DETROIT, MI, April 18 — Workers and students from Chicago drove here to picket in solidarity with the American Axle (AAM) strikers. Originally we planned to join a giant solidarity rally, but the UAW leadership cancelled it, angering the workers. But when we said we’d come to meet the strikers anyway, the workers made us feel right at home.
On strike for seven weeks, the 3,600 workers are fighting company demands to cut wages from an average $25/hr to $14/hr, convert company pensions into 401(K)s and eliminate 1,000 jobs. The strike has mainly affected production of GM pick-up trucks and SUVs. One worker told us, “AAM has diversified and we supply other car giants like Toyota.” But scabbing supervisors have maintained some level of production of Toyota axles. Chrysler is unaffected since their parts come from Saltillo, Mexico, where workers make 70 cents an hour!
The strike has caused layoffs of 25,000 GM workers and thousands more in the parts-supplier plants. One worker told a story about the bosses bringing charts to a meeting to show workers who they were competing against. Of the nine names listed, seven were AAM-owned factories in other countries. He left the meeting saying, “We’re in competition with ourselves!” AAM is a global corporation with plants from Mexico to China. This worldwide battle among the bosses for markets, resources and cheap labor (imperialism) is behind the AAM strike.
While talking to the workers, distributing water and CHALLENGE, every car driving by honked their horns in support of the picketing black, Latin and white workers. They’re not hopeful of any agreement coming soon. Many said they would vote against any concession contract. “We’ve already been out here this long, there’s no point in caving in now,” said one.
Meanwhile, the UAW international leadership has taken the negotiations away from the local, attempting to force the same sell-out contract they’ve signed with the entire auto industry.
With Detroit facing decades of racist cutbacks and decay caused by the retreating U.S. auto bosses, it’s easy to see the source of the anger in the eyes of these workers. They speculate about how big a buy-out will be offered and how management will try to eliminate the most senior, highest-paid workers.
Several years ago AAM tried to implement a 2-tier wage system. Detroit workers rejected it but the contract passed after the company threatened to close the Buffalo, NY plant if they didn’t approve it. When they voted “yes” the plant was closed anyway. Some of the laid-off Buffalo workers ended up at the Detroit plant and are now standing among the strikers as living reminders of how AAM lied.
When we asked workers whether they’d take the buy-out, some immediately said, “No.” Some were undecided. Younger workers said they’d take it, and either look for work, open a business or go back to school.
Now that GM’s supply of unsold cars is dwindling, there may be pressure on AAM to settle, but GM wants this wage-cut as much as AAM. The major assemblers have been pressuring the parts suppliers to slash wages and cut costs so they can buy cheaper parts. That’s why they created this system of outsourcing decades ago.
All the workers thanked us for our solidarity. We invited them to May Day and obtained contact information.
The struggle against wage slavery lasts many lifetimes. The system cannot be fixed. As one worker said, “You cannot reform evil!”
Workers, and work itself, should not be a commodity with a price tag. We should contribute what we can and receive what we need. But it will take communist revolution to build that world. Let the AAM strike remind us why we fight for communism, and strengthen our will to fight!