UAW Local 2164 workers rallies in solidarity with fellow striking workers (Photo: UAW)
On October 6, in a weekly scheduled broadcast to give updates about the ongoing strike against the three largest automakers in the US, United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain announced a major breakthrough in contract negotiations for nearly 150,000 “Big Three” auto workers: General Motors has agreed to place electric battery manufacturing under the national master agreement.
Appearing in a white t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “EAT THE RICH,” Fain said, “We’ve been told for months that this is impossible… We’ve been told the EV future must be a race to the bottom.”
“[The company’s] plan was to draw down engine and transmission plants and permanently replace them with low wage battery jobs,” Fain continued. Instead, what workers have won is “the foundation for a just transition” to electric vehicles.
As the impossible to ignore impacts of climate change have pushed lawmakers to adopt policies that move towards a transition to electric vehicles [EVs], auto companies have used this transition as an excuse to create an even more precarious class of auto workers who are not covered under the union agreement. The ruling Democratic Party has been complicit in this process. Under a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, “some factories making batteries for electric vehicles will each receive more than a billion dollars per year from the US government, with no requirement to pay good wages to production workers,” according to the union.
Fain has blasted the Biden administration for this oversight. “Not only is the federal government not using its power to turn the tide – they’re actively funding the race to the bottom with billions in public money.” he said in June. “Why is Joe Biden’s administration facilitating this corporate greed with taxpayer money?”
Conservatives have cynically used this as a way to propagandize that policies designed to fight climate change are actually hurting workers, thus pitting the working class against those who want to stop the warming of the climate. Former US President Donald Trump recently orchestrated a visit to a non-union autoplant, coordinated by those who opposed the EV transition. Right-wing Senator J.D. Vance penned an opinion piece in Newsweek today, stating, “Now, American auto workers face a new existential threat. They have been sentenced to death—by electrification. Through federal mandates and tax subsidies, President Biden seeks to transform the auto industry to fit his Left-wing climate agenda.”
But the UAW does not oppose a transition to cleaner energy sources—it simply wants a just transition, in which electric vehicle workers are given the same rights as all auto workers. Through the power of the strike, the UAW has managed to win a victory that the companies argued for legal reasons, could not even be included as a core demand. “Legally, the union was constrained against folding that issue into this strike, but the truth is, you actually can achieve something like that if you are strong enough,” writes labor journalist Alex Press.
Fain mentioned that GM only agreed to cave on including EV plants into the contract after the union threatened to shut down the company’s “largest money maker,” their Arlington, Texas plant.