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Autoworkers vote to end GM strike

29 October, 2019Members of the United Autoworkers (UAW) have voted to end the longest strike at GM since 1970.

The strike ended on Friday 25 October when UAW members voted 57 per cent in favour of signing the new, four-year contract after more than a month on the picket line. The 40-day strike by almost 50,000 autoworkers was the longest strike at GM in 50 years, and one of the biggest disputes in the US in decades. The UAW also ended their first strike in 35 years at Mack Truck on Friday after reaching an agreement with the company.

The new contract contains some significant union victories: every worker will receive a signing bonus of US $11,000, and the two tier labour system has effectively been abolished. The contract also includes performance bonuses, annual raises, lump sum payments and maintains health care coverage.

The strong stance by the workers was however not enough to move GM from its plans to shut plants. Like other automakers, GM is grappling with major changes to the industry, driven by the shift towards autonomous and electric vehicles, and a move away from personal transport. Considering the fundamental technological shift faced by automakers, the UAW contract is considered a good result.

UAW vice president Terry Dittes praised the workers who stood firm on the picket line, saying,

“Their sacrifice and courageous stand addressed the two-tier wages structure and permanent temporary worker classification that has plagued working class Americans.”

Workers were outraged that the company, which received a US $49.5 billion bail-out in 2008, was reluctant to share the US $35 billion profit it has made in the past three years. Autoworkers made significant concessions to save the company when it faced bankruptcy and were committed to a long struggle to win a fair settlement.

The strike is estimated to have cost GM as much as US $2 billion in lost profits and shareholders more than 5 per cent in stock value.

The strike received a huge amount of international support and solidarity. The scale of the dispute meant it was seen as significant not just for the workers involved, but for the ability of industrial workers everywhere to win a fair wage against a backdrop of major changes to the production process.

The result is expected to have a major knock on effect at other workplaces, particularly at Ford, where the UAW will shortly begin a bargaining round.

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said:

“This strike was significant because it reflects a return to industrial militancy in the US labour movement. Working people made major sacrifices to keep their companies afloat after the financial crisis. Now that those companies are profitable again, they want their fair share.

“GM was bailed out, the workers were not. It is no longer acceptable for corporations to get rich off the back of workers without sharing in that prosperity.”