Interview: UAW Rank-and-Filer as Historic Strike Begins

For weeks now, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has been ramping up its aggressive rhetoric around the possibility of a strike at the ‘Big 3’ automakers – GM, Ford, and Stellantis. The UAW represents some 150,000 workers across the three firms. Each company has raked in billions of dollars in profit in recent years.

In a live broadcast on the evening of Thursday, September 14th, UAW president Shawn Fain announced that UAW workers at select plants, each representing one of the Big 3, would walkout at midnight. This strategy of striking at select plants follows what the union is calling a “stand up strike” model, with individual UAW Locals “standing up” as the strike escalates.

During the broadcast, Fain, who was part of a slate of narrowly elected reform candidates that swept into the union’s International Executive Board (IEB) earlier this year, communicated the historic stakes of the strike: “For the first time in UAW history we will strike all of the Big 3 at once”.

On the eve of the strike we spoke very briefly with Lynn, a veteran rank-and-file UAW member out of a GM plant in the Northeastern US.

Black Rose / Rosa Negra (BRRN): Who are you and what kind of work do you do?

Lynn (L): My Name is Lynn, I’ve worked at GM for 17 years. I am a team leader. A team leader is also known as a job setter/set-up. Our job is to make sure our team members have all the materials and equipment settings they need to complete their job. We do robot recovery, auditing both for quality and safety, minor repairs, troubleshooting, and a lot more. We are a team and we work closely with each other. It is physically and mentally challenging. Lots of heavy lifting, pushing and pulling, and I usually go home exhausted. I’ve already had one work related surgery in 2014, my disc slipped out and needed to be operated on immediately. I still have nerve damage from it and I will suffer from it for the rest of my life. 

BRRN: What’s the feeling on the ground among you and your coworkers on the eve of this possible strike? 

L: There is a strange silence and you can feel the anxiety and tension in the air. Yet, everytime I check in with any of my coworkers in the plant they all say, “I’m ready,” we are fired up! 

BRRN: Among the demands being made, what are most important to you? If you have a sense, which are most important to your coworkers?

L: Our pay is probably number one on our list. Most of us are barely getting by. It’s paycheck to paycheck. Most of us use our bonuses to pay down our credit card debt because it seems like that’s how we survive throughout the year. 

BRRN: The last time GM workers walked out was 2019. Are things different this time around? 

L: Yes and no. Last time our healthcare was at stake: GM was asking for us to pay for it. We did win a very small raise, it wasn’t enough. We went back to work feeling defeated. We spent seven weeks on strike and I think we won a three percent raise per year and got to keep our benefits. 

BRRN: Earlier this year UAW members voted for the first time in the union’s history to directly elect the International Executive Board. Reformers associated with the Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD) caucus took majority control of the IEB, including the office of president. This change has led to much more aggressive rhetoric and strategy from union officials.

Do you think new union president Shawn Fain and the rest of the IEB mean what they say, or are they just talking a big game? 

L: First off, the fact that we can directly vote for our International Executive Board is a huge win for the entire UAW membership. We got rid of the corruption that was destroying our union. I can’t blame it all on our union; it was obviously an attempt by the Big Three to bust our union and weaken our collective bargaining power. I think people forget that part, and just blame the people who fell for it. [Keeping the union undemocratic] was a major strategy by the corporations, no doubt. 

I am not sure about Shawn Fain yet. You know the saying “actions speak louder than words.” So I’m ready to see actions taken. We are all ready to take action to win back what was lost, from 2008 until now. We have been a sinking ship barely floating above water. So, talk is pointless, and honestly I don’t listen to a lot of it. Direct action gets the goods. 

BRRN: If you do walk out, what can non-UAW members do to support you? 

L: Don’t cross a picket line, join it. It’s always encouraging when people stop by and strengthen our line. That’s the biggest thing you can do.

Last time people just sent money, checks, and gift cards to our hall. It just got bogged down by a bureaucratic process of reorganizing it and withholding it from people who could really use it. It really made me super mad when one of my coworkers was in dire need. They would speak up and we would all have to pool our own money together to bail them out of whatever financial situation they were facing. I personally watched the money flow into our hall and out to our international region. I have no idea if any of that ever helped anyone in our local. If you want to give money or items, find someone you can trust to do the right thing. Please don’t just send money to the UAW.

If you know someone, personally ask them if you can pay a bill for them. Or even just slipping them some cash is such a huge thing. 

Speak up about your support toward UAW membership on strike.

If you’re interested in more of our strike coverage, you might enjoy Interview: UPS Teamster on the Possibility of Huge 2023 Strike or Interview: Adjunct Faculty on Recent Rutgers University Strike.