The fight for shorter hours can unify workers everywhere.

by Sarah Jaffe, In These Times

The United Auto Workers won many of their demands in their groundbreaking, six-week strike in 2023, but one of them — despite not making it into their new contracts with the Big Three automakers — has the potential to radically shift organized labor’s priorities and unify an often fractious movement in ways not seen in decades.

The demand is for a 32-hour workweek with no loss in pay. From the beginning of the strike, the audacious proposal captured public attention beyond the usual labor watchers because it upends decades-old expectations of what unions should want, signaling the working class has priorities beyond simply holding onto jobs.

GM Workers go on Strike. Workers hold Picket signs outside of the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, KY.

The autoworkers had struck at General Motors in 2019, but despite plenty of energy from the rank and file, a doomed leadership led a lackluster action to a contract that was half-heartedly accepted. Before that, it had been decades of concessions. But in early 2023, democratic reforms in the union swept a new leadership team, under President Shawn Fain, into power with the slogan ​No Corruption. No Concessions. No Tiers.” Two-tier status had been a central grievance since the UAW accepted a lower tier for new hires during rampant deindustrialization. At the time, they were told the lower tier was necessary to keep jobs at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler (now owned by Stellantis). But the companies came screaming back to profitability, and workers on the lower tier were still making less for the same work than their more-senior colleagues.

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