Members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union initiated a strike on Friday, staging walkouts at select factories operated by the prominent “Big 3” automakers, following the expiration of a contract negotiation deadline on Thursday evening. Yet, Senator Sanders contends that the motivations driving these workers to the picket lines remain conspicuously absent from the discourse within media conglomerates that dominate the news landscape.
Senator Sanders, in a sternly worded statement to reporters this week, drew attention to the financial underpinnings of the dispute. “In the first half of 2023, the Big 3 automakers amassed a collective profit of £23 billion, marking an 80 percent surge compared to the corresponding period in the prior year,” he asserted. “However, if one were to peruse corporate news coverage of the impending strike involving 150,000 autoworkers, the predominant narrative revolves around potential adverse effects on the economy, intermingled with a litany of rationales justifying the inability of handsomely compensated CEOs to broker an equitable agreement.”
The UAW instigated targeted strikes at a limited selection of factories after negotiations for a new labor contract with the Detroit-based Big 3 automakers—General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis—failed to yield a consensus by the stipulated deadline. A comprehensive strike encompassing all automotive facilities would entail considerable costs for both the corporations and the union. The UAW would be obligated to disburse £500 weekly from its strike fund to all 146,000 of its members, a development projected by the Associated Press to deplete the union’s £825 million reserve in a span of roughly three months.
Nonetheless, this strategically targeted strike marks the latest chapter in an unfolding narrative of historic labor empowerment, following decades of stagnant wages in the face of robust industry profits, not confined to the automotive sector. Bolstered by labor-friendly decisions from the National Labor Relations Board and a resurgence of support for organised labor among the younger demographic, various unions, spanning Starbucks employees, university staff, television writers, and more, have garnered significant media attention nationwide. The year has already borne witness to at least 200 strikes across the United States.
Sanders, in his impassioned discourse, sought to highlight certain unpublicised realities. “You won’t find it mentioned that last year, the CEO of General Motors reaped approximately £29 million in total compensation, while the CEO of Ford garnered around £21 million, and the CEO of Stellantis pocketed over £25 million,” he proclaimed. “In fact, over the past four years, the remuneration for these CEOs has escalated by more than 40 percent.”
Equally concealed, Sanders noted, is the unsettling fact that over the last two decades, the average earnings of American autoworkers have contracted by 30 percent, after adjusting for inflation.
According to data compiled by the labor-advocating Economic Policy Institute (EPI), profits for the Big 3 automakers surged by a staggering 92 percent from 2013 to 2022, amounting to a colossal £250 billion. An additional £32 billion in profits is projected for the three companies in the year 2023. Meanwhile, CEO compensation has escalated by 40 percent over the preceding decade, while the trio disbursed nearly £66 billion in dividends to shareholders and engaged in stock buybacks.
EPI’s research further underscores that concessions made by workers during the 2008 auto industry crisis and subsequent government bailout were never reinstated, even as companies such as General Motors and Chrysler (now Stellantis) regained their financial footing. Consequently, wages, both within unionised and non-unionised automakers, have languished in the shadow of inflation, with average real hourly earnings plummeting by 19 percent since 2008.