“The pendulum of the balance of power returns to the side of the employees”

The president of the United Auto Workers, Shawn Fain, next to the Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, September 15, 2023.

Lhe first pickets were set up at midnight on Friday, September 15, in front of the General Motors (GM) plants in Missouri, Stellantis in Ohio and Ford in Michigan. In all, 12,700 employees went on strike. For the first time in its history, the American automobile union United Auto Workers (UAW) is entering into a simultaneous conflict with the country’s three major manufacturers.

However, this organization, born in 1935 after years of violent struggle against employers’ militias, has experienced conflicts. The most famous strike took place at the Ford plant in Flint, Michigan, in 1936. Forty-four days of sit-ins, before reaching an agreement.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Automobile: Detroit’s “Big Three” under threat of strike

Today, it is no longer a sit-in that Shawn Fain, the ambitious boss of the UAW, dreams of, but a stand-up (” standing “). “The money is there, the cause is just, the world is watching, and the UAW is ready to stand up”, he erts emphatically. And it is indeed a recovery that this union, which ruled the roost in the post-war workshops, needs.

Manufacturing employment has fallen by a third from its peak in the 1970s, and only 10% of American workers are now unionized. The Big Three of the Great Lakes region, Chrysler (now Stellantis), Ford and GM remain the last bastion. Foreign manufacturers have been careful to settle in the south of the country, where unions are often banned and wages lower.

The conflict is likely to last

But Shawn Fain, newly named head of the organization, knows he is arriving at a critical time. There is a shortage of jobs across the country. The balance of power swings back towards the employees, who push their demands.

UPS truckers have just obtained a salary increase of 18% over five years, airplane pilots, 40% over four years, those of Deere (agricultural machinery), almost 20%. Even Hollywood actors and screenwriters are trying out strikes and wage demands. It must be said that corporate profits have never been so generous. Not far from 40 billion dollars (37.5 billion euros) for the three kings of American 4 × 4.

UAW is stepping into the breach and demanding a 30% to 40% salary increase, a thirty-two hour week and improved social security coverage for retirees. He won’t have all that, but wants to impress people. The conflict is likely to last. And, as in Europe, these salary increases, which arrive after more than a year of inflation, will come into force when the economy turns around. The job market is gradually relaxing, and growth is slowing as central banks raise rates.

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