Never seen for at least fifteen years: launched Sunday at midnight, the strike of employees of General Motors (GM) for wages and social coverage has taken an exceptional scale. Massively followed by nearly 50,000 employees of the country's largest automaker, it is also an expression of anger accumulated over the past decade. "We are here to recapture all that we have lost," a young worker on the Hamtramck assembly line in Detroit, who was interviewed by a New York Times reporter, Monday morning said.
In 2009, the firm, hit hard by the devastating waves of the financial crash of the previous year, had declared bankruptcy. Provisionally nationalized, she had to endure a regime of horse to quickly regain the big broad capitalist and thus quickly submit to all the standards demanded by Wall Street. The key: some 20,000 job cuts in the United States, wages frozen or discounted in new work contracts with reduced social coverage.
The time has come for employees to "touch their dues"
In the years following the earthquake, the UAW auto workers union continued to agree to this exceptional regime. And that until 2014, date of the last big collective bargaining in the sector of the automobile. As a result, the atmosphere has become unbreathable in the 31 GM factories in the United States. While the process of casualization is general, it has indeed taken particularly acute forms for new hires, who now constitute more than a third of the workforce. When older people earn even more than $ 30 an hour, their young colleagues doing the same tasks on the same assembly lines only receive $ 17 (14 euros) at startup and only benefit from a pension insurance devalued and with less guarantee. And a large car of temporary workers (7% of the workforce) is even worse off.
Workers are demanding a rate of wage increase for all over $ 30 hourly with a quick catch-up for the younger, combined with a reduction in the number of temporary workers. The GMs believe they have "doubly sacrificed themselves" by accepting, as a Detroit unionist points out, "cuts in employment contracts and participating in the bailout of the company as taxpayers". Hence the general feeling that the time has come for employees to "touch their dues". Especially as GM posts $ 35 billion (30 billion euros) record profits over the past three years. And it's little to say that the logic of "competitiveness" advanced by Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, to justify again thousands of job cuts in the United States is poorly received.
The strength of the movement owes a lot to the mobilization of "grassroots" unionists, eager to turn the page on UAW's advocacy moderation in recent years. A sense of distrust has developed in the direction of the union. In the last few weeks, it's been a climax when corruption cases involving the UAW's top executives have been blamed for the huge bribes of GM and other manufacturers in 2015 when of the previous major wage and social negotiations within the firm. Overwhelmed by their base, these leaders seek to restore their image by marrying, whatever the value, the movement of anger and the aspirations of employees.
This exceptional movement prompted reactions in the political sphere very quickly. Bernie Sanders, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination of 2020, called for "ending the greed" of GM. Joe Biden, another candidate for the Democratic candidacy, insists on the need for "respect and dignity" of workers. As for Donald Trump, who has not forgotten how much he owes much of his election in 2016 resentment of blue-collar workers, particularly in the state of Michigan, the nerve center of the automotive industry, he tries to camp on his populist credo criticizing the strike but also lamenting the relocation of companies like GM "in China or in other countries".