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UAW threatens to escalate strike as negotiations with automakers stall

United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain threatened to escalate the union’s strike actions on Friday as talks with the US’s biggest auto manufacturers appeared to have stalled.

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The strike is in its fourth week and Fain has been updating members on progress and new strike actions each Friday. Fain said Ford, Stellantis and General Motors have used that timetable to hold back negotiations until late in the week. From now on, strikes can be called at any time, he said.

“They thought they figured out the so-called rules of the game, so we changed the rules, and now there’s only one rule: pony up,” said Fain.

About 34,000 auto workers at Ford, Stellantis and General Motors are now on strike as part of the UAW’s “stand-up” strike strategy – which involves hitting individual auto plants rather than a full walkout. The strike began on 15 September after contracts expired for 150,000 autoworkers represented by the UAW at the big three US automakers.

About 8,700 autoworkers at Ford’s truck plant in Louisville, Kentucky, its largest plant, walked off the job on 11 October in a surprise move after Ford told the UAW it currently had no counteroffer on negotiations. The vehicles produced at the plant generate $25bn a year in revenue for Ford.

Ford criticized the strike move as “grossly irresponsible” and executives there have claimed the company has reached its limit on what it is willing to offer the union on economics. “We’ve actually stretched ourselves to get to this point,” Kumar Galhotra, president of the Ford Blue division, said on a conference call.

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Fain dismissed the comments on Friday. “The Kentucky truck plant we just shut down in Louisville generates $48,000 in revenue per minute. That’s vastly more than the lowest-paid Ford worker makes in a year,” he said.

“How much further do they want US autoworkers to stretch? We are not going to keep begging for scraps. Meanwhile, [Ford CEO] Jim Farley took in $21m last year. We need him to do two things right now: look in the mirror and look in Ford’s bank account. Go get the big checkbook. The one Ford uses when it wants to spend millions on company executives or Wall Street giveaways.”

The UAW has contended throughout negotiations that it is asking for a contract that reinstates the protections workers gave up to save the auto industry when the Great Recession threatened to destroy it and to make up for the lagging wages workers have received since then.

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“There are some that are trying to say that I’m raising members’ expectations too high. They think it’s dangerous to tell the working class they deserve more,” added Fain. “I want to be clear on this point. I didn’t raise members’ expectations. Our broken economy is what’s raising our member’s expectations and our members are right to be angry. Corporate America rebounded after the Great Recession and profits are soaring amid a seven-year high in 2022. Meanwhile, the working class has kept going backwards.”

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