Fifty thousand workers at General Motors plants across the USA have been on strike since 15 September, demanding that the company restore the jobs, pay scales and conditions that they enjoyed before the company went bust in 2007.
The federal government came to GM’s assistance in 2009, bailing out the company to the tune of $51bn when it collapsed into bankruptcy, effectively nationalising its debt. Having got back on its feet, GM was sold off in 2013 for $39.7bn – a net loss to the taxpayer of $11.3bn. (Auto industry bailout by Kimberly Amadeo, The Balance, 25 June 2019)
In the wake of the bailout, the car workers’ union, the United Auto Workers, persuaded its members to let GM recruit new permanent workers earning half the pay of workers recruited before 2007, thereby allowing management to sow division in the workforce.
In the following years, GM further diluted this already disunited work force with so-called ‘temporary’ workers, whose worse pay and conditions are even worse. These temps now amount to 7 percent of the workforce.
The workers have been penalised in every direction as a result of their union’s capitulation. Not only have they seen pay, conditions and job security hammered, they also have to pay the taxes that allowed the government to rescue the company in the first place, effectively paying twice over to prop up their employer.
Long after the company had returned to profitability – it made $35bn in US sales alone in the last three years – it has continued to make workers redundant and close down plants, shipping off production to Mexico. The flashpoint for the current strike, the first UAW strike since 2007, has been the plan to close down the Detroit-Hamtramck plant.
So far, the strike has lasted a month, and at time of writing the workers are being balloted to determine whether to accept a new offer from GM. The proposed four-year deal appears to include some pay rises and an end to the two-tier pay scales.
It seems that production would continue at Detroit-Hamtramck for the moment, but there is no undertaking to save three other idle plants. Workers should be wary of being taken for a ride again – the last one lasted for ten years. (Union says GM strike won’t end until workers vote on deal by Neal E Boudette, New York Times, 17 October 2019)