Internationalism and the General Motors Strike

Now here’s a novel thought regarding the GM strike: That the strikers reach out to their fellow GM workers around the world with the idea of organizing a global strike against GM.

GM workers in Brazil held plant gate meeting in February of this year to challenge management.

GM operates internationally
Why not? After all, according to Wikipedia
GM operates almost as many plants in other countries (28) as it does in the US (30). And the number is even higher when you take into account the fact that according to GM itself it has eleven joint ventures and two wholly owned enterprises in China.

In other words, like almost every single other manufacturer worth anything, GM is operating internationally. How do you bring a company like this to heel, if you don’t match them stride for stride?

“Hallmarks of a drawn-out battle”
Nor does it seem that this strike will be easily resolved. To quote the Wall St. Journal, “The current dispute has all the hallmarks of a drawn-out battle.”

 Workers viewpoint
In 2009, the government bailed out a bankrupt General Motors, and workers made huge concessions to the company. Now, GM is making massive profits – over $37 billion from 2016-2018 according to the Wall St. Journal. A major issue is the 7% of the GM workforce that work as temps, earning $15/hr, vs up to $28/hour for regular workers. Other issues for the workers are wages, health care and job security. Workers see these profits and want their share.

Vs. Management
General Motors sees things differently.

As far as the temp workers, while they are 7% of the GM work force, they compose up to 20%  at foreign owned plants in the US. And, as Autonews put it, “[GM] CEO Mary Barra Barra and her executive team [want to] implement billions of dollars in cost-cutting measures in preparation for the next economic downturn and shift the company’s focus toward costly, emerging technologies such as autonomous and fully electric vehicles.”

And as far as those profits: What GM investors would have noticed was while they were hefty, over the last three years, they declined by $1 billion from the levels of 2016 and 2017 to 2018 ($12.8 billion/year in first two years, $11.8 billion in 2018).

Again, to quote the Wall St. Journal “Many of the UAW demands seem reasonable, particularly for temporary and other workers who don’t enjoy the same perks as Old Timers. But that is no basis for an agreement. GM’s credibility with investors depends on it maintaining as flexible a cost base as possible.”

Conflict of interests
In other words, GM workers simply want to recover a little of what they gave up in the crisis of 2009 and onwards and live a comfortable life. General Motors management is also looking ahead – to the confidence they inspire in their investors, especially over the next four years, when an economic downturn is likely and all sorts of new technology (electric and self-driving cars) are likely to roil the industry.

International campaign would bring GM to heel
All of this – and more – is why an international campaign in action, not just words, would quickly bring GM to heel. To fully carry out such a campaign, however, the UAW leadership would have to drop its nationalistic policies. It would have to conduct a serious campaign among its own members, 28% of whom voted for Trump, according to estimates of the union itself. 

Rank and file strikers don’t have to wait for the UAW leadership to take such a step. There is no reason why they could not reach out on their own to their fellow GM workers in other countries. Some of those workers are right across the border in Canada. Others are across the Southern border, in Mexico. (For a full list of those plants’ locations, see here.) 

Already, GM workers in Silao, Mexico, have sent a letter of solidarity to their fellow workers in the United States. It reads:

Students in Mexico City expressing solidarity with striking GM workers.

To the striking U.S. General Motors workers: 

On behalf of the General Motors workers at the Silao complex in Mexico, we express our solidarity in struggle. We are currently fighting for union democracy and for the reinstallation of several fired comrades. We want to express OUR SOLIDARITY with your struggle because it is also ours. We must fight against the abuses of the bosses and for our rights on both sides of the border.

We stand in solidarity with you because, like you, we believe that our conflicts with our bosses and our struggles  are the same; they are international.

We hope that your efforts are successful and that we will soon follow your example.

Silao, Guanajuato, Mexico
September 2019
General Motors

If striking GM workers in the US followed that up by reaching out to plan joint solidarity actions it would terrify not only GM management, but the US capitalist class as a whole and would bring the strike to a swift and successful conclusion. It would also open up an important new chapter in the world working class movement. As the saying goes: “Workers of all lands, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have the world to win.”

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