The Bars Of The Cage
Valerie Stivers | The U.A.W. Strike Is More Than a Strike | Factoids | Elsewhere
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The digital age is flattening, alienating, and overwhelming, and a strategy of resistance is often to return to our core humanity. But that strategy can also be the bars of the cage, setting up an opposition between what’s contemporary and what’s human.
| Valerie Stivers, Unguarded Angel
The U.A.W. Strike Is More Than a Strike
Shawn Fain, the newly elected and combative U.A.W, president, has made the rift between the blue collar rank-and-file union members and the billionaire class that rules the economy explicit. Gone is the conciliatory language and double-dealing of former U.A.W. leadership, quietly cutting deals with automaker CEOs and accepting terrible deals.
Instead, Fain pulls no punches. In a recent video, wearing an ‘Eat The Rich’ t-shirt, he openly states that the auto company execs are part of the billionaire class and they have contempt for the auto workers:
I'll tell it to you straight. The billionaires and company executives think U.S. autoworkers are just dumb. They think we don't get it.
They look at me and they see some redneck from Indiana. They look at you and see somebody they would never have over for dinner or let ride on their yacht or fly on their private jet.
Note that Fain was elected in a close election, where he defeated then-President Ray Curry, a representative of the coalition that ran the union for decades, while Fain was a dissident leader of the UAW Members United slate. Fain had been intentionally excluded from a leadership role for years. It was only with the institution of direct elections that Fain and his new wave could come aboard and make changes. Here’s some of what he said in his victory speech, and it’s fighting words:
This election was not just a race between two candidates, it was a referendum on the direction of the UAW. For too long, the UAW has been controlled by leadership with a top-down, company union philosophy who have been unwilling to confront management, and as a result we’ve seen nothing but concessions, corruption and plant closures. While the election was close, it is clear that our membership has long wanted to see a more aggressive approach with our employers. We now have a historic opportunity to get back to setting the standard across all sectors, and to transform the UAW into a member-led, fighting union once again, and we are going to take it. The future of the working class is at stake.
Somewhere along the past few decades, Fain has become radicalized. He joined Chrysler in 1984 as an electrician, and was subjected to the ups-and-downs of blue collar life during the Reagan years, a time of high inflation and strong anti-union policies.
His dad, Edgar Fain, the former chief of police in Kokomo, ran for the state legislature as a Democrat, on the platform of economic development, with a decidedly left-leaning attitude about changing the ‘gap’ between management and labor. He lost the election, predictably, to a Republican.
David Streitfeld wrote this synopsis of Shawn Fain’s unlikely rise in the U.A.W, over the past decade:
Eleven years ago, he moved from Kokomo to Detroit to work directly for the union. In the ensuing years, corruption scandals at the top of the U.A.W. ended with two successive union presidents in prison, along with a move to electing top leaders by popular vote for the first time in a vote supervised by a court-appointed monitor.
It was an opening for reformers, and Mr. Fain led an insurgent ticket that ousted the old guard. He pledged not only to end corruption but also to jettison a go-along, get-along approach that he denounced as “company unionism.” One of his first public acts was to decline the traditional handshake with the automakers at the start of negotiations in July.
Fain has put into play a highly confrontational, sectoral strike. Instead of dealing with the major auto makers one at a time. Fain is forcing the companies into a single negotiation, with strike at all three companies at once. He is using a gaited approach, targeting particular factories as the talks drag, and forgoing additional actions when concessions are made by the auto makers.
Farah Stockman reported last year on a solid Republican right wing in the U.A.W:
Internal polling from the United Automobile Workers union found that more than 30 percent of their members bucked their leadership and voted Republican in the three presidential elections before 2020.
Who could blame them? Bill Clinton and Obama had made classical neoliberal, globalist trade policy, sending factory jobs overseas. When Hillary Clinton ran, that neoliberal legacy sent many union voters to vote for Trump, who was vocal in his opposition to free trade.
President Biden has claimed to be ‘the most pro-union president ever’. He showed solidarity with the U.A.W. by marching in a picket line last month. However, he stubbed his toe with the recent railroad worker strike, where he came down on the side of the owners arguing that a strike would be too damaging for the economy. He made job by getting concessions for paid leave and better scheduling policies, but still was a bit anti-union for the most pro-union president ever.
So I said this strike is more than a strike. How so?
First, Fain has broken with the U.A.W’s ‘top-down, company union’ history. That’s partly reflected in the movement that selected him in a bottom-up revolt against the old guard. But also in his rejection of back room negotiations, and adopting transparency across the board, famously rejecting an offer from Stellantis by videoing throwing it in the trash.
But second, and more importantly, Fain and the new U.A.W. has declared war on billionaires, which is a fight larger than the U.A.W., and larger than all unions combined. It’s a shared war. It’s the same billionaires resisting the transition to sustainable energy and saving the ecosphere, the same billionaires profiting by consolidations and monopolistic practices in almost all sectors, and the same billionaires whose techno-dreams are pushing AI into every economic niche, as fast as possible.
The unions are a movement that could form a major element of the Human Spring that I claim will rise up and stand against the destructive and divisive policies of unfettered capitalism. The climate movement, the anti-AI movement, and other groups are natural allies in this, perhaps our last chance before ecological collapse.
And someone like Shawn Fain is a natural candidate to help lead that movement. In fact, he already is.
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The world is on the brink of a clean energy transition. The International Energy Agency recently estimated that a whopping $1.8 trillion will be invested in clean energy technologies like renewables, electric cars and heat pumps in 2023, up from roughly $300 billion a decade ago. Prices of solar, wind and batteries have plummeted over the past 15 years, and for much of the world, solar power is now the cheapest form of electricity. If we reduce emissions quickly, we can switch from a world in which warming is accelerating to one in which it’s slowing. Eventually, we can stop it entirely. | Zeke Hausfather
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Nicholas Bloom wrote The Return-to-Office Movement Is Dead. The skinny:
‘RTO is DOA.’ 'Only half as many days are spent in the office compared with prepandemic times.' ‘Blue and red, inland and coastal, Northern and Southern workers who might have disagreed on pandemic-related behaviors like mask wearing and vaccine boosters have quietly united behind work-from-home habits throughout 2023.' 'Hybrid work arrangements have killed the return-to-office hype.' 'In 10 years, expect to see leading chief executives and entrepreneurs actively embracing hybrid work rather than begging employees to return to the office.'
He calls this new way a win-win-win, unless you consider the plight of commercial real estate owners and the governments of cities dependent on the revenue from office buildings and commuters to fund things like transit and public schools.
The bottom line: The minimal viable office seems to be stabilizing at two-three days/week in the office.
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