Interview: United Auto Workers on strike at General Motors
Lansing, Michigan – The United Auto Workers (UAW) called a strike on Sunday, September 15. Fight Back! interviewed Jean “Johnny Bravo” Duchemin, an alternate committee member in UAW Local 1753 in Lansing, Michigan about the GM strike.
Fight Back!: How do you see the strike fitting into the broader labor movement and the current political climate?
Jean “Johnny Bravo” Duchemin: That one, I had to take time to think about that one. When it comes to the political climate and the labor movement, the labor movement in this country has been died out. A lot of people are uneducated. So, since the last major strike, and the last major movement, it’s been stagnant. Stagnated. So you have a whole generation of 30 years that hasn’t been educated on unions or any other kind of labor force movement. So they are unaware of the importance of the union, so now in today’s political climate it is extremely important, I feel, because... Let me think for a second. I don’t want to give a wrong answer here. So in today’s world we are under severe attack. We have the Right to Work law, which absolutely makes no sense, it just doesn’t make sense. Everyone has the right to work, but they don’t deserve union representation without paying for it. So laws like that, those are straight up union busting, and we’re under attack with these politicians. And so today our movement I believe is super important because it will, if we become victorious over this, I believe that other unions will fall in and stand up instead of accepting what the corporations offer them. That’s the word on the street that you hear. Because we get a lot of people yelling at us every day, “Just be grateful for what they give you,” “Just be grateful for the paycheck.” They don’t really understand the “why” we’re going on strike, why a movement like this is important.
Fight Back!: How many workers is this affecting?
Duchemin: GM employees [are] 49,800 and change, but on top of that 49,000 you have all the other plants actually feed parts, and then you have Canada and Mexico. The plants can’t function without us. So this is actually affecting more than half a million people currently, and now if we stay on strike for another two weeks then we’re looking at maybe 2.5 million people being affected by this. GM right now is leading, it’s leading this.
A lot of people have been accepting lower wages and, you’ve seen it, you got your corporation’s CEOs getting 300-350 times more than the current employee, but the employee doesn’t know that they can actually negotiate and get more money, and then we can burn down that big gap in the middle. So our job as unions, as union members and union representatives, is to agitate, educate and get the community to participate, that’s the main three roles of any union member.
Throughout the past two years I’ve been trying my best to educate everybody, get them prepared for something like this, and they just think you’re crazy ‘cause again we’re in a generation that is uneducated about this and the media’s been raising everybody so they have mixed views. But now they can honestly see that the company gives you nothing. Nothing. Everything that a union has, has been negotiated. The wages, every single entitlement we have, GM gave us none of that. It all has been negotiated. So I feel that when this is said and done, and we all go back to work, at least the UAW will be stronger. And Ford and Chrysler, they’re going to follow suit. But hopefully, other unions outside the auto industry pay attention and stand up.
I try to tell my plant all the time when they say, “The union ain’t fighting for us, the union’s not doing this,” I have to really insist that they themselves are the union. The leaders are elected, they can be unelected, but you guys are the union, and when you all come in numbers you can actually change who’s in the leadership, and you can actually change policies.
Fight Back!: In general what do you hope comes out of the strike, both within and outside of the union?
Duchemin: I hope what comes out of this strike is a message to working class Americans that you don’t have to accept what the company gives you. You don’t have to accept, because they’re going to try all the fear tactics. “You trying to get higher wages? We’re going to have to close down. You want better healthcare? We’re not going to be able to afford your wages.” That’s all bullshit! Excuse my language. They’re fear tactics, so hopefully they can see us stand tall between all the GM threats that are coming out. They can take our healthcare, they can lock us out, they can lock us up, but if we stay strong and everybody stays strong, you’ll get what you want, as long as we don’t accept what they give us.