On June 7, nearly 3,000 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW 2069) — which represents workers at the largest Volvo manufacturing plant in the world — walked out for the second time in as many months.
This strike follows an initial strike last April, which was prematurely called off by the UAW while members voted on whether to ratify a new proposed contract. While the UAW was clearly hoping that decision would put a quick end to the conflict between Volvo and the union, that plan backfired when first that contract and then a second similar contract were resoundingly rejected by the membership by more than 90 percent.
Members say the two contracts, both of which failed to address the exploitative and divisive two-tier wage system, and which included significant increases in health care costs, were more or less the same in content, and only reworded to sound different. Striking workers have also said they are very disappointed with their union leadership for bringing forward two terrible contracts in a row, and say they should have just stayed out on strike the first time. “We had leverage with them on the first strike. We should have never gone back to work at all,” said one worker who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
For its part, Volvo, which has a huge backlog of truck orders waiting to be filled thanks to an expected post-pandemic boom in shipping, has taken aggressive actions to end or undermine the strike. Whereas the first strike, which lasted only a week, managed to close down the entire plant, Volvo has brought in teams of scabs to try and defeat the second strike. Workers say they are outraged that these people, as well local truck drivers who deliver parts, would cross the picket line, and that strikers have made crossing the line as uncomfortable as possible for these scabs. “We are absolutely pissed,” said one worker, adding that “we can’t do anything other than recognize these people and remember who they are.” Unsurprisingly, Dublin, Virginia police have been present everyday to enforce the will of the bosses and protect the scabs.
In 2020, Volvo laid off more than 7,000 workers worldwide, despite massive profits, and are now illegally threatening to lay off striking workers. According to several reports, Volvo sent out letters of termination and cut off health insurance for all striking employees just days into the strike in an effort to intimidate workers. In response, UAW has moved all employees onto union health insurance for the duration of the strike, but it is unclear how much this may have disrupted health care for the strikers. The UAW has also offered $275 a week in strike pay, but workers say that is not enough. In fact, some workers admit they have been forced to seek out part time work elsewhere, a move that only undermines the ability of the union to maintain the picket lines. “$275 is tought to make it on but several local companies are helping with part time jobs so we are getting by. We’re ready to ride this for months if that’s what it takes,” said one worker.
Meanwhile, shows of solidarity from other local workers and residents have been strong, and strikers have received free food and refreshments from local businesses. While calls to spread the strike to other Volvo plants across the world have not been forthcoming, workers at the Volvo plant in Brazil, where the company’s headquarters are, have expressed solidarity with striking workers in Virginia.
Striking workers, and now even some union leaders, say they will not return to the shop floor until they receive a contract that includes no increases in health care costs and which addresses the two-tier labor system by getting workers to full pay within three years instead of five. While it is unclear how long the strike will last — UAW 2069 resumed contract negotiations on Tuesday — workers say they are ready to stay out as long as it takes to win these demands.
While determined, these workers nonetheless remain engaged in a two front war against a passive labor bureaucracy that has attempted to undermine any militancy at every turn, and a ruthless global corporation determined to squeeze them for every penny that can be made from their labor. To win this struggle, these workers need the support of the entire labor movement and the Left. But they also need to develop the kind of militant and independent rank-and-file organizing necessary to outmaneuver their bureaucratic leaders in order not to get fooled again and see this strike out until the very end.
As one worker told Left Voice during the first strike: “No matter how long we need to stay out, we will get it.”