America’s Auto Biography

For the first time, workers at all 3 Detroit automakers went on strike. “Members of the United Auto Workers union began picketing at a General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Ford factory in Wayne, Michigan, near Detroit; and a Stellantis Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio.” The strike, while still limited in scope, is a big deal for a few reasons. First, past auto strikes have left a significant mark on American worker rights and wages. The auto biography is a big part of America’s autobiography.

+ Second, the economic divide has gotten out of control. CEOs and shareholders are doing better than ever while workers have been getting the drive shaft. One way to pump the brakes on this trend is to strike. David Leonhardt in the NYT (Gift Article): The action by the United Auto Workers is part of a burst of labor activism attempting to reverse a decades-long trend. Past “strikes helped create the American middle class. Without at least the possibility of a disruptive strike, companies are often able to keep wages relatively low. They can bet that workers won’t quit for higher-paying jobs elsewhere. This bet often pays off, particularly when industries are highly concentrated with only a few large companies. That’s essentially what has happened over the past few decades as unions have withered and companies have consolidated. The economic trends have been the opposite of what they were in the mid-20th century: Executive pay and corporate profits have grown faster than the American economy — and much faster than wages for rank-and-file workers.” And from Robert Reich: Five big reasons the UAW is going on strike. Long story short, workers are tired of being the crash test dummies of the American economy.

+ Third, this strike is part of a much bigger political story of how Biden’s federal subsidies are being diverted from blue states to red states where non-union work is allowed. Ronald Brownstein with a very interesting look at the real issue in the UAW strike. “Fear that the shift to electric vehicles will reduce the number of quality jobs in the auto industry is the backdrop for the strike the UAW launched at midnight today. In both public and private, union officials have made clear their belief that the auto industry is using the technological transition to mask a second, economic, transition. They worry that the companies are using the shift from internal-combustion engines to carbon-free electric vehicles to simultaneously shift more of their operations from high-paying union jobs mostly in northern states to lower-paying, nonunion jobs mostly in southern states.”

+ Biden has chimed in: “Auto companies have seen record profits, including in the last few years, because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of UAW workers,. But those record profits have not been shared fairly, in my view, with those workers.” Here’s the latest from CNN.

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