UAW strike draws fresh political support on and off Capitol Hill
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., walks the picket line with UAW workers.

WASHINGTON—The United Auto Workers strike against Detroit’s Big Three carmakers is picking up support both on and off Capitol Hill.

The D.C. support came in an open letter from 30 senators urging GM, Ford, and Stellantis, formerly Fiat/Chrysler, to settle with the 150,000 UAW members who work in auto plants and parts plants from coast to coast, with an accompanying non-binding resolution backing the workers.

The three firms should follow federal labor law, “negotiate in good faith” with the UAW, “and offer their workers a fair contract,” the resolution says. That’s in line with labor law’s endorsement of the right to organize and opposition to corporate greed, it adds.

“The fight the UAW is waging has everything to do with the outrageous level of corporate greed and arrogance on the part of senior executives in the automobile industry and their backers on Wall Street,” said Senate Labor Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., the Senate’s longest and strongest backer of workers.

Gov. Tim Walz, DFL-Minn., walks the picket line with striking UAW workers at a Stellantis plant in Plymouth, Minn., on Oct. 18. | Screengrab

“At a time when the Big Three automakers made $250 billion in profits over the past decade, it is absolutely unacceptable that wages for the average autoworker have gone down by 30% in the past 20 years after adjusting for inflation. If these companies could afford to spend $9 billion on stock buybacks and dividends last year, they can afford to sign a contract that treats their workers with the respect and dignity that they deserve. Enough is enough.”

The support outside came when Gov. Tim Walz, DFL-Minn., and DFL Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan joined the union’s picket line at the Stellantis plant in Plymouth on Oct. 18. Walz, a Mankato history teacher on leave and a member of Education Minnesota, the joint AFT-NEA state affiliate, also addressed the crowd.

“All we’re saying is negotiate a fair contract. Get together with them, get back to work. ‘When we all do better, we all do better’ is kind of a Minnesota mantra. That’s what these folks are on,” Walz told WCCO-TV afterwards.

There were two minor surprises in the political support. The first was differing lists of U.S. Senate sponsors of the resolution, authored by Sanders and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, whose home state has many auto and parts plants and who also has walked picket lines with the workers. Both lists included both Illinois senators, Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Democrat Tammy Duckworth. Both have joined picket lines, too.

But one version of the sponsor list included Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a Trumpite right-winger—but one who also talked with pickets on Sept.25 at the Wentzville, Mo., GM plant, one of the first three to shut, ten days after the now month-long “Stand Up!” strike began. The other version of the list did not include Hawley.

Hawley trumpeted his Wentzville appearance with tweets, making a big show of his supposed support for the autoworkers. But it turned out to be just another propaganda opportunity for the Republicans and an attempt to grab votes. He used one tweet to repeat the common Republican screed against electric vehicles and global warming.

Knowing that electric vehicle and battery manufacturing is a key area of contention between the union and the bosses (although not now with GM, which settled the issue by agreeing the UAW master contract would cover electric vehicle workers), Hawley tried to steer strikers onto the Republican message of denying the reality of the climate crisis. His attempt hasn’t gained much traction.

And while both lists included Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who has also marched with the picketers, neither included retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and she has yet to comment on her website on the strike.

The second and minor surprise was Walz. While he joined the UAW strikers, he notably did not join Twin Cities teachers in picketing when the school boards in Minneapolis and St. Paul previously forced them to strike over substandard pay for support staff.

The senators cited not only the automakers’ $250 billion in combined profits since a federal rescue package after the financier-caused crash bankrupted GM and FiatChrysler and forced huge givebacks from UAW, but noted the Big Three’s $21 billion in profits over the first six months of this year is an 80% increase over 2022.

Meanwhile, “Many UAW members today cannot afford to buy the cars they make and struggle to afford the basic necessities of life, including groceries, housing, child care, and prescription drugs,” the senators’ resolution says.

“UAW members are fighting against corporate greed and to finally receive a fair share of the record-breaking profits their labor has produced, including cost-of-living adjustments”—lost to the bankruptcies 15 years ago—“an end to the two-tier wage system, and the restoration of pension benefits.”


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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.