Organized labor in the U.S. is experiencing a resurgence, as unions secure better contracts with higher pay and improved conditions following pandemic-related wage suppression, inflation, and a tight labor market. This "Great Reset" has led to successful strikes by various unions, including American Airline pilots, Teamsters at UPS, Kaiser Permanente workers, and more. The current strike by United Auto Workers (UAW) members against major auto corporations GM, Ford, and Stellantis is notable for its creative "Stand Up" strike strategy and a focus on economic justice and inequality. The auto industry's advantages, such as mobility and technological investments, pose challenges to labor. Move to Amend can learn from the UAW's clarity, boldness, and visibility in addressing systemic issues. We must also leverage the current anti-corporate sentiment and remain committed to organizing and being accountable to our base in working to enact the We the People Amendment.
Organized working people are flexing their democratic muscles. Labor unions across the U.S. have been winning impressive contract settlements over the past year, including higher pay and, in some cases, better working conditions. Increased labor assertiveness follows suppressed wages during the pandemic, inflation and a tighter labor market of too few workers, resulting in greater bargaining leverage for labor unions.
This “Great Reset” of workers resetting their expectations to demand more than just a few years ago has led to successful strikes for greater pay over the past year of American Airline pilots, Teamsters members at UPS, Kaiser Permanente workers, LA school district employees, nurses at Providence Portland and members of the Writers Guild of America. There have been 328 labor actions in 542 locations in the U.S. since the start of 2023.
The current month-long strike of 16,600 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) against all three of the major auto corporations - GM, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) – is the most unpredictable and strategically creative strike in decades. It’s sent shock waves across the auto industry.
The strike’s effectiveness, to date, is directly connected to its new President, Shawn Fain, who was directly elected by UAW members for the first time in the union’s history. Direct democracy resulted in Fain promoting demands that rank-and-file workers wanted and calling for basic economic justice. He framed the strike as one to help not just auto workers, but the nation’s entire working class by focusing on inequality, excess corporate profits and CEO pay. “[W]e are all fed up of living in a world that values profits over people. We’re all fed up with seeing the rich get richer while the rest of us continue to just scrape by. We’re all fed up with corporate greed. And together, we’re going to fight to change it.”
Past UAW strikes targeted one of the three major auto companies with workers walking out at all the facilities of a single automaker at the same time. Under Fain’s leadership, the UAW has implemented a more creative strategy, the “Stand Up” strike (as opposed to the “sit down” strikes of the early days of auto and rubber workers). Selected workers at single plants of each of the three automakers have been called to “Stand Up” and walk out on strike. In many cases, the strikes have been at the plants producing the most profitable vehicles, maximizing the impact of lost profits to the companies. Strikes have been expanded strategically one plant at a time, which has kept the companies off guard.
The clear, bold and uncompromisingly framed messaging and strategy has wide public support, support from other groups, and even President Biden walking the picket line with Michigan strikers in support. The UAW reached this week a tentative agreement on a record contract with the Ford Motor Corporation.
As effective as the UAW strikes have been so far, the reality is that the auto industry has numerous economic and political structural advantages. Auto companies have complete freedom to relocate to low-wage and non-union parts of the country or even lower-wage parts of the world. They invest heavily in technology to replace workers, which obviously increases their bargaining power over workers. And they have their full anti-democratic Supreme Court -granted constitutional rights that prevents them from being forced to be transparent in disclosing some of their financial conditions, avoids warrantless inspections, permits them to exert their right not to speak, and allows them to donate or invest in the political process. Auto industry interests donated nearly $46 million in the 2020 election cycle and spent nearly $80 million in political lobbying in 2022.
Although Move to Amend is very different than the UAW in its structure, mission, and goals, there are, nevertheless, a few lessons that we can learn from the UAW educational and organizing actions:
- Be crystal clear, direct and unafraid in naming the problem. In the case of the UAW, it’s systemic economic inequality and the auto companies making huge profits that’s not been shared by the workers who actually do the work. In the case of MTA, it’s the systemic lack of democracy and oppression in our nation that must be addressed, two pieces of which are constitutional doctrines that have declared corporate rights and the rights of the super rich to spend money in elections over human rights to protect themselves, communities and the assurance of a livable world.
- Be bold, not marginal, in your demands. For the UAW, the scale of huge corporate profits should match the scale of the demand for huge wage increases. For MTA, the scale of corporate power and control of literally every facet of existence must match the demand for abolishing all never-intended corporate constitutional rights – the We the People Amendment.
- Be ready to take advantage of the moment. The current wave of anti-corporate sentiment – as being greedy, unfair, monopolistic and destructive of people, communities and the environment – are ripe times to push for fundamental change, the agenda of both groups.
- Be visible. Workers on strike picketing in front of factories attract public and media attention and present opportunities to visibly and physically demonstrate one’s commitment. Move to Amend’s recent visible and physical presence in the End Fossil Fuel march in NYC and protests in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Supreme Court in DC.
- Be committed to organizing. UAW leadership is in constant communication with members - educating and calling for actions. They also work to gain support from allied organizations. MTA does the same through education of our supporters on the history and current examples of corporate rule and rights. We also attend events and reach out to other organizations working for change, but are opposed by corporations and the super rich.
- Be accountable to your members and base. The direct election of Shawn Fein means he’s accountable to UAW members. While MTA doesn’t have direct elections, being financially and politically independent from corporations, political parties, huge foundations, the government and billionaires commits us to being accountable to our grassroots supporters…like you!
Move to Amend supporters where possible should support striking auto workers – and all strikers calling for basic economic justice. It’s OK to wear buttons and t-shirts, but leave petitions and signs at home. Show solidarity by listening, conversing and/or holding a sign. If asked about MTA or our We the People Amendment, give them a brochure, but only if they take the initiative.
Jennie, Keyan, Michael, Katie, Margaret, Alfonso, Jessica, Jason, Tara, Ambrosia, Cole, Shelly, George, Daniel, & Greg
- Move to Amend National Team
Show you support, sign the petition to amend www.MoveToAmend.org/Motion