Photo: Strikers at GM Service Parts Operations building last week.
By Gabriel Roshan
At midnight on September 15, a group of auto workers began a picket outside of the General Motors (GM) Service Parts Operations in Charlotte on Westinghouse Blvd. The day before, the contract expired between GM and United Automobile Workers’ (UAW) after 96% of workers authorized a strike demanding a pay increase among other items.
The plant in Charlotte includes 121 workers that are represented by Local 2404. On Monday morning at the height of the picket, there were 35 workers and retirees outside the Westinghouse plant.
Throughout the night it was quiet, with mostly workers talking to each other in groups and the local president Mark McQuillen giving two speeches about the plans for the strike. McQuillen stated, “This is a marathon, not a sprint, so far our leaders in Detroit are saying they are not close.”
One worker named Chris raised his hand to ask, “How long are we going to be out here for?” McQuillen responded, “No idea, but they are estimating anywhere between a few days and two weeks.”
“It’s their right to bring in replacement workers,” McQuillen said, referring to scabs, “but by law after the strike is over they are required to hire us back and we are not allowed to touch the replacement workers but we can impede their path.” This was met with audible sighs.
“I hope they got bail money because if they bring in some scabs, they know imma goon and it would be handled quick,” one worker said in response.
Raphael Stanton, local 2404’s financial secretary commented, “No need for all that, we are going to get our contract, just be patient.” Rank-and-file workers had to complete one 6 hour shift in order to earn strike pay.
There was visible discontent between the rank-and-file and their local leadership, who stressed the need for patience. The workers were steadfast in their solidarity with the national strike, but were not convinced of the strategy and tactics being pushed by union leadership. Nationally, the strike of 49,200 workers is the first since 2007, which ended after 2 days when a new contract was signed by GM and UAW. North Carolina does not have a GM manufacturing plant, but instead a warehouse where auto parts, machines, and cars are shipped throughout the region.
According to UAW, the union and GM are not seeing eye to eye in negotiations. GM wants employees to contribute more toward their health insurance and keep idle factories closed due to low car sales over the past few years. GM, who has made over $27.5 billion in profit since the last contract was signed, is seeking to cut even more expenses and increasing the financial burden on workers.
One of the closed factories in Lordstown, Ohio was the site of President Trump’s campaign speech where he expressed his commitment to increase manufacturing jobs. This factory has ceased production since March, due to sales of the Chevrolet Cruze dropping 40% between 2015 and 2018.
In Trump’s time as president, there has been a temporary increase in factory jobs, but mainly west of the Mississippi River. The so-called US trade wars with China and other countries, which have resulted in this short-term increase, cannot prevent the inevitable economic crises and further deindustrialization.
Workers have reason to be skeptical of union leadership considering the FBI is currently prosecuting top UAW leaders for various crimes. So far 9 have been convicted of crimes such as wire fraud and embezzlement. Despite being under investigation, UAW Region 5 Director Vance Pearson is advising on the current contract negotiations.
It is not in the interest of UAW leadership to politicize the rank and file, because in the US unions are not weapons for the proletariat but tools of pacification used by the bourgeoisie. This is evidenced by the widespread corruption of union leadership, who receive kickbacks for betraying the working class.
The palpable frustration among the striking GM workers in Charlotte is indicative of the restlessness among striking workers across the country, who long for real proletarian leadership that will dispose with the idea of seeking peace with bosses and instead go to war.