The ongoing UAW strike, led by president Shawn Fain, is a marked departure from the union’s recent history. In many ways Fain is channeling early UAW leader Walter Reuther — before the union and Reuther himself downsized their ambitions.

by Barry Eidlin, Jacobin

A mid a year of attention-grabbing strikes, few have grabbed more attention than the United Auto Workers (UAW)’s ongoing strike against the Big Three automakers, launched on September 14. The union’s novel “stand-up strike” strategy, which involves targeted strikes that progressively ratchet up pressure on the companies, has kept the companies guessing while galvanizing public support. As auto company executives have found themselves in the awkward position of defending lavish stock buybacks and exorbitant pay for themselves, available polling suggests that the public supports the strikers by more than two to one.

With this week’s surprise announcement calling out an additional eighty-seven thousand workers at the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant, roughly one-quarter of the 150,000 autoworkers under the Big Three contracts are now on strike. While a comprehensive deal remains far off, the UAW’s targeted approach has already won major gains at all three automakers, including eliminating some tiers, reinstating cost-of-living (COLA) wage adjustments, winning the right to strike over plant closures, and, perhaps most impressive, bringing future electric vehicle (EV) production at General Motors (GM) under the master agreement.

shawn fain stands with other union members

The union’s approach to bargaining and striking is a sharp departure from the UAW of recent decades. Instead of allowing the companies to dictate concessions while keeping members in the dark during negotiations, the UAW leadership has staked out what it has described as an audacious, ambitious agenda that seeks to reclaim the union’s historic role as the standard-setter for the entire working class. It has actively involved members in the contract campaign and strike, and has encouraged and embraced member creativity on the picket line and in the plants, as autoworkers yet to be called out on strike have independently refused voluntary overtime and engaged in “work-to-rule” campaigns to slow down production.

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