The contracts won by the UAW at the “Big Three” automakers this year are a major victory for the working class. Workers engaged in creative, militant tactics and won not only significant economic improvements but also important measures to strengthen their union and exert control over production and investment decisions. Their victory makes it clear that if workers exercise the power to withhold their labor, they can shape the future, including the economic transitions necessary to address climate change.
The union’s innovative “stand up strike” broke with UAW tradition by targeting all three companies at once, but only striking selected plants. Initially, the union struck only one plant at each company, and pulled out additional plants as negotiations progressed — or didn’t. This allowed workers to keep the companies guessing and play them off against each other. Driven by fear of losing key profit centers, the companies began to cave on key issues within weeks.
This militant strategy was possible because rank-and-file UAW members, fed up with decades of their union’s cozy relationship with the companies, elected new leadership in 2022. The new leadership also broke with UAW tradition by keeping the rank and file regularly updated about the progress of negotiations and the strike through Facebook livestreams and other means.
The UAW was not afraid to raise members’ expectations in this struggle. They mounted an aggressive fight to end tiers, to reduce the work-week, to bring plants building batteries for electric vehicles under their master contracts, and for control over production and investment decisions. While they did not win on every issue, raising these kinds of demands allowed them to frame their fight as one for the whole working class — and the working class responded, with the public overwhelmingly supporting the union during their struggle.
And they did win on issues that the companies had initially refused to discuss. Battery plants will be covered under the master agreement at GM and Ford, and Stellantis made concessions in this area as well. Stellantis committed to reopening a recently-closed plant in Illinois, and at all three companies the union will now have the right to strike over broken promises on investment and jobs, or over plant closings.
The UAW contracts are already raising wages throughout the entire auto industry, as non-union auto companies Toyota, Hyundai and Honda began handing out large wage increases following the announcement of the tentative agreements. This will put upward pressure on wages across the economy, and especially in manufacturing. Furthermore, the UAW reports that workers at non-union auto plants have been clamoring to organize in the wake of the contract settlements.
The UAW victory shows the way to revive unionism in the U.S.: by making bold demands, including worker control over production, and engaging rank-and-file members in aggressive struggle to win those demands. Most of the U.S. labor movement has abandoned this approach, but we hope that the UAW’s example will encourage more unions to return to the “class struggle unionism” that built our labor movement in the first place. Their victory shows that, with militant unions leading the way, the working class has the power to shape our own future.
Director of Organization