By Chris Fry
On May 3, newly elected United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain posted a letter to the union’s 400,000 members that the union will not give its usual endorsement to President Biden, who announced his candidacy on April 23. Fain, who is the first UAW president elected by the membership instead of union leaders, stated that the union needed to see support from Washington in the conversion of the industry to electric vehicles (EV):
“The federal government is pouring billions into the electric vehicle transition, with no strings attached and no commitment to workers,” Fain said in the message obtained by CNBC. “The EV transition is at serious risk of becoming a race to the bottom. We want to see national leadership have our back on this before we make any commitments.”
Fain said that the union prioritizes its members and communities first:
In the letter, Fain singles out the Detroit automakers for recent announcements surrounding plant closures and idling related to EVs that turned workers’ lives “upside down.” Most notably, earlier this year, Stellantis idled a Jeep plant in Illinois, citing the need to cut costs to invest in EVs.
Fain also noted the pay rate at a recently opened Ultium Cells LLC battery plant near Lordstown, Ohio — a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution — compared with that of traditional automotive assembly plants.
Ultium has said hourly workers currently make between $16 and $22 an hour with full benefits, incentives, and tuition assistance. That compares to traditional hourly UAW members that can make upward of $32 an hour at GM plants.
In a speech to the Ultium workers in Lordstown Ohio on May 4 reported by businessjournaldaily.com, Fain condemned the paltry pay increases planned for the workers while this joint venture will get billions in tax incentives from Washington:
He added that UAW workers need support from Washington, D.C., as well, and that it’s unfair that the government is spending billions of dollars in incentives for corporations that pay out “poverty wages.”
Workers, for example, at Ultium stand to receive raises of just 23 cents per hour annually over the next seven years under the current wage structure, he said.
“It’s criminal, some of the things going on,” Fain said.
The government, he emphasized, must include labor standards to these incentive packages. “These are our tax dollars, and we gotta fight for it, and we’re gonna fight for it.”
A May 4 Common Dreams article quotes Fain as tying the union endorsement of Biden to the backing the UAW receives when it opens negotiations with auto companies in September:
Noting that 150,000 autoworkers are organizing for a new contract with the “Big Three”—Ford, GM, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler)—in September, Fain wrote that “we’ll stand with whoever stands with our members in that fight.”
“Right now, we’re focused on making sure the EV transition does right by our members, our families, and our communities,” Fain continued. “We’ll be ready to talk politics once we secure a future for this industry and the workers who make it run.”
Fain did state that the UAW would never endorse anti-worker and anti-union Trump. A section of the working class was drawn into the Trump campaigns in the past by his demagoguery.
A second Trump term “would be a disaster,” Fain added. “But our members need to see an alternative that delivers real results.”
Biden no friend of the environment
In case anyone believes that Biden is more friendly to the movement against global warming than the UAW workers and their leadership, one only has to examine a few facts:
- After campaigning on the promise to no longer allow oil and gas companies to drill on federal lands, Biden opened up a huge tract of land in the Alaska wilderness to ConocoPhillips with its so-called “Willow Project”. This will produce over 600 million barrels of oil, generating over a quarter billion metric tons of carbon emissions.
- Activists convicted of damaging oil company pipelines, or even climbing trees to protect them from a cop-training site removal are being charged with terrorism by state prosecutors and Biden’s DOJ.
- A May 8th New York Times essay titled “Why Are We Allowing the Private Sector to Take Over Our Public Works?” points out that Biden’s two signature pieces of legislation, the “Inflation Reduction Act” (IRA) and the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” both represent a sharp break from the New Deal programs. Instead of projects to use private companies to build publicly owned utility and other infrastructure companies, Biden’s programs open the way for giant global asset firms like Brookfield Renewable Partners to buy up wind and solar energy facilities.
- An April report from Greenpeace titled “Who Profits From War: How Gas Corporations Capitalize on War in Ukraine” details how Biden’s proxy war in Ukraine is destroying any advances in the struggle against global warming:
What followed was one of the most blatant examples of ‘shock doctrine,’ where gas operators quickly shifted their public messaging and lobbying from “energy transition” to “energy security” and cynically used the opportunity to frighten governments into massive, unneeded investment into and expansion of fossil gas imports and infrastructure.
These tactics have resulted in a short-term energy supply crisis being answered by long-term fossil fuel lock-in in the form of new infrastructure, decades long contracts, and environmental impact in the US, as well as in the EU. This overreaction jeopardizes the EU’s and US’s energy transition and their agreed climate goals. The shift was instant and effective. The REPowerEU plan, the EU answer to the gas crisis, included around €10 billion ($20.9 billion) in funding for gas infrastructure. Eight liquefied gas terminals are under construction, and 38 more have been proposed.
Shareholders of the world’s top five oil and gas companies saw record profits of €192 billion ($209 billion) and distributed $102 billion (€93 billion) in the form of dividends and share-buy-backs in 2022.
Unions and the Democratic Party – a Transformation
Since the New Deal, with some exceptions, unions in the U.S. have been lockstep in their support of the Democratic Party candidates. Campaign donations and a massive number of volunteers from unions have sustained this side in elections, expressing the position that the Republicans purely represent Big Business, while the Democratic Party remains on the side of the workers and oppressed.
UAW President Fain’s challenge to Biden is based on at least partially a recognition of the falsehood of that belief and the futility of that position by unions.
Just as it is necessary and proper for the UAW to place the threat of a strike on the bargaining table in its negotiations with the company owners, so it is proper for the union to hold off its support for Biden and other Democratic candidates until its demands for government support for the workers in the electric vehicle transition are met.
This is an implied recognition that both political parties represent different sections of the same ruling billionaire class. It shows a new emerging view by some union leaders that using their support as a bargaining tool with Biden and the Democrats is in fact the same as negotiating with company representatives in contract talks.
One thing that is not mentioned in the current “debt ceiling” debate by the corporate media is that both sides, Democrats and Republicans, agree that the U.S. must slash spending on the hard-won benefit programs for the workers and oppressed, that our class, facing sky-high inflation, bank runs, climate catastrophes, white supremacist mass shootings and more, must now endure an odious austerity program to shore up the vast wealth of the bankers and big business owners.
The only differences are over the timing and the scale of those cuts. And both parties agree that the military budget is “sacred” and not to be reduced and should in fact be increased.
This agreement has a tremendous impact on the cuts that are on the table, as the following chart segment showing the current Republican proposal shows:
As strong as the 400,000 member UAW is and as important that its new leadership seems ready to take a more militant stance, it cannot by itself turn the tide on this ruling class onslaught. That will require a revolutionary socialist mass movement of all the workers and oppressed to throw both bourgeois political parties and their billionaire patrons into the wastebasket of history. That is what we must strive to build.
The writer is a former UAW shop steward, bargaining committeeman and strike vice-chairman.
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