By Joe Montero
The United States autoworkers strike is a long way from Australia. It is still important, because it is a sign if what is going wrong in that country, and major developments there will have an impact here. This is how closely Australia is enmeshed into the economic and political power of the United States.
This strike pitted against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (Fiat-Chrysler), supported by the United Auto Workers union, is the biggest auto industry strike since 1937, and it will have an enormous impact on politics.
It came about because, like many other American workers, autoworkers have found themselves in a situation where what their wages will buy has been steadily falling, and their jobs are no longer secure. Adding to the anger this is generating, is the fact that they had agrees to temporarily sacrifice wages and conditions to help during the Global Financial crisis and associated recession in 20008. These were never restored, and autoworkers have reason to feel they have been betrayed.
A tired wage system had been imposed, officering $US33 for those working in the companies before 2007 and $US17 for those hired later. This means that these workers are forced to work up to 80 hours a week to get enough to live on. They insist on fever hours work. They want a vast reduction in the use of temporary workers and the restoration of secure jobs.
The strikers also want a decent pension. They currently have nothing when they retire. The want health insurance.
The strike is now expanding, which began in economically devastated Detroit an involved all the auto companies there, is now expanding to 38 other locations over 20 states. This represents the growing anger across American workers over what is being done to them. Since the auto industry lies at the heart of what is left of American manufacturing, whatever happens here must affect everything.
Ford has decided to sit at the negotiating table and isn’t being targeted by the escalation. General Motors is running a publicity campaign instead. Stellantis is just playing hard ball. They are the targets now.
The companies called the workers’ demands audacious.
GM, Stellantis parts and distributions facilities in Chicago suburbs join picket lines
Video from ABC News
Video from Click On Detroit
Auto companies are responding with laying off workers where they are about to walk off. The refusal of these companies to begin negotiating a new contract is what precipitated the strike.
Community rallies in support of these workers and will continue to be held. There is a lot of support for this strike out there according to the polls. Support for unions is now the highest since 1965.
The strike has become very political. President Joe Biden was invited to come to talk with the strikers. Under pressure, he did eventually make a bland public statement form the Whitehouse, where he called for a better contract for these workers.
This was partly the result of pressure from the Democrats own political base, and it was pressure from Donald Trump’s prior declaration of support for these workers, which is politically embarrassing For Biden.
Trump is now to personally go to Detroit to meet the workers and build on this support. Biden has responded by announcing will turn up on the same day and join a picket.
There may be theatre here. This still doesn’t take away from the facts of delivering the support of the Republican Party, and the growing support for the strikers across the American population. Trump has acted shrewdly, and this may aid his ambition to be re-elected as President next year.
Before this, support for these workers on the Democrats side had been largely left for Biden’s thorns in the side – Berney Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio Cortes, and Cori Bush.
This bizarre twist where the Republican side is supporting striking workers and the Democrats machine around Biden far more reluctant, makes the Democrats look far closer to the employers, and this could have political consequences.
Nevertheless, it reveals that something real is happening. Behind everything is that there has been an enormous redistribution of the nation’s income upwards to the wealthiest one percent, largely through the destruction of traditional jobs and their replacement by lower paid and insecure ones, as the core to lifting the corporate bottom line. It’s the big shareholders who have been doing well.
Meanwhile, the auto companies have seen their bottom lines rise by 40 percent over the last four years. The workers’ wages have remained stagnant. Shareholders have enjoyed a payout of $US66 billion in dividends. The CEOs of the three biggest companies have each pocketed at least $US21 million.
What is happening here reflects what is being experienced by the rest of the nation.
This is important to Australia because of our present economic and political relationship to the United States. Corporations which are dominant in the United States are also a large and decisive part of the Australian economy. Australian governments have been aping Washington’s policies, including those affecting industrial relations, restructuring of the workforce, and the distribution of income upwards, and there has been a bipartisanship in Canberra over this. Such is the political clout of Wall Street in Australia.
The relative impoverishment of workers in the United Sates has gone further. This is why there is growing unrest there. Australia’s present subjugation to Wall Street interests will ensure that we head down the same path.
Experiences accumulated by American workers fighting back against the diminishing of wages and destruction of jobs, of which the autoworkers strike is a high point, provide valuable lessons to learn from. If the unhealthy relationship continues, we are condemned to travel further down the same road.
Here too, the same downward slide has been taking place. There might have been a small slowing down under the Albanese government. This doesn’t mean that the ingoing direction has change. Those controlling the economy are set on continue to apply the same methods. If they succeed, expect growing unrest and more industrial strife. Eventually, this will be marked by a pivotal dispute that will be big enough and have a political characteristic that spells out far reaching implications.
How prepared will Australia’s workers and the rest of Australia be to deal with this?