Expert explains: Historical significance of strike & strategy

“This is the time. Right now.”
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 9:12 PM EDT
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - For the first time in U.S. history, the United Auto Workers Union is striking at all of the big three car companies. Their strategy is called “the stand-up strike”, and it’s a nod to the sit-down strikes that built the union. The UAW says it’s a strike that grows over time and gives them maximum leverage.

Comparing their 2023 strike with the biggest success in union history, also known as the sit-down strikes of 1937. It’s making a point that this year, is a year to fight massive inequality.

“I’ve been in this field for 30 years, I’ve never seen a moment like this before, and if I were the union, I would not let this moment pass, because we don’t know what it’s gonna be like the next time your contract opens in four years,” said Michelle Kaminski, an Associate Professor with MSU’s School of Human Resources & Labor Relations.

She says factors like the labor market shortage, inflation, and COVID-19, are contributing to a moment in time where the union has a lot of power on their side. They’re striking at one assembly plant per company, to stop production for specific vehicles, while still going easy on the consumer.

“From my point of view, it’s not that they’re being greedy, they’re fighting for lost ground. So people need to understand that these auto jobs have changed a lot for these auto workers,” said Kaminski.

They’re still fighting against the union’s concessions from 2008, that were *supposed* to pay off. Workers took cuts to pay, health care, and pensions and saved the companies from bankruptcy. They have yet to see the promised return in investment.

“This is the time. Right now. If the auto workers are gonna get back what they lost, they’re gonna do it now. If they don’t do it now, they may never do it.” warned Kaminski.

Working to make up lost ground, while so many factors are on their side.

Kaminski says the auto industry sets the standard for many others. She says the better things go for the UAW, the better they’ll end up for everyone else.

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