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Shawn Fain, UAW Announce Bold Campaign To Unionize Entire Auto Industry

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The United Auto Workers won important victories resulting from their 40 day strike against the “Big Three” automakers, Ford, Stellantis, and General Motors. While many workers voted against the final deal because they knew more could have been won by escalating the strike, the gains in the new contract have raised expectations across the industry. On a livestream on December 11, UAW President Shawn Fain announced plans to move forward from the Big Three strike to unionize the entire US auto industry, calling it a “once in a generation opportunity.” This has the potential to be one of the most exciting moments in the US labor movement in many decades.

The UAW is offering electronic authorization cards (uaw.org/join) to autoworkers at any facility, and has published a simple guide to unionize your workplace. Crucially, they are emphasizing the importance of shop-floor organizing, clear demands, and a willingness to confront the injustices of the boss.

It’s a huge step forward that UAW is offering workers a simple, transparent process to join the union, which is quite different from the opaque, staffer-driven process of many unions. Fain even encouraged friends and family members watching the broadcast to text the link to sign a union card to any auto worker they know. This approach of mobilizing the entire weight of the working class was an essential part of building a fighting labor movement in the 1930s.

Fain also announced a simple “30/50/70” recipe for workers looking to join the UAW. After workers have gotten 30% of their coworkers to sign union cards, they recommend the campaign goes public. Workers at Honda in Indiana, Hyundai in Alabama, and Volkswagen in Tennessee have all filed Unfair Labor Practice lawsuits against management’s union-busting tactics with public support from the UAW.

It seems clear UAW is responding to the initiative workers are taking on their own. At the Honda plant in Indiana, autoworkers made their own UAW stickers and stuck them on their hats (and other places around the factory). Other workers set up their own pro-union social media groups. Fain told viewers that more than 1,000 workers had signed up for the UAW at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN in less than a week.

Fain claimed thousands of workers at Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Nissan, Hyundai, Mazda, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Volvo, Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid have contacted the UAW. While it’s excellent the UAW recognizes the unprecedented opportunities of the moment, and has thrown open the doors to workers taking the initiative, it will also take real resources to win.

Once 50% of the facility has signed cards, Fain has pledged to attend a rally at the facility. Mass rallies are an essential tool to mobilize the whole working class into the struggle. Building mass rallies requires real resources, and the wider labor movement needs to step up with neighborhood door knocks, faith community announcements, etc. Not only would mobilizing the wider working class help autoworkers, but it’s an excellent way to start unionizing the vast numbers of unorganized workers in the service sector, logistics, tech, and many other industries. To accomplish this, we need to build organizations in the community that can provide support to auto workers, like Workers Strike Back has done with national Weeks of Action to support unionizing Amazon workers at the KCVG Air Hub in Kentucky.

The last step of the “30/50/70” recipe is filing for a union election once 70% of the workplace has signed cards. As workers at Volkswagen, Honda, and Hyundai have recently learned with failed union elections, these corporations will stop at nothing to defeat the union. It’s a positive thing that Shawn Fain is not building illusions in politicians or the legal system to protect workers. He said “These workers won’t win because a lawyer filed paperwork… they will win because they’re ready to stand up and fight for what they deserve.” While “30/50/70” will not be able to be perfectly applied in every workplace situation, it is a very useful starting point for thousands of workers who want to unionize but don’t know how.

Shawn Fain was elected UAW President out of a reform caucus earlier this year, defeating a corrupt and conservative old guard that had presided over decades of defeats for autoworkers. He uses the language of class struggle politics. He does not claim workers and billionaires have a shared interest. He is clear about who the enemy is. In the livestream he said “These companies will lie, cheat and steal; and out of the other side of their mouth they claim we’re all family.” He also regularly criticized politicians who “give lip-service to working people,” and the UAW has correctly withheld its endorsement for Biden thus far.

Fain’s open declaration of war against billionaires at the helm of the auto-industry could mark a turning point for the labor movement. Non-union auto workers have already shown they are willing to take the initiative, where a positive lead is provided. To win, UAW can’t hold back any punches, like they did during the Big Three strike. The stakes are bigger than simply unionizing workers. Fain’s framework of US society as a struggle between “workers and the billionaire class” cuts across the divisive polarization and ”culture wars” of US society, and offers a way to unite working class people into a common struggle to improve their lives.

Watch Shawn Fain’s Facebook Live speech from Dec 11 here.
Or read the abridged transcript below:

A message to non-union Auto Workers and the wider working class from Shawn Fain, leader of the United Auto Workers union

In my thirty years in this union, I’ve never seen anything like it. And it’s got the potential to change everything.

If you or anyone you know is a non-union autoworker, it’s time to sign your union card. You can find all the information you need at UAW.org/join.

Right now, thousands of workers at thirteen auto companies are fighting for a better life with the UAW. Workers at Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Nissan, Hyundai, Mazda, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Volvo, Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid are ready to Stand Up. From California to South Carolina. From Illinois to Alabama.

These workers are making history, and I’ve never seen anything like it.

Last Thursday, workers at Volkswagen in Chattanooga announced that over a thousand of them had signed cards to join the UAW. In less than a week.

And in just the few days since, hundreds more have signed up.

This summer, while we were in the thick of bargaining with the Big Three, we started noticing something unusual. First they came one or two at a time. Autoworkers reaching out to us from non-union companies about what they were seeing at the Big Three. Then they started coming by the dozens.

They’d write in, saying their companies had record profits, just like the Big Three. And they deserve record contracts, just like UAW auto workers at Ford, GM, and Stellantis.

By the time we were out on strike, the messages from non-union auto workers started pouring in by the hundreds. From every company, autoworkers weren’t just writing us messages, they were signing union cards. They found old organizing websites – some made their own websites, and just started signing up. 

They were tuning in to our Facebook Live updates, our stories, our materials, they made their own stickers with our UAW wheel and posted them all over non-union plants.

This wasn’t us, the UAW, going out and trying to organize these workers. This was these non-union workers banging down our door to join the UAW.

Solidarity means your fight is my fight. For autoworkers in this country, it’s literally true. Once autoworkers everywhere make a fair wage, with decent benefits, and real job security, companies won’t be able to pit auto worker against auto worker to “compete” with one another for more profit.

For us Big Three auto workers, that means lifting up our autoworker family at the non-union companies. They need us, and we need them. As long as we’re divided – by union status, by company, by state – we’re all weaker. And the only way we unite in this fight against corporate greed is through a union contract. For autoworkers everywhere.

We have our union. We have real protections. We have contracts that mean management can’t just do whatever they want, whenever they want. We fight to improve those contracts, but we have a leg to stand on.

At the non-union automakers, it’s a dictatorship.

The moment you walk in that plant, whatever the boss says, goes. They decide the wage. They decide the hours. They decide the benefits. They decide your work assignment. And they decide whether or not you still have a job the next day.

Non-union auto workers aren’t stupid. They know they’re getting a raw deal.

But for too long, it felt hopeless. With the deck stacked like that, how could they ever win their union? And with standards falling at the Big Three for years, was the fight even worth it?

Times have changed.

In our fight at the Big Three, we talked a lot about how record profits meant record contracts. The Big Three made a quarter of a trillion dollars in the past decade. In that same period, the non-union automakers made out like bandits.

The German Three – BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen – have made $460 billion in profits over the last decade. The Japanese and Korean companies made $480 billion. Toyota alone made more profits over the last decade than the Big Three combined.

As veteran organizers will tell you, beyond having the right staff, the right message, the right strategy, there’s one thing that sets apart winning and losing organizing campaigns: the workers have to WANT IT.

Right now, America’s auto workers are ready. They want a better life. They want a voice on the job. They want their fair share of economic and social justice.

And they don’t just want it. They’re ready to run through a brick wall to get it.

I know because I’ve met with them.

Last week, in Georgetown, Kentucky, I sat down with dozens of workers from Toyota’s biggest plant. They told me about how last year they got a 25 cent raise. Now, with the big win at the Big Three, the company’s raising wages by nine percent.

The workers in Georgetown asked me – so, what’s your timeline for organizing this plant? I told them it’s not about my timeline. It’s not about the UAW’s timeline. It’s about your timeline. When workers at Toyota win their union, it will be because they stood up for themselves. We’ve got their back. But they’re leading the way.

They also told me that the company has set up a food bank for its own workers.

Let me say that again. Toyota, the most profitable auto company in the world, has set up a food bank for its own workers here in the United States of America.

My family has deep roots in Kentucky and Tennessee. My grandpa Fain moved from Nicholasville, Kentucky to Indiana and took a job at Chrysler in 1937, the year they organized with the UAW. 

My grandparents left their homes and came north during and after the Great Depression in search of a better job and a better life. They took jobs at Chrysler and General Motors. They were able to afford a home and a car and to give their children and grandchildren opportunities they never had.

As the companies prospered, so did my family. That didn’t just magically happen. It happened because of the UAW. It happened because they organized and they fought for their fair share of the value they created.

Business leaders and politicians love to give lip service to the value of hard work. But companies don’t pay good wages out of the goodness of their hearts. They pay good wages because workers demand it and are ready to fight for it.

Every day that I go to work, I carry my grandfather’s Chrysler check stub with me. It reminds me of what his generation went through. How hard they had to fight to make the American Dream a reality. And it inspires me now. 

This is our generation’s defining moment.

It’s up to us to now carry the torch on the long road to economic and social justice. We are not the first. We won’t be the last. But now is our time.

And just like my grandparents experienced in the 30s, the companies are once again trying to stop us. Management is trying to sow division. To pit us against one another.

But these workers are speaking out against that division. Yolanda Peoples, a worker on the organizing committee at Volkswagen, told the local news in Chattanooga last week: “We’re not separated by the name of our company, Dodge, GM, Volkswagen — we are all one. If they can do it, we can too.” Yolanda says, we won’t be divided.

In plants across the country, courageous workers like Yolanda are joining the organizing committees in their workplace. An organizing committee is a group of workers who visibly and actively help to organize and establish a union in their workplace. 

Once on the organizing committee, workers from different areas and shifts help educate co-workers about the union, sign up co-workers on union authorization cards and organize and lead other actions when necessary.

The Organizing committee is the beating heart of our plan to win, which we call the 30-50-70 strategy. When 30% of your coworkers sign union cards, you are ready to go public with your organizing Committee.  That means an organizing committee made up of autoworkers at your plant publicly telling the world that you are on track to unionize your workplace. We’re going to be loud and proud about our union.

When 50% of your coworkers have signed cards, I will personally join you and your coworkers for a big rally in your town so we can show the world that a majority of workers at your plant are willing to fight for your union.

When 70% of you and your coworkers have signed cards and you’ve built a strong organizing committee with representatives from every department, line and shift, we will demand the company recognize your union – or take it to a vote, and win.

Just like our Stand Up Strike, no single company is the target. They’re ALL the  target. And just like our Stand Up Strike, they won’t know what’s coming next.

But these companies do have a plan. They’ve already showed their hand.

First they come with a carrot, then they come with a stick. The carrot is what we’ve been calling the UAW bump. Immediately after we won our contracts, these companies suddenly found the pocket change to improve wages for their workers, too.

Toyota shortened their progression and gave a nine percent raise. Honda announced an 11% raise. Volkswagen just 6%. And you can go down the line, one after the other. We know why they’re doing this. Autoworkers at these companies know why they’re doing this. It’s not out of the goodness of their heart.

This is the companies scrambling to save face, and to convince workers to stop pushing for their fair share.

A 9% raise on poverty wages is still poverty wages.

An 11 percent raise with skyrocketing healthcare costs is no raise at all. When these non-union companies announce whatever copycat number they’re supposedly giving their workers – That isn’t a union contract. That’s a press release.

So that’s the carrot. So now the companies are bringing out the stick.

Like corporations everywhere, no matter what they tell you, these companies are more than willing to break the law if it means protecting their bottom line from you.

They’ll lie, cheat, and steal. Intimidate, surveil, and coerce. And then out of the other side of their mouth, they’ll tell you we’re family.

Our message to workers everywhere is simple: the UAW has got your back.

And our message to the companies is clear: an attack on a worker anywhere is an attack on workers everywhere. If you come after one autoworker, you are coming after all autoworkers.

This is a national movement of autoworkers fighting for autoworkers. We aren’t   going to wait around for them to attack auto workers who are speaking out for a better life.

We aren’t going to let them silence working class people standing up for themselves. We will use every tool in the toolbox.

But these workers won’t win because a lawyer filed paperwork. They won’t win just because someone handed them a union card. They won’t win because of the UAW leadership or Shawn Fain. The workers at Honda, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Mercedes, and Toyota and all these non-union auto companies will win because they’re ready to Stand Up and fight for what they deserve.

And what they’re Standing Up for isn’t just UAW membership. It isn’t just a UAW contract. It isn’t just a higher wage, better benefits, and a voice on the job. It’s so much more than that.

We live in the richest country in the history of the world. The United States has more billionaires than any other country in the world. Over the last ten years, Corporations and the billionaire class have made a killing, while the working class has scraped to get by.

It’s no wonder that poll after poll shows that the American public overwhelmingly supports unions and that tens of millions of non-union workers would join a union tomorrow if they could.

So why don’t millions of workers join unions?

The answer is simple: in every union drive, employers do everything they can to bully, threaten and harass workers into sitting down, and shutting up. The rich and the powerful, the people who benefit from the way things are, they want you to believe that nothing will ever change, that it’s hopeless to even try. They want you to distrust unions and anyone who thinks our lives could be better.

And most of all, they want you to be afraid to Stand Up.

They want you to keep your mouth shut and just be grateful for the scraps they give you. Corporate America and their political lackeys have been able to keep wages down and profits high by keeping their designer boots squarely on the necks of workers.

The power imbalance between bosses and workers is one of the biggest driving forces behind the inequality crisis in our country. That is why I want to be clear with everyone about what is actually at stake in our fight to unionize the auto industry.

This isn’t just about higher wages at Volkswagen. It isn’t just about better benefits at Toyota. It isn’t just about ending the exploitation of temporary workers at Nissan. This is a fight for freedom.

The freedom of working people everywhere in this country to join together and bargain collectively for a fairer distribution of the incredible value we create.

The freedom to not live paycheck to paycheck while your employer makes record profits. The freedom to leave things better for future generations. The freedom to retire with dignity.

And history shows us that freedom is only won and protected by everyday people standing up and fighting for it.

Across the country, workers are uniting to fight corporate greed.

And everyone everywhere will have to ask themselves: which side am I on?

The side of corporate America and the billionaire class? The side of extreme wealth and inequality? Or am I on the side of working families across the country?

I know which side I’m on.

I’m on the side of the autoworker. I’m on the side of the Starbucks worker. I’m on the side of the UPS driver.

If that’s the side you’re on, we’re asking you to head to UAW.org/join.

We’re asking you to reach out to anyone you know who may work at a non-union auto plant, or might know someone who does. And we’re asking you to step up and organize your own workplace.

Nothing else can fix our broken economy like a bigger, better, and bolder union movement. And no one’s going to do it but you.

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