Towards an automobile strike on a “never seen” scale

A strike appears more and more likely among the three major American automobile manufacturers, the union and management having still not managed to reach an agreement on Wednesday, the first day of the Detroit show, whose beautiful grilles have been eclipsed by this social conflict .

“We are preparing to strike at these companies in a way we have never seen before,” warned Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, on Wednesday. The positions of the union and management are “very far apart”, he added.

The collective agreements of the “Big Three” Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (owner of Chrysler) expire Thursday evening at midnight.

Shawn Fain specified that the work stoppage could begin as early as Friday morning in a limited number of factories, before gradually extending, while continuing negotiations.

Negotiations began several months ago, under the leadership of Shawn Fain, who is demanding significant salary increases for his approximately 150,000 members in the three groups in view of the record profits of manufacturers.

With Bernie Sanders

Earlier in the day, the UAW announced the organization of a rally Friday in downtown Detroit with Senator Bernie Sanders, close to the radical left and one of the strongest defenders of unions in Congress.

Ford boss Jim Farley, however, said he was optimistic on Tuesday, indicating that Ford had made a third offer to the UAW, the “most generous” in 80 years of collaboration between the manufacturer and the union. It included salary increases, inflation protection measures, 17 days of paid vacation and higher retirement contributions.

He also stressed that there are limits to what the manufacturer can accept, citing the 32-hour or four-day week, for “the viability of the company”.

The UAW is demanding salary increases of 40%, the same magnitude as those granted to leaders in recent years. He also advocates, among other things, for job security during the transition to electric vehicles.

Trump gets involved

Former President Donald Trump, who hopes to seek re-election to the White House in 2024, called on UAW members to “make the complete and total repeal of Joe Biden’s insane electric vehicle mandate their number one priority.” and non-negotiable demand in any strike. Without it, he predicted, “the American auto industry will cease to exist and all your jobs will be sent to China.”

Joe Biden wants half of the cars sold in 2030 in the United States to be emission-free (electric or hydrogen) or low-emission (plug-in hybrids). “Scoundrel Joe sold you out to appease the environmental extremists in his party. Don’t surrender! “, further urged the Republican.

Significant economic consequences if the strike lasts

The economic consequences of a strike, if it occurs, will depend on its scale and duration. In the worst-case scenario, namely the three groups affected over a long period, household consumption would suffer and layoffs at manufacturers’ suppliers could follow, according to industry experts.

The Detroit auto show was previously held in January but has changed seasons in 2022, reorienting itself towards the general public to which it will open its doors on Saturday.

Ford kicked off Tuesday evening with a new version of its F-150 pickup, the best-selling vehicle in the United States for several decades. A real party with shows, including that of country singer Darius Rucker.

GM and Stellantis unveiled new vehicles Wednesday morning. But on the ground, employees began to organize: the UAW branch at the Ford pickup plant in Dearborn, Michigan, assigned roles for the first seven days of a shutdown of work. Picketing guidelines instruct employees to “peacefully” patrol off factory grounds, not leave litter behind, and not bring in alcohol.

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