RevolutionZ

Ep 251 The UAW Strike's Enormous Potentials with Guest, Jeremy Brecher

October 15, 2023 Michael Albert Season 1 Episode 251
RevolutionZ
Ep 251 The UAW Strike's Enormous Potentials with Guest, Jeremy Brecher
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers
Episode 251 of RevolutionZ discusses with Jeremy Brecher how the United Auto Workers strike  could significantly shift the balance of power and inspire a new wave of labor activism. Brecher, a renowned writer, historian, and activist,  provides in-depth insights on the UAW's demands for 40 percent wage increase, improved working conditions, and the eradication of wage tiers to help us understand not just the strike's impact on the auto industry NS Labor more broadly, but t also its implications for other sectors, including climate activism. 

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Speaker 1:

Hello, my name is Michael Albert and I am the host of the podcast that's titled Revolution Z, which is newly now, after 250 episodes, sponsored by and a component of Znetworkorg. And to kick off this new phase, for our 251st episode, we have as our guest Jeremy Brecker. Jeremy is a writer, historian and activist who is the author of more than a dozen books on labor and social movements. His book Strike was described by Professor Richard Flax, uc Santa Barbara, as quote the single most important book about the history of the American labor movement published in our time, and I'll second that. Over the course of half a century, jeremy has participated in movements for civil rights, nuclear disarmament, peace in Vietnam, international labor rights, global economic justice, accountability for war crimes, climate protection and many others. For the past dozen years, he has focused on labor and climate, writing three books on climate politics, including climate solidarity, workers versus war, warming, and he is co-founder and senior advisor of the labor network for sustainability. So, jeremy, welcome to Revolution Z.

Speaker 2:

Good to be with you, michael, and appreciation of being able to continue our many decades long collaboration.

Speaker 1:

Yep, it's been a delight so far and I have a feeling today will be a very nice addition because of what we're talking about. So, if it's all right with you, I'd like to focus us, at least initially, on the now unfolding UAW strike. To me, it feels incredibly important for many reasons, including its potential impact on the now growing wave of labor activism, particularly due to its diverse demands and its militant, committed tone, including its links to climate activism, its serious attention to material but also the quality of life issues, like the length of the work week, and its attitude toward and support from the broader public. Am I wrong to think? On all these counts and more to, this, strike is of huge importance. What do you think?

Speaker 2:

I am in complete agreement with you. I think it represents much more of a break with the longstanding if I may use the word desuitude and you can work it up of the American labor movement and very much in all the ways you mentioned, and more a movement toward reopening and actually opening in a new way new possibilities for the labor movement.

Speaker 1:

And so catch us up. Some listeners might not be exactly abreast of what's going on, so, before we get into more about why it's important and what its implications are, just catch us up on what's happened.

Speaker 2:

Well, I think the place to start is that sometime last year, the UAW, the United Auto Workers Union, was required to have direct elections by the membership of its top officials, which has never happened before, and in fact it's always been a closely controlled political situation, with the so-called administration caucus in control from the earliest days of the UAW until this summer, and this year, for the first time, there were democratic elections, and it elected a whole new swath of leadership, the most visible representative being Sean Fain, an auto worker, and he and his team.

Speaker 2:

The leadership immediately began getting ready for the ending of the contract of the United Auto Workers Union with the big three auto companies and began proceeding in a way that was radically different from the way auto union leadership has behaved for decades and, in some ways, ever, and so they announced that they needed not only a substantial wage increase they needed to undo the concessions that the auto workers made when the industry went into collapse during the Great Recession and that have never been won back and we can talk later about what those demands are but also, and very, very importantly, put front and center the issue of the transition to electric vehicles and electric vehicle production and how that was going to occur, where the new electric vehicle and battery plants would be built, whether they would be unionized, whether they would be included in the same union contract as existing workers, and fundamental questions about the future of the industry itself and how it would be shaped and function, which is very, very much outside the tradition of American trade unions and also the legal framework within which unions are expected to operate, in which management has the right to determine things that are allegedly management's prerogative, and unions and workers should not be interfering with them.

Speaker 2:

And one of the most significant things about this strike is that the UAW has demanded substantial control over fundamental decisions about investment policy and management policy for the union, and it has already won major concessions about that from general motors and presumably that will follow suit with the other auto companies going forward.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so what would you say are the main core demands? I mean, obviously it's a big struggle and there's lots of fronts, but what would you say are the three or four core demands? Just so we get that on the table.

Speaker 2:

The first thing is a 40% wage increase.

Speaker 2:

The companies have already agreed to, I believe, at least half of that spread over the next few years, and that demand is based on the fact that the top executives of the auto industry have had approximately a 40% increase in their salaries and packages over the last few years.

Speaker 2:

So they just said well, if it's good enough for the managers, good enough for the workers. But I think a crucial one is what happened in the 2008 contract or 2009, when the industry was in collapse and the unions felt they had to help rehabilitate it by making huge concessions. One of the main concessions was okay, well, we'll more or less keep paying existing auto workers the same and give them the same benefits a little trimming here and there but new workers coming on the job will be in a different tier, as they call it, and the lower tier will not be protected by those conditions. And over the years, everyone who's come to work for the Big Three has failed to get any improvements in their conditions. And at this point, workers who are in the lower tier, who are now a very, very large proportion of all auto workers, actually make approximately half what workers who were there before 2008 are making, so getting rid of the tiers is a huge piece of this.

Speaker 1:

I just asked your question before you go on with that. So they've got the tiers now and a very large proportion are in the lower tier. They're demanding a 40% pay increase. Are they saying when you get rid of the tiers, you move the lower tier up to where everybody was and then everybody gets a 40% raise increase? Or are they saying just everybody gets a 40% raise increase, which means the lower tier stays lower?

Speaker 2:

They're definitely demanding the elimination of the lower tier so that everyone gets the same rate. My guess is that, the way I haven't, it's a good question, but I don't know the technicalities. My guess is that the 40% is an overall figure for the entire workforce, that the increase in the wages for the people who are in the lower tier will contribute to that 40%. So the people in the top tier won't get a 40% raise, but they'll get a substantial raise.

Speaker 2:

But the people who are in the bottom will get a much bigger raise in order to bring them up to the same level. I can't say that for certain, but my guess is that that's the way it would work.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so that's wage increase, ending the tiers. Yeah, what else?

Speaker 2:

I think the forestalling the race to the bottom in the building of electric vehicles and the transition to electric vehicles having what they refer to as a just transition a phrase that some of us have been arguing for, often against a lot of headwinds, for a decade or more that has now become the established language for talking about this issue for the auto union, and what that means is that the auto companies have been moving their work and shutting down conventional plants they shut one down in Lordstown, for example that are building gas-driven vehicles and opening new plants in mostly in the South and in right-to-work states which are not unionized or not covered by the regular union contract and paying far lower wages and very much unsafe, unhealthy conditions. So, for example, in one plant in the South wages are approximately half that of the existing UAW auto plants in the Midwest.

Speaker 1:

In a sense, it's another version of no tears, right, exactly, Exactly.

Speaker 2:

And both of these are ways for that.

Speaker 2:

The companies are using the transition to electric vehicles as a means to degrade the condition of workers very, very substantially, even from what they are now.

Speaker 2:

So the central point of this is that there are really two aspects of it.

Speaker 2:

One is that the jobs and economic well-being of existing auto workers be preserved and no one's going to get fired, lose their job, be thrown out on industrial scrap heap as part of the transition to electric vehicles, and the other is that the floor conditions of auto workers after all, from the very beginning of industrial unionism, a central goal and purpose has been, as they say, take labor out of competition makes the companies not able to compete with each other by cutting their wages and their labor costs, and that's been lost to a tremendous extent with the weakening of organized labor. And this is a reassertion of the idea that if you're an auto worker, it doesn't matter whether you're in Florida or in Michigan. You should be getting the same rates of wages and the company should not be able to play workers in one place or off against workers in another place in order to force them to accept worse conditions. So this is at the core of the demands to not, as they say, to prevent a race to the bottom in the process of electrifying the auto industry.

Speaker 1:

And then isn't another key and sort of breakthrough kind of demand, the one about the work week.

Speaker 2:

There is demand for a 40 for a four-day work week. I think that this is likely to be. You know, when you go into bargaining in any sphere, if you're bargaining with your landlord, you start out by essentially saying what things should be. But of course you recognize that the power to make them be that way.

Speaker 2:

You may or may not have. You won't find out until you actually have the struggle and have the matching of forces and find out what you can do. My guess is that this is a what you might call a vanguard demand. It's a demand that's being brought forward Not with the expectation that it'll be met in this round of bargaining, but that it opens the door for that to be something that can be realized in the future.

Speaker 2:

That said, auto work is notoriously exhausting and the companies have been often adding unlimited amounts of overtime to the actual work week. So I think that this is a important part of a struggle around the length of the work week and a way to put that issue front and center. It's also a vehicle and it's something that hours of labor have always been, from the earliest days of the labor movement, an important aspect of what workers have fought for, and I think it is, among other things, a way of spreading the work so that in the communities around these plants, which are often very poor communities, people of color, immigrants discriminated against groups, people who are not able to get into the kinds of mainstream jobs that auto industry jobs represent. This is also a way of opening up jobs for those people in those communities.

Speaker 1:

I mean when people talk about unemployment from technological change or anything else, of course, what's missing is there's a simpler solution. If productivity is going up so much, then you can have fewer hours of work, more people working and retain pay. And that's ruled out by these. You know, you can't even think in those terms. You just have to get as much as you can out of each worker and screw the ones who are fired, right, but then this is this battles against that.

Speaker 2:

Exactly. And another thing, this is also a it's a far-sighted demand, looking to the future in another way, to which is we hear about automation, which has had a tremendous effect on the auto industry and the amount of employment in the auto industry. Now we're hearing about artificial intelligence, AI having as a sort of automation on steroids. The new battery plants and electric engine plants are being built normally on the basis of the most modern automated technology, and so the point that you're making, which is that reducing hours is a way of creating more employment for more people while putting less burden on the people who are actually working, is augmented by the dynamic of automation.

Speaker 1:

Okay. So some of our audience I'm willing to wager who knows, but I'm going to assume it for purposes of questioning Some of our audience probably has doubts. They probably think very for various reasons. They probably think a big deal. So I want to try and go through some of those with you and deal with the doubts people might have at the same time, not just battling against that position but opening up the positive interpretation also.

Speaker 1:

So the first kind of doubt that I could imagine somebody saying is oh yeah, but it's just reformism, it's just going to win stuff still within capitalism, still within the existing system, and so what's to get so excited about? So what's your reaction to that? Without getting too aggressively, which is my tendency, but anyway, what's your reaction to that?

Speaker 2:

First of all, that could be said about anything. So if you're trying if your position is, we should all take a nap, have a joint.

Speaker 1:

No win the world tomorrow.

Speaker 2:

And then you know, when the revolution breaks out, we should you on stretch to get out of bed and pick up our guns. If that applies here, it applies to everything. So I think that that is. I mean that's so. There's that fundamental level of the problem with that perspective. There are a couple other things about it too. First of all, if we want to say that a major improvement in the conditions of life of working people, of a hundreds of thousands of working people, is a ho-hum matter, I'm sure the people who have that attitude are not working in those plants. If you're concerned about the lives of ordinary people, even if you're not directly affected by the particular place that you're working, in the particular place you're working, maybe you should be in a different movement.

Speaker 1:

You're too nice. It's incredibly callous and it comes across as incredibly callous and it makes it very difficult to communicate with people who aren't like that.

Speaker 2:

There's another level of answer to this question, which is this particular struggle has very, very big implications both on economic justice and on climate change, and implications that go far beyond this particular strike in this particular industry.

Speaker 2:

On the question of economic justice, this is really a major if you think of capital and the employing class as having been on a juggernaut on an offensive for at least 40 years and having the ability to deteriorate the conditions of working people in many, many different ways and certainly decimate organized labor and its ability to influence life, industry, economy, politics.

Speaker 2:

And this represents a major, major pushback and seemingly on its way to reclaiming a significant amount of the ground that has been lost and creating a new balance of power between working people and business corporate America and the influence of that is already spreading beyond the direct workers. For the Big Three, there was just a contract that was voted down by workers at another vehicle production company, mac, that makes Mac trucks and the like, in the midst of the Big Three strike. They had a contract, it was about to be signed and then the workers said wait, this isn't good enough. We need to junk this and start over. Look at what's happening to the workers at Big Three and we're going to see a lot more of that. If this strike is successful, which it appears, even just the concessions that have already been made by the Big Three auto companies, it's already successful. So that's one big area.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, go ahead, Michael.

Speaker 1:

I want to come back to the success versus losing impact of this strike in a little bit, but I also want to add one thing to I mean, maybe it was in what you just said, but people don't become committed to a whole new kind of society and a whole new kind of life and a whole new kind of process on Thursday morning when on Wednesday they weren't. There was a process involved, and so what's going on? And you described it perfectly when you said well, look, the demand for a 32-hour work week, a four-day work week, might not be one, but it's part of a process that is awakening desires that will continue on. So it's not reformism. Precisely because it feels to me like they're fighting in a way that presumes continuing to fight. Not this is the end. Once we win, we're done.

Speaker 1:

It doesn't feel like that to me, which is unusual, and it also feels like they're broaching new arenas of debate, new arenas of contesting power that likewise point to more. If you can contest how they should allow the union into the electric vehicle plants, so what's next? Contesting how decisions are made on the floor of those plants, contesting who makes those decisions right. It's a trajectory that I haven't seen often, but that does seem to be sort of intrinsic to what they're doing.

Speaker 2:

Does that feel right to you? Absolutely, and fighting the tier system would be a perfect example of that. Yeah, this is going to change the way things actually function in the factory, what the actual work processes are like, because the tier system is then used to jibbing every aspect of what actually goes on in the workplace. So I absolutely agree. And there's another piece of that it expands what people feel they can aspire to. It also changes the balance of power, and one of the things that has happened in this strike is the long established tradition in the auto workers and other industrial unions, and unions more generally as well, will work with management, will try to reach an agreement. If we can reach an agreement, well, we'll just walk out and we'll wait until they get tired of us not being there and pay us enough to bring us back.

Speaker 2:

Even when there's a strike, the attitude has been very passive, generally speaking, and this has been very different with practice picket lines before the strike broke out and then very active involvement of workers in the strike process itself, but also a sort of guerrilla warfare strategic approach which, instead of just saying, well, we'll walk out and call us when you're ready to have us come back, is a much more tactically sophisticated. The airline stewardess has pioneered a lot of this. They had a strategy which was called chaos. They even copyrighted the trademark. The key to it was quickie strikes, but especially strikes that were not known to management when it was going to come, and it created chaos in the airline industry. It was used, especially against very successfully against Alaska air, and this is using very much the same kind of tactics. It's much more active, but it also maximizes the costs to the employers at the same time that it does not put workers out on the street unnecessarily. So I think that that change in strategic vision is also making a change in the power relations. That's quite significant, okay.

Speaker 1:

So another go ahead.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I wanted to say that another way that this has significance is way beyond the immediate significance of the big three is and from my perspective this is really the most important thing is, you know, it's so been a big part not of every union but of much of the American labor movement. All this stuff about environment, all this stuff about climate protection, is a threat to our jobs and the companies will just use this to eliminate our jobs or deteriorate our conditions. And all this talk about a just transition, as one labor leader said. Well, I'm against the just transition because I've never seen one, and that has been a very widespread attitude among American unions.

Speaker 2:

And this is a very major counter thrust in which the union is saying we want to just transition, we support a transition through electrification, we believe the climate change is real and devastating and we're at the center of it and we have to take a major role in reversing it. But that should happen in a just way. That's not. The cost of that should not be put on workers who are going to be forced to accept 50% slash to their wages. And that idea of a just transition as a way to protect workers from the threats that the companies are using of the way they want to do climate protection and instead having a alternative that's pioneered by workers, fought for by workers and represents what workers' real interests are.

Speaker 2:

Here I think it's already emerging as a whole alternative thrust within organized labor of how unions can move away from the famous jobs versus environment supposed conflict and say the road to good jobs for the future is through protecting environment and through protecting the climate.

Speaker 2:

And the thing that's most remarkable here, I think, is that more than 100 climate organizations, including just about all of the big names that people would recognize, have wrote a letter to the big three supporting the auto workers' strike and supporting the idea that we have to not have a transition to electric vehicles that's based on a race to the bottom, but a transition that's based on justice for the auto workers and that portends a coming together of environmental and labor movements. And the separation and playing of one of those against the other has been one of the fundamental platforms of reactionary politics in the United States and reactionary politics within the Democratic Party, and to the extent that that can move towards a more and more cooperative, mutually supportive relationship between a labor movement and the climate movement has huge implications not just for the auto industry or for industry, but for the whole future of the Democratic Party in American politics.

Speaker 1:

Yep, I certainly agree. However, there are still people who would be skeptical of all this, and I think one of the things they would say and I think what you were just talking about bears on this kind of skepticism they would say, yeah, okay, but unions, unions are hopeless, they're bureaucratic, they're authoritarian, they're. They're gonna find a way to put a lid on. So what's your reaction to that?

Speaker 2:

Well, first of all, I probably should point out that I'm best known as somebody who, in my book strike and other things that I've written, has been a very outspoken critic of the actually existing labor movement, precisely along the lines that you describe.

Speaker 2:

Many, many articles, also in Z magazine, of which we were the editor for many decades, that I wrote as the labor columnist for Z, starting an issue number one that laid out the critique of existing labor movement structures and the illegal structures within which they were forced to operate.

Speaker 2:

But in the course of doing that, I have also always held up examples of workers finding ways either to change unions or to operate and do what needed to be done within existing unions, or to find ways to act outside the framework of existing unions, and that has always been a part of the picture here. So people say, well, it's never gonna change, it's always gonna be the same, that nothing gonna come of it, have a whole history that they have to ignore in order to pretend that that's a consistent viewpoint. That's not to say that there aren't very, very big obstacles to making the kinds of changes in the labor movements that are necessary. But I think that the idea that you can say a priori and based on your own presuppositions and assumptions that none of us can ever amount to anything is, should we say, difficult to sustain that's a little bit of a byway.

Speaker 1:

I want to go down if you're willing. It's often the case that when critics of society, leftist activists etc. Develop a perspective, much less are one of the key developers, champions of a perspective. It becomes so much a part of our being, of our of what we feel, that changing, being open to the possibility of something different coming along, it seems almost impossible. So it's a kind of sectarianism, if you will, and without putting you on the spot, I'll put you on the spot. In other words, what gave you the ability to be in the forefront of the critique of unions right and yet not become straightjacketed by that, that perspective, to not be able to see a possibility like what's happening right now? I mean, am I being clear?

Speaker 2:

yeah, no, I think they're. They're probably a number of things and I would love to claim that I, throughout my life, have done what you said to perfection, but I'm sure there are many cases where, even if I aspire to do what you just described, I have not fully succeeded in doing it. But it's certainly what I try to do and I think there's a couple of things in it and I should hear. First of all give tribute to my co-author, tim Costello, my collaborator of 40 years now unfortunately passed who came from a family of construction workers and truck drivers and, rim before that, railroad workers, who had a unique sense of the possibilities that ordinary working folks had for thinking about things, figuring things out, taking little actions, envisioning how they might be, increased. The daily struggle in the workplace and in daily life and awareness of that and appreciation of it and an understanding of how it provides the basis for things that go way beyond that. And I learned that from Tim, but I have continued to learn it from just my experiences with my friends and neighbors and talking to people and doing hundreds and hundreds of interviews with workers in various different contexts. It doesn't lend itself to that kind of despair, lends itself to seeing possibilities.

Speaker 2:

I think the other main answer is from studying the history of working people and my first book strike.

Speaker 2:

I started out really not knowing very much about the subject, but I got fascinated by it and began studying periods in which workers essentially rose up and conducted what I described as mass strikes, not just in one industry but the through upheavals that went across all kinds of workers and all kinds of workplaces and all kinds of social locations.

Speaker 2:

And these are things that are normally left out of not only regular American history textbooks but usually downplayed even in labor history studies.

Speaker 2:

There's a scene that's just well anomalies that happened but they really are not part of the main story of the growth of the kinds of bureaucratized and authoritarian unions that you were describing before. So what I learned from that is again the potentials of ordinary working people and the ability that they can have of going beyond, outside of around as well as through the bureaucratized leadership dominated forms of labor organization, and doing something new. And having studied it historically and seen that happen I won't say dozens of times, but hundreds of times over the course of the last 150 years, I'm not someone who gets every time there's a little up-tech and the number of strikes as the revolution is breaking out. But I also have a firm feeling that we don't know and we can't prove that working people are not going to be able to get it together in new ways and advance the things that they need and that we all need in new ways as we go forward.

Speaker 1:

I want to pose to you two anecdotal reports, I guess you could say and try and get your reaction to them. They're both well, you can see what what you think. The first was a friend of mine went as a supporter what not an auto worker to one of the plants and spent the day there walking the picket line and talking to people, and one of the very interesting interactions she had was I hope I can really really is correctly, she's talking to a fellow and she sees some things that are interesting in and of themselves. It's clear that the older workers are teaching the younger workers that the younger workers might as well be from Mars at some level as far as their knowledge of possibilities and options, and so the older workers are teaching them. So that's one observation that comes across, not the key thing I want to ask about. The second observation was the people coming from. It was Boston to the plant, I forget, but it's, you know, outside, just outside Boston. Yeah, maybe it was framing him. We're overwhelmingly Union members, so the they were people who were in unions coming to help, not the auto workers necessarily coming to, you know to, to give their support and lend their energies to what was going on, but not so much the broader community of the left in Boston. So that was not a very I mean, half of it was really good but the other half not so good.

Speaker 1:

But then in a discussion with one of the workers at the plant first of all, this guy was there, this thing, the picket line was 24-7. The people were there and devoting incredible energy to it, as was this guy, and in the discussion with him it was perfectly clear that he understood, you know, the motives of the, of the owners and the desires of his workmates, and he spoke of the owners as the billionaire class and of themselves as workers. And they understood it. But then my friend asked him okay, what are the key things that disturb you in your life, that you're most upset about? And the answer was immigrants. And what's the other thing? The other thing that the right-wing, you know, immigrants? I guess maybe it was ecology, you know the, the green thrust. It was something else and that now it just gets my mind, but we can do with the immigrants one.

Speaker 1:

Because the next question was well, how does that affect your daily life? And the guy said it doesn't. Bingo, the rulers divide us. And he goes on about that for a while and then he says but I'm adamant, immigrants bother me. So this is a situation in which and the reason I'm I'm bringing it up is because a shitload of workers who are now supporting and will be supporting this strike and will be supporting other activism, are in the broad camp of maga of of Trump, and there has to be a conversation which somehow bridges that. And my friend was troubled at how you do that, given the the sort of tenacity, even against the logic, that they're displaying, of these bits of anger. So what do you think?

Speaker 2:

Well, first of all let me say it's hardly a new problem.

Speaker 1:

No, I wasn't suggesting right.

Speaker 2:

No, but it's interesting that in the late 30s the dominant organization in the auto plants was something called the Black Hundreds, which was a model on the Russian Black Hundreds, an anti-Semitic organization, and that the Ku Klux Klan was also quite strong in the auto industry, which was, by the way, the second clan. The clan of the 1920s and 30s, was primarily an anti-immigrant organization, more focused there than on African Americans. By the end of World War well, by the time of the big auto, the sit-down strikes and the auto industry uprisings in the very late 30s 37, 38, 39, the UAW was organizing completely on a integrated basis of black and white workers. It was being accepted by black workers, a very large proportion of whom had come from the south. But they understood that if they were going to make any progress against the auto companies they had to do it on an international basis. This is partially because Henry Ford would just go into the black community in Detroit and hire black workers as strike breakers, and it was pretty obvious that if you weren't going to let them into the union, you weren't going to have much chance of preventing that. And then it's also true that by the late last couple of years of World War II, there were very widespread wildcat strikes against workers getting jobs within units within the auto plants that were not instituted by the union. They were instituted by the workers in those departments. And you could go on tracing the history, sometimes going one way, sometimes going another way, of auto unions and the auto workers around issues of race and immigration.

Speaker 2:

So the reason I'm going into this is because it's easy to think of it as a cut-and-dry question.

Speaker 2:

And well, bigotry is just wrong, and if they're bigots, to hell with them.

Speaker 2:

And whereas there's both a heritage this has a strong history to the bigotry there's also a strong heritage of fighting against it that we ought to be aware of in order to see ourselves, when we engage in this kind of conversation, not just as two individuals who have different values about this question, but rather as this is part of a historical process in which, in order to do, in order to get the things that we as workers need, we got to put those things a little bit aside and stick together.

Speaker 2:

So I think that there's not a. I mean, unfortunately, it's a human trait that people scorn people who are different from them, stigmatize people who are different from them, engage in action against people who are different. For them, call it bigotry or whatever you want, it's just about universal, but it gets mobilized, obviously, by the Trump type political movements to divide people and thereby rule them. The only good news I can give people is a lot of people can see through that and they may see through it in a way that allows them to act in a way that transcends their prejudices, even if they haven't totally overcome or eliminated those prejudices.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, when I asked the question I said it was immigration and something else. Well, the other thing was welfare. But I'm not sure I'm convinced by what you're saying. I'm not saying that's wrong, I mean it's not wrong. The question is, is it enough? When you get into that discussion and you're talking to somebody who, on the one hand, does understand what's going on After all, you know the poor know what poverty does to them and the divided know what the division does I mean you know he understood and yet he would fall back on it. And I'm not convinced that it's just racism at work or just damning the other. But whether it's only that or mainly that or something else, something has to be done about it. I mean there has to be a way to talk and to communicate that doesn't just get over it for 10 minutes but gets over it In any case.

Speaker 1:

There's another anecdote. I got a call from a friend and this person had been on a drug for 20 years that was dealing with something like PTSD, that kind of thing, getting panic attacks etc. And it had been very successful, no problems on it, and it just worked right. And then all of a sudden his doctor tells him that he can no longer have it. And he can no longer have it because the company and the company that employs her, which is what's the name of the health outfit in California that the strikes are around now. Kaiser, yeah, so Kaiser, who actually somehow employs the doctor right, told the doctor that we're afraid of lawsuits because it turns out the drug is addictive. Now it's not addictive like heroin you need more and more and more, and so it leads you into the sewer but it is addictive in the sense that getting off of it is difficult and they're afraid of strikes. So she says we're not going to give you any, you can't have any more of this drug.

Speaker 1:

And so my friend says what? You know, why didn't anybody tell me? He didn't know. He said well, okay, so you're going to help me now deal with the situation and give me a way to prevent the return of the panic attacks and also bridge the time. And she says no, we're not.

Speaker 1:

And he says what do you mean? You're not. She says we're not. You know, kaiser is not going to provide any of that. The drugs, etc, etc. Which I found incredible, and the scale of this is very large. It's not a drug that you know 10 people are taking, and so I I mean it's tied up with everything, but you simultaneously have the nurses and the employees on the West Coast striking against, or at least battling against, and being on the verge of large scale strikes against Kaiser, and clearly you could have some unity here between them and all the victims of the pharmaceutical industries. I don't even know why I'm bringing this up with you, except that you know a lot about all this kind of stuff and so maybe you have a response. He's at wit's end, my friend, because he doesn't think he can, or he has time or he has resources to challenge Kaiser. I told him to go to the union and to the workers and to see whether or not there could be an alliance, but I was just winging it.

Speaker 2:

I don't have a lot of insight into the situation. I do myself have friends who are were put on drugs for similar purposes and they turned out to be addicted drugs and have had a lot of difficulty both becoming unaddicted to those drugs and finding something else that'll work. So I'm very sympathetic. Where are the problem In general, and I think, the Kaiser union so this is particularly true of but the health workers and hospital workers in particular have been very pro-patient in their activities and in their demands and part of their demands, an essential part of their demands, has been to fight against higher and higher and higher ratios of patients to staff. Obviously it leads to overwork for the workers, but I think a major part of their concern has been risks and the patients, so I think in terms of, and a big part in the Kaiser thing.

Speaker 2:

I guess I understand it has been around parity for mental health, and this would certainly be a case where, again, where it's an understanding and sympathy for the problems of people who are in this situation is probably something that they're quite aware of. You have no idea how to go, what the next step would be as far as making it be something that the union organizationally involves itself with. I have seen something recently about possibly a lawsuit or other organized action around this exact issue. I don't know if it's the same drug, but it's about the sudden denial of access to these drugs and you know considerable part. It's a public policy question, as opposed to certainly not the individual nurse who say I can't give you this drug anymore. But even Kaiser is not operating on a level playing field on this. They are probably under pressure both in terms of government policy and in terms of court decisions. So responding to it is partially a question of addressing the public policy, the horrible public policy.

Speaker 1:

All right, we're getting near the end of an hour, but I do want to ask you one more thing at least, and then maybe you'll have something that you want to add on your own.

Speaker 1:

There's the question of winning this or losing it, the UAW strike, and it seems to me that winning it is going to push everything forward in all the ways that you've been describing, with some pretty remarkable prospects.

Speaker 1:

I think, on the other hand, losing it might very well have the reverse impact, and it seems to me that the auto industry, the powers that be, even if they didn't understand this themselves, the powers that be in the medical industry and in Amazon and in all these other places, are probably frantic right now about what's happening, or they should be if they, if they understand because of the broader ramifications and this suggests to me that I would think the auto industry is going to go to the match, they are going to fight, they're going to try not to lose this, and I've had the feeling that the UAW is the same, that they are not fooling around and they, they're going to fight.

Speaker 1:

So I suspect this is going to go on for a while and it's going to get bigger, involve scabs, involve probably various kinds of confrontation, etc. The broad public support makes me feel like, you know, our side may win, but I'm wondering whether you think is this gonna have a relatively fast resolution or, you know, is the entire ruling class, so to speak, gonna weigh in that? No, we can't lose this.

Speaker 2:

Well, unfortunately my crystal ball got a little cloudy this morning. So, or as in the words of Yogi Berra, prediction is difficult, especially about the future. So unfortunately I'm not able to give you a reliable answer to the question, and if I could, I wouldn't be here with you. I'd be out talking to my broker about how to realign my non-existent portfolio. But there are a couple of things I think I would say about it.

Speaker 2:

First of all, the concessions that have already been made by one or another of auto companies are very, very significant. Yeah, I was surprised, and so I mean, the biggest one being General Motors agreeing to include all of his battery plants now, and then the ones that they're in the process. The government is paying them billions of dollars to build to include them in the UAW Master Agreement, which, as far as I can see, was the biggest issue in the whole thing and it's the crucial to forestalling the race to the bottom. So they've already conceded that. The other two companies haven't, but the unions indicated that they expect them to. There's also major wage increases, so not the full amount that's been demanded, but I think that we're probably past the point where the strike could be lost the concessions that have already been made, which basically is bad-based bargaining if you take a moth to table after you've made them. So it's not how far forward from where it is now it'll go is an open question, but already the concessions that have been made are very, very significant.

Speaker 2:

The second thing is the strike defeats are made devastating for the workers because the strike funds ran out and they have to. They survive by borrowing. They can't pay kids, college suitions, can't pay healthcare, and then the union, the companies, find ways to fire workers and blacklist them and basically destroy their lives. The tactics that are the union is using in this strike are designed, among other things, to minimize those effects. So the fact that everyone isn't going out means that the strikes fund, which is very substantial, doesn't all get expended at the same time at the beginning, and then everybody's in the poor house. The selective strike tactic preserves the strike fund and therefore makes it a lot, makes it possible to hold out a lot longer, and it also means that a big part of the workforce isn't on strike and doesn't face the other costs of going on strike. That can change over time, but essentially they have not sent all their troops to the front and then all their troops are gonna get mowed down in the first stages of the war, and then where do you go from there? Then you can have a big defeat. So I think that the tactically that's being taken under is being intelligently dealt with. That doesn't mean you can't have defeats in the situations, because you certainly can't. The second thing is that the timing is pretty good, which is not the result of union strategy, but they certainly are taking advantage of it, which is the companies are making a lot of money now, and so the post COVID era. They're doing well and they will lose hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. If there's a, they are already and as the strike expands they'll lose more. And the union is selecting targets that will maximize the impact on the companies and minimize the impact on the workers, for example, the current threat of the strike to a plant in Tennessee. This plant is a huge profit center and the company's gonna lose a lot of money if that plant is struck. Meanwhile, workers at other places are still drawing their wages by and large. So I think that all of that together means that we're probably past the point where a really stunning defeat is gonna be administered.

Speaker 2:

And as far as the rest of the employer class, there's a couple of problems there. They have to find actual vehicles for supporting the companies and for pressuring the companies to do something other than the strategy that they're choosing. The usual vehicle for doing that is the president of the United States, and usually what you get at this stage is an intervention by the president saying well, this is terrible for everyone and therefore we're gonna knock heads together probably some heads harder than other heads and force the parties to come to terms with a settlement. One of the fascinating things that the UAW did which is very much out of line with traditional union approaches and expectations is President Biden sent representatives into Detroit to help with the negotiations, which you can interpret as you want. The Sean Fain and the Union chased them out. They said to Biden take them out of there, we don't want them.

Speaker 2:

Biden, when he did it, portrayed it and I think probably sincerely felt that it was a pro-union maneuver, because they're so used to the unions being weakened, the employers being strong, that they assume if the government gets involved it's gonna kind of prevent the companies from squishing the unions like an ant. But in this case the union took a very different point of view and said take them out of there. Maybe there'll be a time when that's appropriate, but at this point we'll deal with the companies directly. And he's in the aftermath of that that Biden decided he would come and walk the picket line, something that no president has ever done before.

Speaker 2:

So your question is certainly, if we look at a macro, historical view, and what's gonna happen over the next 20 years. Just as when companies abuse workers, that often brings workers together in anger and response. Similarly, you're absolutely right when the employer class meets a stunning rebuff, it doesn't only affect the people who are directly affected by the rebuff, but it also leads to dare we use the term employer class consciousness rising to a new level. This is something you can see over and over again historically, but and that could definitely happen over the long run but I think in this case there's very little in the way of a vehicle for them to intervene in the way that you're describing. It's another way in which this is a propitious moment, and one that the union is, I think, taking advantage of quite intelligently.

Speaker 1:

All right, Jeremy, we're at an hour and 10 minutes. Is there anything that you would like to add to what we've covered?

Speaker 2:

I just like to say I think the strike certainly not gonna be over rapidly and it may be, as you indicate, a long strike.

Speaker 2:

One of the most important things that's happening, as you said, is public support for the strike, and one of the most important things there is the way in which the climate movement and its allies have come out and are organizing for people to join the picket lines and pass resolutions in their organizations and engage in other kinds of support for the strike.

Speaker 2:

And it's something people can do. Not only can do any place there's an auto plant, but the union is specifically asking people to do actions at dealerships, not against the dealers themselves, but as a way of publicizing and showing support for the striking auto workers. And so I think, first of all, if you're involved with any kind of climate or environmental group and draw your group into helping and supporting the strikers in that way and whoever you are you can just show up at a picket line and show support. You can find out who's doing an action at a local car dealership and just show up and join support. The organization I work with, labor Network for Sustainability, is helping coordinate some of that activity, especially from the climate movement, so you'll find links in our website about how to get in touch people who are organizing to do this locally, and I would just encourage people to do it. It can be a significant part not only of winning the strike, but also of building a broader alliance between unions and other social organizations and movements.

Speaker 1:

Which is one of the most promising aspects of what's going on, for sure.

Speaker 2:

And I give the website address yes, go ahead. Yes, by all means. Labor Network for Sustainability and the address is www. Laborfor. That's number four sustainabilityorg. Laborforsustainabilityorg.

Speaker 1:

Excellent. Okay, jeremy, thank you very much, and I guess that said this is Mike Albert signing off until next time for Revolution Z.

The Importance of the UAW Strike
Four-Day Work Week in Auto Industry
Auto Workers' Strike Impact
Navigating Workers' Perspectives and Overcoming Divisions
Challenges With Access to Medication
Auto Workers' Strike Implications and Support