SWEAT STAINED REVIEW: CONFESSIONS OF A BLUE COLLAR MISFIT
Who Gives a Fuck About the UAW
By Dan Denton
You should. The UAW has long been one of the best and most influential entities for the fight of working people in America.
You know why you should care? Do you remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech? Perhaps, the most famous speech in our American history, that speech was delivered by a sound system that was paid for by the UAW. That march on Washington was supported and attended by thousands of UAW workers. Did you know that on the day of that historic March on Washington, where they marched for civil and workers rights, that only one white man spoke? That white man was Walter Reuther, the UAW president and the man that first organized the autoworkers into a unified powerhouse of solidarity. Reuther was longtime close friends and comrades with Dr. King.
Did you know that the UAW has been involved in every single legislative civil rights action since the 1950’s? That’s right, union autoworkers have been fighting for civil rights since the 19 -fucking - 50’s.
Did you know that auto factories were some of the first integrated factories in the world? Thousands of black families escaping the south’s Jim Crow evil, landed on auto factory floors in the upper Midwest, working side by side in harmony with Midwestern white folks, many of whom were running from their own different miseries in Appalachia.
Did you know that the UAW was one of the first American organizations to fight for equal pay for women? Remember Rosie the Riveter? The woman that portrayed the iconic woman worker that rushed into factories during WWII as many of the men went off to fight? She was my real life UAW union sister from the Ford Motor Company, and as she and so many other women filled jobs on the assembly line the UAW stepped in and said “hold on now, you’re not going to pay these women union workers any less for doing the same damn jobs the men were doing.”
The history of the UAW is more powerful than one writer can harness in one column, they’ve written volumes about it already, just too few read them. But the union was born in a time when factory owners like Henry Ford, that prick bastard, who employed armed guards to enforce compliance from their workers. Yes, Ford, a man that had a photo of Adolf Hitler in his office, also had his own private police force that often beat workers, that got out of line. In fact, Henry Ford’s personal cops and the Dearborn Michigan police murdered five of my union brothers in the 1932 Ford Hunger March. And in 1937, they beat the shit out of Walter Reuther and his union team at the Battle of the Overpass, and despite the very threat of their lives on the line, my union brothers stood tall, and became the United Autoworkers.
The UAW was the first organization to fight for and win an employer paid retirement pension. The first to win employer paid healthcare. Influential in gaining overtime pay laws, creating the 40 hour work week, in creating OSHA and job safety standards, paid sick leave, and so much more. So many of the rights that all workers enjoy today were fought for, and earned by my union family, the mighty UAW.
And yes, I’m aware of the cancer of corruption that hit our sacred headquarters in the last several years, but there’s a new leadership that’s gone back to the UAW’s progressive roots, and they’re taking the fight to the front yards of historic corporate greed. Led by President Shawn Fain, that I’m damn proud to have been a tiny part of helping get elected to lead our sacred Solidarity House headquarters in Detroit. As an elected constitutional delegate in the UAW, I got to help fight to pass a one member one vote constitution change, that made UAW elections more democratic, and then I got to help get Shawn Fain elected as our new progressive leader. Every interaction I’ve had with Brother Fain has impressed me and I’m proud to see him taking the millionaire and billionaire CEO’s of America head on.
I tell you this, because Thursday night Sept 14th at 11:59 pm, the UAW workers at the Toledo Jeep Assembly Complex, the very workers that once elected me to represent them as their chief union steward, my brothers and sisters streamed out of the factory single file, picking up picket signs, ready to fight for what they’ve already earned and been cheated out of. They went on strike in coordination with plants from Ford and GM, in a historic moment. The first time the mighty United autoworkers, in all their glorious history, have struck each of the big 3 automakers at once. And it’s about goddamned time.
Since the bankruptcy and government bail outs of 2008 and 2009, when American tax payers loaned their money to bail the Big 3 out, the Toledo Jeep Plant has been owned by Chrysler LLC, who merged with Fiat to become FCA, then merged again with Puegot to become the even more global Stellantis. These owners of that Toledo Jeep Plant have made record profits year after year, and are now making $30 billion a year or more, and paying their Wall Street shareholders record dividends while the men and women that build the very products that earn those profits have struggled to stay ahead with stagnant wages in an inflated economy. The company has cut hundreds of jobs every year, demanding more and more of their workers. They work 10 hour shifts in Toledo, six days a week, giving away 60 hours of their time most every single week for a company that hasn’t honored the annual Jeep family picnic language in the local contract in years. For a company that has taken all the tvs out of the break rooms, all of the radios off the factory floor and almost all of the morale off the assembly line that earns them millions of dollars every day.
They build Jeep Wranglers in Toledo. The iconic, one of a kind SUV that President Eisenhower once credited for helping win WWII. And they build its brother, the Jeep Gladiator pick up truck. It’s the only place in the world these vehicles are built. These vehicles that wear seven slots in their grille as a trophy for being the first vehicle to ever drive on all seven continents on planet Earth. These vehicles that were born in Toledo in 1941, these vehicles that are just as much a part of Toledo as anything ever was. And the people that build them gave up raises, and pensions to help bail Chrysler out in 2008 and 2009. And now in a time of record breaking profits, they’d like to have those things back now, please. It’s not too much to ask. Trust me. I spent 10 years in that building 60 hours a week, often more while serving as union steward.
The UAW workers at Toledo Jeep, of UAW Local 12 have been the number one financial supporter of our local United Way for a long time. We donated several pick up truck loads with pallets of water to residents in Flint during the lead crisis. We sponsor free community health clinics, donate thousands of dollars and books to local schools, and thousands of dollars and presents to our community during the holidays. When one of our own fellow Jeepers lose a house to a fire, or god forbid a loved one, we volunteer to pass coffee cans down the assembly line, giving our dollars and fives, often more, to take care of our own. In 2018 when a young inner city disabled man had his three wheeled trike bicycle stolen, Toledo Jeep workers donated most of the money union brother PJ and I raised to buy him a new one. Yeah, UAW workers in Toledo are a wild bunch. You’d have to be, to work that many hours every year of your life. But they’re also the kindest and by far, the most generous folks you’ll find in our city.
Right now my brothers and sisters are lining the local 12 union hall, signing up for their strike pay that comes from a percentage of our saved union dues, and signing up for their six hour shifts of walking the picket line surrounding the massive Toledo Jeep Plant. Right now they need all of our love and support. Right now they’re wondering how long this long overdue fight will last. Can they feed their family and pay their mortgage if the heartless Carlos Taveras, CEO of Stellantis, continues to insist on hoarding all the money they help him earn. All they’re asking for is what they gave away to save the company, and the same 40% pay raise that he’s gotten while sitting on his ass in a plush luxury office. And maybe that 32 hour work week he’s already giving the union autoworkers in Europe.
Godspeed my brothers and sisters. I say it once. I say it twice. Solidarity forever. Solidarity forever. Stand tall. Stand proud. You deserve so much better.
Dan Denton is a former union autoworker and chief union steward turned full time writer. His next book is available for preorder from Roadside Press.