By JOHN LESLIE
On Sept. 11, members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 644 at Dometic in Montgomery County, Pa., went on strike to demand fair wages and benefits. In negotiations, the company offered a 10.1% wage increase over the life of a three-year contract, with workers’ health-care costs increasing by 5% over the same period. This is not enough to keep pace with inflation. At the outset of the strike, Jim Hutchinson, the president of Local 644, said, “We have a decent portion of this workforce that, quite frankly, is below the living wage.”
In a video shared on Twitter, Dave Richards, a 22-year veteran of the Dometic plant, said that with “food, gas, and everything going up … our wages are nowhere near what we need to survive and have a good living.” Dometic, which manufactures appliances and accessories for boats and recreational vehicles, made $4 billion in profits last year while their workers struggle to make ends meet.
On Friday, Sept. 22, a rally called by the UAW gathered more than 100 strikers and supporters to demand a fair contract now. The rally included local politicians, UAW officials, striking UAW members from New Jersey, and representatives of other unions like the regional AFL-CIO and the Teamsters. Members of SAG-AFTRA, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Teamsters were visible in the crowd.
During the rally, one UAW member spoke, saying, “There is no more middle ground. We are no longer asking for our right to the American Dream, we are demanding that dream, and if you don’t give it to us, we’re coming to fucking take it.”
While the strike at Dometic is not part of the larger Big Three auto strike, this is a crucial fight for all workers. As the wealthiest segment of society has reaped billions in profits, the workers who create that wealth have fallen further behind. Many of these workers were deemed “essential” during the pandemic and worked long hours while putting their health and the health of their families at risk. Dometic workers deserve a fair contract, not one that leaves them behind.
UAW strike action spreads in the Philadelphia region
Meanwhile, on Friday, Sept. 22, in response to the UAW escalation of the Big Three auto strike, workers at the General Motors parts warehouse in Langhorne, Pa., hit the bricks. The facility, which has about 100 employees, supplies parts to GM dealerships in the region. Aside from wages and benefits, one of the main issues in this facility is the two-tier wage system, which keeps newly-hired workers at a lower pay rate.
This parts warehouse is one of the 38 workplaces that joined the strike, with more than 5500 workers overall, all of which are concentrated in parts distribution. The high cost of living is a factor here, as it is in other strikes. “Everything has gone up with inflation. Buying a new car is more expensive now, food is more expensive, gas is more expensive,” UAW Local 2177 acting President Charmian Leslie-Hughes told ABC 6 News.
During the 2019 GM strike, two-tier was a central issue of the workers at this work site. When speaking to this reporter, workers reported abusive supervisors and complained about GM’s low wages for new workers. One worker reached into his pocket and produced some currency worth about $40: “See, this is all I’ve got and I have people at home depending on me.” Workers pointed out that Ford has moved toward a deal with the union on two-tier, and wondered why the more profitable Stellantis and GM have refused to budge.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, at the Langhorne facility, the “base pay is $16.67 per hour and their highest-paid members, who were hired before 2007, make $31.78 per hour, according to the local. Langhorne employees usually work 40 or more hours per week, and they’re on their feet for most of each eight-hour shift.”
Mack Truck strike vote
A strike vote by UAW Local 677 members at the Mack Truck assembly plant in Lower Macungie Township, Pa., was approved, with 98% of the members voting to authorize a strike when the contract expires at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 1. UAW Local 667 represents 2300 of the 2700 employees at the local Mack Truck plant. Mack Truck is a subsidiary of the highly profitable Swedish company, Volvo.
Mack Truck workers in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maryland have all voted to strike by a wider margin (98%) than the 79% strike vote taken before the 2019 strike at Mack. In 2019, the main issues in the strike were job security, work schedules, seniority, pensions, health care coverage, subcontracting and the use of temporary workers. About 15% of the workforce are temps. Stay tuned for more from Workers’ Voice on this developing story.
Spread the strikes for workers’ power
In his essay, “How to win strikes: Lessons from the 1934 Teamsters’ strike,” Harry DeBoer lays out some timeless ideas about strike strategy and tactics. Among these is the participation and support of the entire labor movement. Union solidarity is essential. This also means building broad mass actions in support of strikers. Another necessary aspect is stopping production. You have to be able to choke off the bosses’ source of profits. These can include mass picketing, plant occupations and sit-down strikes, and mass rallies. It also means that scabs have to be kept from working.
It’s also necessary to know who your friends and enemies are. GOP politicians have been very vocal during the UAW strike with their anti-union rhetoric, despite their occasional claims to represent the interests of workers. Presidential hopeful Nikki Haley bragged about being a “union-buster” on Fox news while South Carolina Senator Tim Scott invoked the specter of arch union-buster Ronald Reagan by referring to the ill-fated PATCO strike: “Ronald Reagan gave us a great example when federal employees decided they were going to strike. He said, ‘You strike, you’re fired.’ Simple concept to me. To the extent that we can use that once again, absolutely.”
But this does not mean that the Democrats are reliable allies of labor. The Democrats love union endorsements and the union get-out-the-vote efforts, but consistently fail to deliver on issues like universal health care, increasing the minimum wage, or labor law reforms. It is also important to remember how the Democrats, including some housebroken so-called socialists, stabbed rail workers in the back by voting to impose a settlement on the rail unions.
Ultimately, workers need more than a combative leadership to win strikes. We need a party of our own—a labor party based on fighting unions and organizations of the oppressed.
Photo: UAW picket line in Langhorne, Pa. (John Leslie / Workers’ Voice)