As the clock struck midnight on Sept. 15, the contract between the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the big three auto producers Ford, General Motors and Stellantis expired. This caused more than 10,000 UAW members to walk out of their jobs at auto production plants in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri.
The strikes were prompted by the newly elected president of the UAW, Shawn Fain. In March 2023, Fain began to speak out against the way workers were being treated, calling for a near-complete reworking of the systems in place. Negotiations began nearly two months prior to the strikes. The strikes have spread to more than 38 locations across 20 states.
The goals for this strike are to increase wages over the next four and a half years, eventually adding up to a 30 percent pay raise; to improve overtime and retirement benefits; improve job security; achieve a four-day work week as well as put an end to the tiered employment system that is currently in place.
CEOs of these companies are claiming that these demands are unreasonable and that if the demands were to be met, the companies would be unsustainable. Fain argues that the companies were made well aware of the demands five weeks prior to the beginning of the strikes.
“We are disappointed by the UAW leadership’s actions, despite the unprecedented economic package GM put on the table, including historic wage increases and manufacturing commitments. We will continue to bargain in good faith with the union to reach an agreement as quickly as possible for the benefit of our team members,” said GM
On Sept. 26, 11 days into the strike, President Joe Biden joined auto workers at a picket line outside of a GM plant in Belleville, Michigan urging them to “stick with it.”
As it stands, around 3,000 workers have been laid off due to losses adding up to nearly $4 billion. During the strikes, workers are making a mere $500 a week. Workers have shared that they have had to budget much more tightly.
This, however, has not deterred workers as the number of workers who have joined the strike has nearly doubled since they began. Fain says that the strikes will last as long as the big three plants hold out on giving in to the demands.
The big question is: how will this strike affect other businesses? Benjamin Peterson is a History and Political Science professor who specializes in labor history and union organization efforts. Peterson recognizes that the UAW has already made a huge impact on workers’ rights and the fight for them.
“UAW strikes have a deeper meaning as they have traditionally established the “pattern” for other skilled, industrial workers. The results of the UAW strike thus extend beyond the car industry and will have a broad impact on how much workers are paid throughout industrial America,” said Peterson.
Peterson references the strikes started by the UAW in the 1920s and ’30s. Unions and strikes have historically helped to establish workers’ rights throughout a multitude of industries.
“I think we are in an interesting moment because the labor movement which has, generally, been in decline since the 1980’s, suddenly has new wind in its sails. I think some of this has to do with the movement’s public popularity and support, but also with the relatively tight job market, and a broad recognition of economic inequality in this country,” said Peterson.
Between the writer’s strike and the more recent UAW strikes, many people, including Peterson, believe that this is just the beginning of a new movement in which workers begin to fight for their rights.