Auto workers expand strike against Ford and GM

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The United Auto Workers will expand its strike against Ford and General Motors, while sparing Stellantis from further action, citing progress with the company at the bargaining table.

UAW president Shawn Fain said on Friday that the union would go on strike at noon at Ford’s assembly plant in Chicago, which makes the Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle, and at GM’s assembly plant in Lansing, Michigan, which builds the Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac CT4 and CT5.

“Ford and GM have refused to make meaningful progress at the table,” Fain said in a livestream. “Negotiations haven’t broken down. We’re still talking with all three companies, and I’m still very hopeful that we can reach a deal . . . But I also know that what we win at the bargaining table depends on the power we build on the job. It’s time to use that power.”

Fain also suggested that the strike could be a long one, saying, “We knew going into this fight that the road ahead was going to be difficult, and we knew it was unlikely to be quick.”

Gerald Johnson, GM’s executive vice-president of global manufacturing, said the company had “not received a comprehensive counter-offer” from the UAW to a proposal it made eight days ago.

“Calling more strikes is just for the headlines, not real progress,” he said. “The number of people negatively impacted by these strikes is growing and includes our customers who buy and love the products we build.”

President Joe Biden joined Shawn Fain on the picket line on Tuesday in Michigan
President Joe Biden joined Shawn Fain on the picket line on Tuesday in Michigan © REUTERS

Stellantis said it “has been intensely working with the UAW to find solutions to the issues that are of most concern to our employees”. It added that it had made progress, but warned that gaps remained between the carmaker and the union.

The strike, which began two weeks ago, is the first the UAW has ever launched against all three big Detroit carmakers at once. The move on Friday will increase the number of striking workers from 18,000 to 25,000, about 17 per cent of the union’s membership at the three carmakers. 

The union has employed the unusual tactic of calling specific facilities to stop work, rather than walking out en masse, which preserves its $825mn strike fund to support picketing workers while still creating operational headaches for the carmakers.

Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush, said the strike was “like watching a slow-moving car crash take place on black ice”.

The strike was “now getting nastier, with both sides digging in the trenches in what could be a long and drawn out battle between the UAW and the Detroit auto stalwarts”, he said.

Workers first walked out at assembly plants in Ohio, Missouri and Michigan. A week later, workers at 38 parts depots belonging to GM and Stellantis joined the picket lines. Walking off the job at these distribution warehouses limits car dealers ability to order parts to repair vehicles.

Last week, Ford was spared an expansion of the strike. This week, it was Stellantis who got a pass. Fain said the company had made “significant progress” on workers’ demands to restore the cost of living adjustments that the union sacrificed following the 2008 financial crisis, as well as moratoriums on outsourcing, workers’ right to not to cross a picket line, and their right to strike over plant closures. 

The plant closure demand is particularly significant for Stellantis, which idled a factory in Belvidere, Illinois, earlier this year.

The UAW has sought to make its fight for better pay and working conditions for autoworkers a wider struggle against social inequality. President Joe Biden joined the picket line on Tuesday in Michigan, the first time a sitting US president has done so.

The second week of the strike has seen rising tensions and been marred by some violence. 

The UAW criticised the carmakers on Thursday after five people were struck by a vehicle at a GM processing centre in Michigan. There were two other instances of reported violence at picket lines in Massachusetts and California, including truck drivers reportedly pointing guns at picketers. “We will not be intimidated into backing down by the companies or their scabs,” Fain said on Friday. 

Stellantis said on Thursday the claims were “misleading and inflammatory”, and that it was “appalled” by the UAW’s claims. It accused UAW picketers “of dangerous and even violent behaviour . . . including slashing truck tyres, jumping on vehicles, following people home and hurling racial slurs”.

It added: “We respect our employees’ right to advocate for their position, including their right to peacefully picket. But the violence must stop.”

Source: Financial Times

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