The powerful position that the striking John Deere workers find themselves in means that they can win absolutely everything they want. There is no need to compromise one iota.
Wall St. Journal
Even the Wall St. Journal in effect admits this. “Workers at Deere and other companies are now going on strike against a backdrop of widespread labor shortages that have helped push up wages for existing employees,” they write. “Forget what you’ve heard about the downfall of organized labor. A spate of strikes across the country is highlighting the power of unions amid today’s national worker shortage…” they add elsewhere.
However, as any worker who’s ever been on strike knows, it won’t be easy. First there are the economic pressures. According to Labor Notes, the UAW will be picking up the health benefits for the strikers once John Deere cuts them off, and will be paying the strikers $275/week in strike benefits. That is a start, but it is not enough to live on. If the UAW can’t afford to pay more, it can and should immediately start a crash fund raising campaign to pay additional benefits.
Strengthen the Picket Lines
Second is the issue of the pickets themselves. The pickets must be fairly
effective, given that John Deere had to go to court to cripple them in Davenport, Iowa. In that case, the judge directly sided with the company and limited the pickets to four (!) at a time. She also prohibited the pickets from bringing chairs or using a burn barrel to keep themselves warm as winter weather sets in. One suggestion was that car caravans be organized to gum up the traffic at shift changes at the plant. That can be a start, but then the judge would issue an injunction against that. Ultimately, this judicial-led union busting has to be openly defied in order to be stopped.
It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but we also must admit that another obstacle is the point of view of the union leadership. After all, they initially recommended a concessionary contract that according to Labor Notes would have left in place the two-tier pay schedule and weakened pensions for post-1997 hires, and no pension for new hires.
In other words, they never wanted this strike in the first place. That is absolutely the norm for the union leadership in general. See, for example, what happened recently with Western Washington carpenters. In that case, an organized rank and file opposition caucus, named after the founder of the Carpenters Union – Peter J. McGuire – organized to push for more, including pushing for a real strike policy. In the UAW, there is also an opposition caucus – Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD). It is good that they are raising funds for the strikers, but shouldn’t it be demanded that the International also do this? After all, the International could easily raise hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of dollars, in these times.
Methods of the 1930s
There is also the issue of the injunction and in general the company’s drive to keep functioning, no matter at what level. Even if they can just send out replacement parts, that will strengthen them. Labor has to remember how the unions – especially the UAW – were built in the 1930s. It was done by work place occupations and mass picket lines and open defiance of the courts and the police. With the widespread general support for these striking workers, a return to such methods is easily possible. If the courts levy fines or the company sues the union, this could be used as a political issue to build the movement even further.
Finally, there is the international aspect. John Deere has plants in Rosario, Argentina, Montenegro, Brazil and Mannheim, Germany and in India. It also has several plants in China. The UAW should immediately reach out to the workers in those plants to build direct worker-to-worker links and for immediate joint action, leading to further international solidarity. This alone would terrify John Deere management.
If the International refuses to do so, then a rank and file group could organize for this, including making direct links with the John Deere workers abroad.
With the major labor shortage, with the current strike wave coming on top of the record 4.3 million workers who quit their jobs in August, with the general mood of militancy – as well as the increased frustration and tendency towards open rebellion against the union leadership… with all of this, there is no reason that such a rank and file drive among John Deere workers could not succeed. By doing so, they could not only win absolutely everything they want and need, but also strike a major blow towards transforming the unions into what they were build to be in the first place: worker-controlled organizations to fight for our interests, not those of the companies. A rebellion seems to be starting to make the unions do so. John Deere workers and the UAW members in general are in a position to really drive this trend forward.
Also, see the pro company speech of former UAW International president Bob King, speaking to the Chamber of Commerce here. (Note: The text of that speech has been taken down by the UAW, but Oaklandsocialist copied and saved it.)