Sweat Stained Review: Confessions of a Blue Collar Misfit

The State of Unions

By Dan Denton

Many will ask me in the coming days and weeks, about the new tentative agreements reached by the UAW with the Big 3 automakers. They’ll want me to tell them the good, the bad, and the often ugly truth of the deals, and eventually I will sit down and pour over them, but I’m not an autoworker anymore. I’m a former one. I’m a writer, now, that’s my job. 

Many more will ask me if I think the UAW did a good job negotiating, and if the Stand Up Strike was effective. And that one is far easier for me to answer. Affirmative on both accounts. 

For years now, I’ve been telling anyone that will listen, that the UAW would never successfully organize another auto manufacturer until they learned to take care of their own, and I believe they’re doing that now. The Stand Up Strike historically struck Ford, GM, and Chrysler (Stellantis is the parent company now) all at the same time for the first time in history, and if you’re paying attention, the actors have been on strike for months, and UPS and the teamsters were on the brink of their own labor history until a historic contract was negotiated at the midnight hour. 

One of the things I’m most excited about, and something I’ve been predicting for years, is a call for middle class workers to finally stand up to corporate greed. We’re here now, and the proof is in the details my friends. News broke today that a group of Tesla workers in California have reached out to the UAW with hopes of organizing. And the International UAW has set a goal of organizing those other auto manufacturers. I believe they’ll be far more successful now than in the past. And also today, Toyota already announced they’re raising their worker’s wages preemptively. Before the union autoworkers even vote on the agreements that ended their strikes. Toyota is giving raises and Elon Musk must be fuming in his khaki pants. 

These new UAW agreements are historic and record breaking in many ways. Record hourly wages. The contracts fight to get back to the 40 hour work week, with the UAW long term goal of gaining the 32 hour week that European Union workers enjoy. They reinstate COLA, a cost of living escalator that is tied to inflation that was lost during the recession. They are fighting to finally restore equal pay for equal work, and to get rid of the tiered wages negotiated over the last decade and a half, and to provide a pathway to full time work for thousands of part time workers that have been abused and exploited for too long. They organize new EV plants that are coming. And they reopened the closed Belvidere Illinois Chrysler plant. 

From the first moments the UAW went on strike, International President Shawn Fain said they were fighting for all workers and not just workers at the Big 3. It’s true. What the UAW earns does trickle down into other worker’s benefits. It already is, but even more than that, President Fain and the UAW are working to get other unions to end their contracts in May to align with May Day. When was the last time a national labor leader had the courage to mention May Day? When was the last time you were confident that a national labor leader knew what May Day is? When is the last time a major labor leader wore a shirt that said “Eat the Rich?” When was the last time a union took the fight to the front doors of historic greed like the UAW has? 

The UAW workers at the Big 3 still have to vote on these tentative agreements, and I hope and trust that in the middle of historic headline making, that union leaders never forget that the union members they represent are the highest authority in a democratic body. That’s how democracy is supposed to be by design, something that is often ignored, or only given ear hustle to. 

But I’m more optimistic now than ever, that workers and unions are finally standing up and pushing back against the rich. Worker’s rights are the one universal, populist tool we have, and the one thing worth building solidarity behind. Politicians have tried to leverage it in the past, but no politician can build it. No corporate entity is going to crash their own interests kamikaze style, and begin working to unite workers. No rich person or activist can accomplish it. A worker’s revolution in the modern age can only come from the same place they’ve always come from, all throughout human history. It comes from workers standing together, behind leaders that come from their ranks. It comes from united solidarity that comes from banding together for the cause. It comes from a historic imbalance of wealth that has gotten so far out of hand that workers can see no other way out, but to stand up and fight back. 

It’s here. It’s now. The fight will be long, and hard, and it will take years of building on small and big victories alike. But the fight is just. It’s righteous. And it’s long fucking overdue. 

Like our Uncle Woody Guthrie asked so many years ago, which side are you on? Which side are you on?

Dan Denton is a former union autoworker and UAW chief steward. He cashed in all his chips, moved into a 20 year old travel trailer, and now calls himself a writer. His latest novel The Dead and the Desperate is out everywhere now. Ask for it at your favorite bookstore.