Howie Hawkins Supports Striking GM Workers

US auto workers have shut down General Motors. I support the strike of 48,000 General Motors workers who walked out at midnight Sunday evening. The shutdown of 35 manufacturing facilities in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Kansas, Texas, and New York will cost GM as much as $400 million in lost production each day.

GM is demanding big concessions: more worker payments for health care, a raise below the rate of inflation, and no change to the union- and solidarity-destroying system of tiers that allow the company to hire second-class workers as lower-paid temps with no contract rights.

Unfortunately, the union leadership has not prepared the workers with a winning strike strategy. The members were not surveyed, educated with bargaining bulletins, or organized into contract and strike action committees. The public was not educated and allies not mobilized. Six union officers have been recently convicted or charged with graft. The homes of union president Gary Jones and former President Dennis Williams were both searched by the FBI last month. They may be next to be charged.

The workers will have to rely on themselves to win a good contract. They need to be willing to vote the contract down if it still contains big concessions. That can be done, as the Chrysler workers showed in 2015 when they voted down the first offer and got a better contract in the end.

Workers are confronting General Motors, one of the symbols of the power of US capitalism, with a market capitalization of $55 billion. GM posted a profit of $11.8 billion last year and spent more than $10 billion on stock buybacks since 2015. GM’s CEO, Mary Barra’s annual salary is $21.87 million. She makes in one day twice what a new auto worker earns in a year.

Over the last four decades GM, Ford, and Chrysler have slashed 600,000 auto jobs. There are only 158,000 jobs left. The pay of a newly hired auto worker has fallen by half. Workers are demanding higher wages, the reopening of idled plants, adding jobs at other plants and closing the difference between pay rates for new hires and veteran workers.

The auto workers strike is the latest in a wave of work stoppages. After years of declining power and stagnant wages, workers in the United States are standing up for their rights and striking.  A Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows the number of striking workers is the highest since 1986. In 2018, 485,000 people went on strike, a number not exceeded since the 533,000 people in 1986, and 2019 was going to be even larger before this strike.  Workers should be mobilizing, as the Economic Policy Institute found workers have had stagnant wages for three and a half decades even though productivity is increasing along with corporate profits.  A Gallup poll in late August found that 64 percent of Americans approve of unions, up from below 50 percent a decade ago.

In my Labor Day message, I urged harnessing the energy of working people to build political power for a transformation agenda for working people who have not gotten a real raise in decades. It is time to correct the decades of diminishing worker rights and shrinking unions as well as low-pay. The United States is about to begin a transformation to a clean, sustainable energy future. An ecosocialist Green New Deal is needed to revive manufacturing and put autoworkers back to work with good wages and benefits.

On July 30, I participated in a demonstration before the Democratic Primary Debates in Detroit of climate and union activists with the theme of “Make Detroit the Engine of the Green New Deal.” At that demonstration were members of the Autoworker Caravan who I had supported and worked with during the aftermath of the Great Recession Autoworkers Caravan is a UAW caucus devoted to improving the conditions of autoworkers through labor solidarity and public investment in a new green economy. The Autoworker Caravan organized in the wake of the Great Recession to lobby Congress during the 2008 – 2009 auto-bailout proceedings. The workers carvanned to Washington in cars while the auto executives flew in their private jets.

The caravan opposed 2009 labor contract concessions forced upon General Motors and Chrysler workers as an Obama administration condition for the $81 billion auto bailout. GM got $51 billion from the federal Treasury in stock purchases, which came to a loss of $11.3 billion when the feds sold their shares in 2013. As Autoworkers Caravan and Green Party member Wendy Thompson explained at the time of the pending bailout, the caravan called for large-scale public investments to convert and expand the auto plants into green technology, including electric cars, electrified light-rail mass transit, and wind and solar power equipment.

If we are truly going to make Detroit and other Rust Belt cities the engine of a Green New Deal that increases good jobs by the millions, we need an ecosocialist Green New Deal. We need to do what the US did during World War 2 when the federal government took over or built a quarter of US manufacturing capacity to turn it into what was called the “Arsenal of Democracy” to defeat the fascist Axis powers. The War Production Board and the Office of War Mobilization compelled GM to produce war materiel instead of civilian cars. We need to do nothing less today in order to make our Rust Belt cities the engine of a Green New Deal to defeat climate change.

Meanwhile, we need to respect UAW picket lines and support autoworkers in our communities who are now trying to survive on $250 a week in strike pay.

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About Kevin Zeese

Kevin Zeese is a public interest attorney who has worked for economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace since graduating from George Washington Law School in 1980. He co-directs PopularResistance.org which works to build the independent movement for transformational change. Zeese co-hosts, Clearing the FOG a radio podcast which airs on We Act Radio, Progressive Radio Network, and other outlets.  He is recognized as a leading activist in the United States in the series Americans Who Tell the Truth. Zeese was an organizer of the Occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC in 2011.  He serves as president of Common Sense for Drug Policy and is a co-founder of the Drug Policy Foundation, now known as Drug Policy Alliance as well as a former director of NORML. He is a co-founder of Health Over Profit for Everyone which seeks to put in place National Improved Medicare for All. Zeese is an advocate of Internet Freedom and is a leader of the campaign for Title II Net Neutrality to ensure equal access and treatment for everyone on the Internet.  Zeese served on the steering committees of the Chelsea Manning Support Network which advocated for the Wikileaks whistleblower and is on the advisory board of the Courage Foundation which supports Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and other whistleblowers. Zeese is an election integrity advocate who a co-founded TrueVote Maryland which led a successful campaign to end the use of paperless voting machines in the state.  He has been active in independent and third party political campaigns including Peter Camejo for governor of California served as press secretary and spokesperson for Ralph Nader in 2004 and as a senior advisor to Jill Stein in 2016.  He ran for the US Senate in 2006; the only person ever nominated by the Green, Libertarian and Populist Parties of Maryland and the only person ever nominated by the Green and Libertarian Parties for a statewide office. Zeese served as Attorney General in the Green Shadow Cabinet.

11 thoughts on “Howie Hawkins Supports Striking GM Workers

  1. Massimo

    As a shareholder of GM, I fervently hope Barra shuts down ALL the GM plants in the US and outsources the production to Mexico.

    Btw, check Obama’s new movie, “American Factory”, in Netflix, if you want to see fat and parasitical humans, in the form of US rust-belt blue-collar workers. Any entrepreneur would choose the Chinese transplants to the Mid-west over the Americans in a heartbeat.

  2. Krzysztof Lesiak

    Howie Hawkins on RussiaGate
    Comment: William Cee
    “I didn’t know Hawkins was a Russia-gater. That’s a disqualifier.”

    Howie Hawkins on Julian Assange & WikiLeaks
    Comment: Joao
    “Julian is an anti imperialist and a hero to the victims of the US war machine. Does this guy secretly work for the Military Industrial Complex or the DNC?”

    The Green Party certainly has much better options, like Dario Hunter, Sedinam Kinamo Christin Moyowasifza Curry or Ian Schlackman. Hawkins seems to be the Bob Barr of the Green Party (that’s probably too far, maybe he’s just the Gary Johnson of the GP).

  3. Chuck Moulton

    Close all of the U.S. auto plants and move them to Mexico. These workers are insane, and so is Hawkins.

    Wages have been stagnant because more compensation has been in non-wage benefits. Crazy pension plans are already bamkrupting U.S. auto companies and making them internationally uncompetitive. If Hawkins wants new workers to be paid the same as veteran workers, the only way to accomplish that is to slash veteran worker wages.

    There is another simple solution: just offer U.S. produced cars alongside foreign produced cars at GM dealerships — except the U.S. produced cars would cost double. See how many people would be willing to throw away tens of thousands of dollars in “solidarity” with insane U.S. workers. My guess? None.

  4. dL

    These workers are insane, and so is Hawkins.

    The insanity is not striking auto workers(i.e., collective bargaining). Rather, the insanity is Hawkin’s chimera of resurrecting some facsimile of the Office of War Mobilization to central plan domestic production.

  5. George Phillies

    If Moulton’s claims had any merit, which they do not, it would already make sense for GM to move its manufacturing to Mexico…it does not make sense. In fact GM had large net earnings this year, pays a healthy dividend, pays its management…the purpose of the strike is through voluntary action to effect a redistribution of some of those net earnings in favor of the UAW members. This is a fine libertarian objective.

    In other political news, Senator Manchin (D-WV) told Mr. O’ROurke where to go with his ‘we’re coming for your AR-15s’ line.

  6. Chuck Moulton

    U.S. factories haven’t moved to Mexico yet because of 1) poorer trained workers, 2) jawboning from Trump and other officials, 3) the desire to exploit nationalistic made in America consumers, 4) laws requiring a certain percentage to be made in the U.S. under NAFTA, and management control by some politicos not actually seeking profit due to the bailout.. If U.S. workers get crazy enough — and it looks like they are — more factories will be moves to Mexico in spite of those hurdles.

  7. Eric Sundwall

    Hawkins is a teamster from UPS, this is good politics on his part. There was reason he carried the Greens in NY for so long, he knows how to appeal to the base. If he’s hunting the nomination, he’s showing his street cred to the delegates. Any LP candidate woulkd be so lucky to have an event where people showed up and were passionate about their cause. The Tea Party’s over folks . . .

    I spent a day with Howie & Warren in 2010 & he’s a decent reasonable fellow who does know who Mises and Rothbard were. Despite his everyday man trappings, he’s also a Dartmouth dropout. What’s wonderfully consistent about him is that he recognizes the plight of third parties and is willing to work with others who might otherwise disagree with him on 90% of the issues.

    Where he holds the line, is US interventions abroad. In that sense, we may need a true anti-war candidate if the LP comes up with a weak voice, most likely. So yeah, if I were inclined to vote anymore, I would consider casting it for Howie, especially as protest in NY against the overwhelming majority of D’s over R’s. Protest becomes more meaningful if that’s the only cod oil you can swallow.

    The plumb line mentality (it’s not just RC’s NAPpers ) spans all political thinking, until the ballot is cast. At which point lesser of two evils becomes the temptation of the Great Satan: Democracy. Fantasy vs. Reality? I’ll take Howie over Kokesh. I’ll be here all week.

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