Shame on the UAW leadership!

Why did the lengthy strike at American Axle end with wages being cut in half?

(CV #42, August 2008)


. The American Axle strike is over. The workers struck against outrageous wage cuts and other concessions demanded by the auto parts capitalists at AAM. They held out defiantly and in good spirit for three months. As the strike proceeded, the lack of parts had forced many GM plants to close, and both AAM and GM were taking heavy losses. Yet at the end, they were forced to accept a contract that slashes wages in half, eliminates jobs, cuts benefits, hurts pensions, etc.

. The problem was that the UAW leadership had agreed to most of AAM's demands before the strike even began. All it asked of AAM was slight improvements so that they could sell the contract to their members. The strikers could have held out against the company, but faced with opposition from the UAW leadership as well as the company, faced with having no one at the negotiating table putting forward their demand, they felt compelled to accept what they could get in buy-outs and buy-ins.

. The UAW has the reputation of being a fighting union, but for decades its leadership has followed the path of class-collaborationism and business-unionism. It has established worker-management committees, stamped out militant actions by its members, and boasted of how it helps the companies maintain their profitability. And the result is that now UAW wages are declining to poverty-level.

. The mass of AAM strikers couldn't themselves determine the way the strike was waged because they were without their own organization. Militant workers needed their own militant organization that would not only criticize the capitulationist stand of the UAW leadership, but act independently of the UAW leadership in organizing the struggle and rallying other workers around them. Some of the local UAW officialdom was opposed to what the top UAW leadership was doing. And there was a certain dissident grouping in the union. This included a past president of one of the Detroit-Hamtramck area locals, and she was connected with the leftist group Labor Notes. When the UAW called off the April 18th rally it had finally called to back the strike, the dissidents organized a successful mass rally of the strikers and supporters on April 24. They also put out their own leaflet and called for a 'no' vote on the settlement. But this grouping, which had been around for some time, aimed simply at trying to push the UAW apparatus to act, rather than building rank-and-file organization that could stand up to the pressure of the UAW bureaucracy and itself push forward the class struggle. So it had little influence on the outcome of the struggle. It had had four years to prepare for the present contract, as the writing was on the wall since the previous contract which had seen the UAW international ramming a two-tier wage structure and other concessions on unwilling workers : at that time, the majority of the workers at the Hamtramck-Detroit plant had voted against it. Indeed, the concessions negotiated by the UAW at other workplaces during this time were another big warning. But the dissidents had never prepared the workers for the need to wage a struggle against both the company and the top UAW leadership.

. The two leaflets below were put out by the Detroit Workers' Voice to support the strike. The first gives an overall picture of the issues involved, while the second denounces the contract settlement before the final vote.

. Auto parts workers fight back: Support the American Axle strikers!
from Detroit Workers' Voice #72, March 20, 2008

. Reject the wage-cutting contract!
from Detroit Workers' Voice #74, May 17, 2008

Other articles about the UAW

* Support AAM strikers!
from DWV #73, May 1, 2008

* For more about how the UAW leadership has been bowing down to the auto companies, see
--The sellout unionism of the UAW leadership and the class strugle alternative (Communist Voice, February, 2008).

* It's not just today that the UAW national leadership sabotages strikes, they were also doing it back in the days of its formation. It was not the business unionist leaders, but the combination of a mass upsurge and rank-and-file organization that led to the successful sit-down strikes of the 1930s. See:
--The CPUSA'S work in auto and the change in line of the mid-1930's

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Modified: August 24, 2008.