UAW Tactics and Communications are Winning

Strike Unions

            New Orleans      The outcome of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) strike is a long way from being settled, but so far union leadership has handled this very wisely.

The tactic of hitting all three of the big automakers, GM, Ford, and what used to be Chrysler and now is called Stellantis is brilliant, regardless of the outcome.  On one hand, my first thought was, “wow, why haven’t they ever done that before?”  Of course, I also knew the answer.  The UAW believes in pattern bargaining, so strategically, and tactically they have specialized in hitting a company, either weaker or stronger, and hitting them hard in order to force the agreement, and then extend it with less pain to the rest of the Big 3.  The union’s leadership recognized that the companies were moving in lockstep this time, because the electric vehicle threat was common to all of them and inflationary and post-pandemic issues were as well.  The pattern strategy, while still in place, required different tactics.

The UAW likely knew full well that the companies’ bargaining positions were all going to be on the same page, so why not hit them all simultaneously, and where it hurts?  The strike so far has been in one plant each in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri so that the 13,000 workers who hit the bricks were going out in plants that were critical to each company’s production and supply chain.  Girding for a longer fight, the rest of the unionized workforce can still collect paychecks, and if plants by any company can’t continue producing, rather than the union having to pay strike benefits, unemployment benefits would kick in for layoffs.  The UAW has subsequently said bargaining is making progress at Ford, even if the parties are far apart generally, but that’s a message that the pattern strategy is still intact, even if tactics are changing.

The leadership has also done a great communications and framing job in building support for an “all of us vs. the three of them.”  The early payoff is deep public support for the strike.  Gallup says it’s running at 75% with only 19% opposed.  New UAW president Sean Fain has unabashedly called out the executives and companies on a class basis; the rich versus the workers.   The big profits and big raises for the CEOs are easy counterpoints. Combine that with the fact that everyone across the country is worried about being replaced by tech and automation, and after years of enduring Silicon Valley dream weaving, no one believes that this is going to be good for autoworkers or the rest of us

Finally, there has been speculation that a long strike could hurt national political outcomes in the battleground states, but a lot of that will depend on who ends up to blame.  Had the UAW taken everyone out at any one company, they might have had fingers pointed in their direction.  Here’s where their tactics work best.  If they can cripple the companies with limited, targeted strikes, everyone will be clear that the companies’ intransigence is the problem, not 15 or, 20000 workers on strike.

The UAW is carrying the banner for all of us right now, and we’re all marching behind them, even if only in our minds.