Shawn Fain was elected president of the United Auto Workers in March in large part because he made corruption an issue in the wake of financial scandals that sent a small parade of UAW officials off to prison. It should have been good news for the union’s members.
With the UAW strike against Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis now entering its sixth week, Fain’s new leadership team appears to be more committed to ideological goals that go way beyond the interests of the rank and file. Fain has brought in activists who have co-opted the traditionally blue-collar industrial union – and the entire American economy is suffering, to the tune of $9 billion and counting.
By any measure, the car companies – which we have criticized in the past – have stepped up to the plate. They have already made major concessions, including 23 percent raises, elimination of wage tiers (in which new workers are paid less), and other core demands made by Fain. The offers are strong enough that Harley Shaiken, professor emeritus specializing in labor at the University of California Berkeley, recently commented to the Associated Press: “If it isn’t now [to pull the package together], when will it be?”
In a way, the UAW has already won but Fain and company cannot take “yes” for an answer. Today, Fain ordered autoworkers at GM’s Arlington, Texas to walk out, the latest chapter in his strategy to disrupt company operations at key chokepoints. There is no end in sight for the strike.
Fain’s strategy initially drew praise because it worked, but now it is facing withering criticism from auto industry insiders. As noted by John McElroy on Autoline, a YouTube channel that covers all things automotive, the UAW isn’t operating from the usual playbook. The union is not aiming to secure good benefits or wins for their members, as union leaders are supposed to. Instead, they are playing a much more nefarious – and dangerous – game in which “chaos” is the goal.
Fain sees himself as the savior of the entire working class. If he can extract even greater concessions and “hurt” the auto industry in the process, he believes that he can terrify all of corporate America into dramatic wage increases not only in UAW plants, but also at nonunion auto companies, and even in other industries. It remains to be seen whether this strategy will actually work, but one thing is certain. It is UAW members who will pay the price in expanding numbers as the strike spreads.
Fain – as well as his cadre of radicals pulling the strings behind the scenes – is not sharing the sacrifice that he is asking of the rank and file. Last year, he earned nearly $350,000 from multiple UAW income sources. That figure is very likely to grow even more this year after he receives the full pay of UAW president for the first time since winning a controversial election earlier this year.
His striking workers? They continue to earn a meager $500 a week as the weather turns cold, the holidays approach, and the economy still reels from record-high inflation. Fittingly, there is no indication that Fain is taking strike pay – that would be too much “solidarity” for the union boss – nor any indication that strike pay will increase as the months drag on.
McElroy says Fain and his officers should “share the pain” by also accepting strike pay. We agree but think he should go even one step further: end the pain by accepting the deal, resolving the strike, and ensuring America’s auto industry continues to lead the world now and for decades to come.