In the Labor Movement, It’s All about the UAW


            New Orleans     Hands down, the UAW’s masterful conduct of their recent strike has been a wakeup call for the labor movement not only in the United States but everywhere, with ripple effects far and wide.  On the issue of wages, their victory has set a benchmark for autoworkers and others.

Interestingly and disturbingly for the UAW efforts to organize the transplants as they call the foreign automakers on US soil, one company after another is running fast to catch up to the new wage agreement.  Hyundai announced a 25% wage bump for its US-based workers.  Toyota and Honda had almost immediately announced increases to stay competitive, and of course to keep the UAW from organizing their plants, as they have announced they will try to do once again.  We have tens of thousands of autoworker “free riders” on the wage increases won by UAW members at Ford, GM, and Stellantis.  Suddenly, we have “sectoral” bargaining for autoworkers without the UAW gaining any members despite carrying all the weight.  Good news for them, but it doesn’t seem right.

There are other phenomena that are obvious from the UAW and its members’ strike.  Never was it truer that victory has a thousand fathers, while defeat is an orphan.  Some of the coup counting for this victory, almost seemed to have some getting ahead of themselves to make sure they harvested enough credit.  Days after the strike settlement and way before the members have voted, there was a curious article planted in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Activists Helped Get Huge UAW Win,” that showered credit on Chris Brooks, Jonah Furman, and lawyer Ben Dictor.  I’ve known Brooks, off and on, since he was an a community organizer in Chattanooga, Tennessee and a union rep for NEA in that section of the state.  He’s taken some brickbats as he rose to chief of staff in the UAW after the last election, so he certainly deserves to take a celebratory lap around the field with his team, it’s just unusual in the labor movement for staff folks to jump out front of their elected leaders.  Not that Shawn Fain isn’t getting the lion’s share, as he deserves, but the timing and sequencing of the press on this makes it look more like resume building and a letter home to Mom, rather than building the UAW to the next stage when the hard organizing begins after the victory is salted away.  They’re getting credit for great comms, but this doesn’t hit the right targets like so much else of what they have been doing.

Fain is on a roll, and it would be a mistake to discount the UAW in the wake of this victory.  They are trying to get workers to sign authorization cards for the union online.  He is calling for other unions to try and win contract terminations for May Day – May 1st to up the ante on employers everywhere.  Autoworkers in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America and Europe are striking and making the same demands for increases that the UAW has won.

Maybe this is another sign of a labor movement becoming more aggressive and confronting, as Fain has done, oligarchs and inequity.  It couldn’t have happened at a better time. It’s never too late for the labor movement to embrace the change and go for the win.