EDITORIAL: The auto strike

As we go to press, the United Auto Workers has called a time out in its strike against General Motors pending membership ratification of a new contract. It’s expected that the contract will be ratified quickly. While we do not yet know the full terms of the contract, it most likely contains concessions. In today’s political climate, and in the face of capitalist globalization, the balance of class forces often makes it a victory if unions can just hold on.

What may be most important about this first nationwide strike against GM in over 30 years is the quick solidarity it generated from millions of workers around the country. The Teamsters, who haul parts and finished cars for the auto industry, immediately stopped at the picket lines. Teamster solidarity instantly led to parts shortages and plant shutdowns in both Mexico and Canada, where workers also expressed solidarity with U.S. workers. The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win unions at once pledged full support. Spontaneously, around the country workers, unions and even whole communities jumped in with refreshments and solidarity on the picket lines.

This response is a great modern day illustration of a critical idea in the Communist Manifesto: “Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. [emphasis added]”

The instant solidarity went beyond simply trade union unity. It was a much higher level of class solidarity. All the messages of support stressed stopping the corporate attack on working men and women.

Corporate class warfare was most apparent in this strike. Wall Street gloated over the strike with fierce calls on GM to “finally” take the UAW on and smash it. But the autoworkers stood their ground and were even a bit surprised that so much of labor stood ready to fight with them. This GM strike is a hint of the changing mood of the working class.

No matter the contract details, the strike illustrates key points in an emerging political action program for labor: national health care and retirement security; a demand that giant corporations reinvest in manufacturing to preserve jobs and a sustainable economy in the U.S.; workers’ rights and organizing rights. Thirty years of economic and political attacks on labor have taken their toll, but the sleeping giant is awakening.