Summary: Increasing militancy of unions at the leadership and grassroots levels illustrates an increased resolve to resist capital — Editors
Workers across the United States are increasingly dissatisfied with the capitalist mode of production that increasingly impoverishes and alienates them. Unions across the country, such as the United Auto Workers and Writers Guild of America, have either threatened or engaged in the type of self-activity that directly threatens the domination of the capital as we know it. Their efforts demonstrate an ongoing resistance to capital that is becoming increasingly militant and radicalized.
This is demonstrated by the leadership that has taken hold of many unions. These leaders are less apt to compromise with the employers and were elected, in part, due to their predecessors’ failure to secure contracts reflecting the desires of their members. Shawn Fain, the current president of the UAW, is one such leader. He is the first UAW president to be elected directly by its members in nearly 90 years. This is one example of the populist rage building amongst the U.S. working class, as far as Fain’s actions – such as throwing away a list of proposals from Stellantis, the maker of Jeep and Chrysler.
Fain has called for increased worker solidarity, arguing when he was running back in December 2022 that the lack of unity between electric battery plant workers and traditional plant workers was due to complacency on behalf of his predecessors. Further, part of his campaign advocated the same pay and conditions for battery plant workers as for the traditional plant workers, particularly referring to the big three, GM, Stellantis, and Ford. Perhaps the central demand is a pay increase of 40%. Ford countered with an offer of 23%, with GM and Stellantis offering 20% over four years. The militancy and determination of the rank-and-file members and their leaders extend beyond pay increases, however, with ambitious calls for a 32-hour workweek. Though these remain on the periphery, the conversation has begun.
Other union leaders, such as the Teamster’s Sean O’Brien, also ascended by advocating for workers who have traditionally been sidelined in such negotiations. At UPS, these are the part-time workers. Unusually, O’Brien campaigned on, and secured, a pay increase for part-time workers. The IMHO previously published an article analyzing the Teamsters strike more in-depth that can be found here: https://imhojournal.org/articles/ups-workers-dissatisfied-with-inhumane-conditions-and-demand-better/
Another current union president, Edward Hall, was a rank-and-file railroad worker and local official who was dissatisfied with the leadership of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. Hall was frustrated by the lack of a timetable for progress under the previous union president. At the beginning of last year, he decided to run for president before being elected later that fall by about 500 votes. This came after Congress imposed a labor agreement most members had earlier rejected for not going far enough. BLET is a union in which members directly elect their president like the UAW is now.
Taken in tandem, these elections and strike victories point to a general discontent with old, accommodationist labor leaders and their complacency in negotiations with management. The new crop of union leaders reflects the outrage of the working class, which is becoming more palpable as the contradictions of capitalism sharpen.
This militancy and aggressive leadership have resulted in significant gains. The UAW began to strike in a limited capacity on September 15th in Detroit and vowed to expand nationwide if needed. Fain believes such threats, specifically a threat against GM to expand the strike to their biggest plants, are largely responsible for bringing them to the table as of Friday, October 6th. GM alone has lost roughly $200 million since the limited strikes began (though it secured a $6 billion line of credit from JP Morgan). Some estimates argue the cost of the strikes to the U.S. economy is nearly $4 billion. The Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, has also stated the Hollywood strikes have cost the state nearly $5 billion. It is not all sunshine and rainbows, though.
GM has responded by firing or furloughing approximately 2,100 workers in response to the work stoppages at its plants. This demonstrates, even more, the lack of regard corporations have for those whose labor they exploit, and it shows why workers must stand militantly in solidarity to secure any wage increases or other guarantees. The interests of capital are antithetical to those of the workers, and the militancy and resistance building nationwide reflect the increasing importance of this fact among the working class.
Their power is being realized, not only through their class consciousness but also through the economic pain they’re inflicting. As mentioned above, the strikes against automobile companies and the entertainment industry alone have cost the U.S. economy around $9 billion. The Writers Guild of America has reached a tentative agreement with the studios and has called on them to negotiate fairly with the Screen Actors Guild – America Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRP), which is nearing its 100th day of striking.
Across multiple industries, workers in this country are increasingly acting upon their dissatisfaction and resisting the crushing exploitation of capital. Their independent self-activity demonstrates exactly where capital has sown the seeds of its own destruction. As working-class consciousness has increased – particularly in the last two years – strikes such as these are likely to become more frequent. As the workers realize their labor – alongside the product of nature — is the source of all value, they will weaponize this to the detriment of capital. May this Striketober be the most favorable yet.