation of Labor, and local community members joined UAW Local 551 in Hegewisch, Illinois, last week for their practice pickets. Local 551 President Chris Pena opened a rally at the practice pickets saying, “We have to be realistic. The Big 3 are not going to hand over millions and billions of dollars to support their workforce. They’ve shown what they think of our workforce. We’re the ones who invested in them during the recession when we gave up the cost of living so they could keep the doors open in that place and all the factories like it across the U.S. Now is our time, and it’s going to take all of us standing together to make it happen.”

Ford, Stellantis and GM have each responded to UAW’s proposals with refusals to end the tier system, counter proposals of one time payments to workers to account for inflation instead of a guaranteed COLA and a rejection of increases to retiree pay. 

As UAW President Shawn Fain has noted, the Big 3 have earned record profits over the past year. The CEOs of the Big 3 each make over $20 million per year, while the average worker starts at $18 an hour, with a top wage of $32. Chicago Ford worker, Adam Corona, pointed out, “This job used to be upper or middle income and right now, it feels like we’re at the low end. A lot of people are struggling to survive … We’re the ones building the cars, breaking our backs, creating that profit and that opportunity for them. Just give us something fair.”

In 2007, Big 3 workers were hired at $19.60 per hour, or $28.68 adjusting for inflation. Today, that number has dropped to $18.04, with an average length of eight years to reach the top wage. Meanwhile, the cost of food, utilities and rent have all increased in Chicago, as they have across the nation.

Secretary-Treasurer Don Villar of the Chicago Federation of Labor spoke to workers at the practice pickets. He connected the impending UAW strike to the Pullman railroad workers strike of 1894: “So think about this, 135 [sic, 129]  years ago, workers like you hit the picket the lines in Chicago because of corporate greed. Think about what Pullman did, he raised the rent and raised the food in the company town, but he didn’t raise the wages. Sound familiar?” 

Just as the Pullman Strike had national significance for the entire working class, so too will the UAW’s impending strike and potential wins carry the fruit of victory for the entire working class. If they win their demands, UAW will build on the recent win of the Teamsters, further cementing a foundation for workers to demand their share in the profits of the capitalist class. 

The UAW’s fight to reduce their working week highlights the potential gains for labor as technology advances. While the Big 3 argue fewer workers will be needed in the future due to technological advances, UAW has countered with the demand to keep all workers, increase wages and decrease the working week. Workers across the country are fighting back as the capitalist class seek to reduce workforces with the advent of Artificial Intelligence. 

Workers make the world run, yet see little to no share in the profits of their labor. Just being on strike for 5 days could result in a loss of $5.6 billion to the billionaire and millionaire owners and shareholders of the Big 3, highlighting the incredible amount of value UAW workers produce in just a few months’ time. A union win will be a win for the entire working class, and UAW workers are ready to fight and ready to win, as Local 551 Vice President Jason “Waco” Wachowski highlighted in his speech to workers Friday: “We have to stand up for everything that they took from us, didn’t give to us, and held back from us over the years … We’re not going to sit down. We’re not going to roll over. We’re here to take back everything they took from us.”

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