After a six-week rolling strike across the auto industry that garnered international attention, the United Auto Workers has reached tentative agreements with all of the automakers that make up the Big Three: Ford, Stellantis and General Motors.
Now the union’s members are voting on whether to accept the deal.
“Everything we’ve won, we’ve won together. Our union just showed the world what’s possible when workers unite to fight for more. We’ve created the threat of a good example, and now we’re going to build on it,” said Shawn Fain, the union’s president, during a live stream.
Fain, who took office only six months before the walkout, has called the agreements “an astonishing victory” for the Big Three’s more than 145,000 workers. This was the first time the UAW has called a strike against all three companies simultaneously.
In 2008, amid the nation’s economic collapse, the UAW agreed to major concessions during contract negotiations, and it has struggled to fully recover. The union was also hampered by corruption, with more than a dozen officials caught reportedly embezzling millions of dollars in union funds between the early 2000s and as recently as 2021.
But those scandals helped pave the way for these monumental new agreements the UAW just secured. That’s largely because before this most recent union election, union officers had been chosen by convention delegates instead of directly by members. Fed up with business as usual, members organizing within a reform caucus, Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD), fought hard to pass a one-member-one-vote policy, which allowed workers to directly elect their officers.
In the subsequent election, Fain narrowly won after a runoff. His victory was not only a win for him but a referendum on the overall direction of the union, with many members organizing and hoping for a more transparent and militant organization, especially in negotiations with the Big Three.
Stefan Marken, a member of Local 600 in Dearborn, Mich., and an activist with UAWD, says Ford and the UAW have shaped his life. His great-grandparents, uncles, aunts and father all worked for the company, and he’s been there almost nine years. Before Fain, this past strike and the current agreement, Marken says all he knew “was corruption.”
“My first contract in 2015 was corruption, 2019 was corruption, all the UAW presidents got indicted, Marken says. “This is the first time since I’ve been a member of the UAW that I have faith and that I believe in our union.”
This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on Nov. 16, 2023. Republished with permission.
About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.