In 1934, Minneapolis truckers and warehouse workers went on strike. They took the boss class to the mat and pinned them, scoring a massive victory for workers in a city that, up until then, had been known as a bastion for anti-union employers. In Toledo, Ohio workers at the Auto-Lite factory won a strike after a state of near civil war gripped that city. Similarly to Minneapolis, workers from across the city successfully faced down the National Guard, police and anti-union thugs. On the West Coast, workers engaged in the San Francisco General Strike after over 100 striking longshoremen were either killed or wounded at the hands of National Guard, police and thugs. These three strikes were called by historians, Three Strikes That Paved The Way. They were unique for the time in that they showed how workers could fight and win. They gave heart and hope to workers everywhere for the climatic struggle that was to build the CIO.
Today we stand in a similar though less violent moment. The United Auto Workers under the leadership of a new, militant and pro-democracy slate has shown the way forward for labor. Using what they called the Stand Up Strike, workers kept Stellantis, Ford and GM off balance by striking and disrupting production in unpredictable ways. Rather than strike at all plants and warehouses at one time, workers struck at key facilities without warning, thus making it impossible for the Big Three to anticipate, predict or react.
After 6 weeks of Stand Up Strikes, the Big Three have agreed to enormous wage increases. Key provisions give workers an 11% wage increase in the first year and 25% increase over the contract. Temporary workers will see a whopping 168% increase and be moved to permanent employment within 9 months of being hired. New permanent workers will go from $17/hour to $28/hour immediately and reach $40 after 3 years. Wage tiers will be eliminated. The union will have the right to strike over plant closures, product and investment. They got important agreements that electric vehicle production must be done at union plants. There were improvements in pension, 401k and profit sharing. This contract is life changing for many autoworkers.
These are the kind of gains that make it possible to organize and win a union at Toyota, Mitsubishi and Tesla plants. Shawn Fain, President of the UAW, has explained that the union plans to do just that. Fain, who often wears an “Eat The Rich” t-shirt when addressing the media, is calling for something much bigger than organizing non-union auto plants (as big a deal as that really is). In a recent speech Fain talked about the fact that the UAW consciously negotiated an April 30, 2028 expiration date (the next day is May Day) for the Big Three. He said, “May Day was born out of the intense struggle by workers in the United States to win an eight-hour day. That’s a struggle that is just as relevant today as it was in 1889. Even though May Day has its roots here in the United States, it is widely celebrated by workers all over the world. It’s more than just a day of commemoration, it’s a call to action.”
Aligning contract expiration dates for many unions, Fain argued, would allow unions to “begin to flex our collective muscles. If we are going to truly take on the billionaire class and rebuild the economy so that it starts to work for the benefit of the many and not the few, then it’s important that we not only strike, but that we strike together,” said Fain, the first UAW president to be directly elected by rank-and-file members.
Here in Minnesota we won’t have to wait for 2028 to be part of something similar. Eight unions and counting are planning a contract “compression” for March of 2024. These unions are pledging to coordinate their activity and bring their combined power to the bargaining table not just for their members, but the working class community as a whole.
This should make it clear to every member of TCDSA the immediate necessity of supporting the 2024 contract “compression” in every way we can. But we need to go much further than that. Similar to 1934, workers at Delta Air Lines, Amazon, UPS and more are looking at the UAW strike as a source of inspiration. They see for the first time in decades a group of workers like themselves taking on the bosses and winning big. This is a regular refrain heard among union members and workers organizing for a union.
In the coming months the pace and depth of the class struggle will intensify dramatically. TCDSA must be deeply embedded in that. We must be there every day and every way. As was pointed out in True North 2.0, out of these struggles, we will recruit and retain multi-racial working class leaders to our organization and they in turn will become the next generation of leaders for DSA. There is no task more important than this. They are coming fast and we must build our house to be ready to receive them.
by Kip H