Last week saw victories and defeats for the labor movement in the United States. In Tennessee, The United Automobile Workers saw defeat in an attempt to unionize a auto factory. Outside Detroit, workers used their power of organization against their exploiting bosses, walking off the job, and forcing bosses back to the bargaining table. The strike in Michigan underlines the challenges and potential of the labor movement in the United States in this era of growth and anti-union policies from the Trump administration.
1,900 auto part workers walked out of the Faurecia Auto Parts Plant in Saline, Michigan. The strike began because the contract the workers had been working through was set to expire. On Friday June 21st, the walkout commenced at 12:15 AM. Within nine hours of the strike, at 9:15 AM, the union had called the strike off, telling afternoon shift workers to go to work as management agreed to meet for new contract negotiations while the old contract sees a three-week extension.
As of yet, the details of the contract have not been revealed by the UAW. Union leaders have said details of the agreement will not be publicly presented until it is presented and voted on by the workers. However, the workers themselves are not yet aware of the details of the talks even though the union implored them to go back to work.
This small strike shows us as workers and union activists two points of interest: First, that when workers stand together against management, management is backed into a corner. While production and profits continue to rise, the workers of the Faurecia plant, like workers all over, saw decreasing pay, out of date benefit packages, and deteriorating safety conditions.
In 2017, it was estimated that the average manufacturing worker creates over $180,000 of value while the average pay for the plant worker is $15.00-$17.00 an hour. This means a weekly wage of $840-$1,088 before taxes and deductions against the $3,461 dollars a week worth of goods manufactured by the individual worker. Since 2017, a compounded growth rate of production has risen by 1.4%, meaning $252,000 worth of value is generated by the worker who still makes $15-$17 an hour. What this means is that the rate of exploitation went from 412% to 576% within a year an half. The worker creates over five times more value through their labor than what they are paid every hour. A nine-hour strike shutting down production means shutting down the production of millions of dollars of manufactured goods. The strike exemplifies the absolute power the working class has over bosses, who profit from the worker’s labor.
But the strike also shows something less direct. That, under capitalism, many unions are structured and run to work with management rather than against them. Workers, so far, have been kept out of the loop of negotiations. The union told workers to go back to work with very little information as to the details of the negotiations or what the prospects were for the new contract. The lack of worker control and democracy in many unions often puts compromise with the bosses over the demands of the workers with agreements being reached that give small concessions to the workers, and many workarounds, options, and loopholes for management.
The more workers organize and act together, the stronger they become against the forces of capital. This must expand from beyond the single factory or industry to the entire working class. The struggle for a working democracy must not end on the factory floor but be taken into the union. The struggle must be expanded outside of the basic economic needs of the workers and brought into the forefront of social and cultural needs. Capitalist organization does whatever it can, in every facet of life, to exploit and keep the worker down. But together, the power of the working class breaks this stranglehold with little effort. These are the lessons of the powerfully successful yet ultimately restricted strike in Michigan.