When Auto Workers Stand Up, Here’s How To Stand With Them
Cross-union solidarity can turn up the heat on the Big 3 to end tiers and make green jobs good jobs. It can also boost strikers’ morale and build connections that endure for years to come.
When Frito-Lay workers went on strike two summers ago in Topeka, Kansas, the Bakery Workers were amazed at the support they received, including from UAW members who brought them water and donuts.
“It was unbelievable how many unions showed up to support us,” said striker Chantel Mendenhall. “A lot of us now have an idea of how it could be if unions stuck together like that.”
Three weeks after their own strike ended, she and some co-workers got in a car on one of their rare weekends off and drove eight hours to support striking Nabisco workers in Colorado.
“Never once had I considered going and standing on somebody else’s strike line or bringing them food and water,” Mendenhall said. “Now I’m like, ‘Oh, this is what we do for each other! I get it now!’”
Here are tips for those of us near an auto plant—and for those far away, too.
FINDING A PICKET NEAR YOU
Find a UAW Big 3 workplace near you. This map shows every Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis workplace that might strike, including assembly plants and parts distribution centers—some of the latter are all over the country, not only in the Midwest.
Which of these will strike on Friday? The UAW has not announced targets yet; this story will be updated when we find out.
Many plants run 24 hours, so pickets will be up day and night. Sites that don’t strike may still have rallies you can look out for.
A major rally featuring UAW President Shawn Fain and Senator Bernie Sanders is planned for Friday, September 15, in Detroit; find details here. Wear red!
Organize a crew from your workplace. Instead of showing up alone to a picket line, bring your co-workers out too.
Talk to co-workers on your breaks or at a union meeting about why this strike matters to you—perhaps as a fight that could set standards against tiers and forced overtime, or as an inspiring model if your local needs to strike.
You and your excited co-workers could also spread the word in any community organizations you’re a part of. Your soccer team, for instance, already knows how to take a side together.
Reach out to strikers beforehand. The best way to figure out where and when you’re most needed is to ask. Let them know you’ve got a group from your union that wants to support the strike.
A personal contact is ideal; ask your co-workers if anybody has friends or family in the UAW nearby. You can also ask around in community groups you’re active in, or your local labor council. If that runs dry, Google the UAW local for the site you’re going to, and call their union hall for advice.
Make a sign that says who you are and why you’re there. “Nurses stand with UAW for healthy jobs” and “Teachers agree: no more 60-hour weeks!” will lift spirits, catch the eye of local press, and spook managers.
ON THE PICKET LINE
Get to know strikers. Meet new people, and introduce yourself with your workplace or union. Ask which demands are most important to them, and why. Ask if you can get their number to coordinate when to show up in the future, and stay in touch about local union issues together.
Bring food and firewood. Nourishing food and extra wood to warm the night shifts will be appreciated. Your local can chip in to cover costs. Grocery stores or local restaurants will sometimes be game to donate, if you ask a few days beforehand.
Adopt a picket line. Solidarity isn’t a one-time gig. Once the strike gets rolling, get advice from strikers on a specific picket shift that often needs extra hands and supplies. Make it a point of pride for your solidarity crew to make that shift two to three times a week.
Flying squadrons. If you’re in an area with multiple picket lines, get a crew together to roll through a few. That’s a tradition in the UAW that strikers will love to see turned back their way.
Spread the strikers’ message. Once you get to know a striker, ask if you can take a short video of them saying what they're fighting for, and why community support matters to them. Ask if you can share it with your co-workers or on your social media. Put a few picket-line quotes in a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, along with why this is your fight too.
IF YOU’RE FAR FROM A PICKET
Pressure the profiteers. BlackRock, Capital Group, and Vanguard are finance giants who are top shareholders across the Big 3, and they have offices that might be closer to you than a plant.
General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis have authorized $5 billion in stock buybacks in the last year. At the same time they've been throwing cash at investors, major Big 3 plants have claimed they're in an “emergency” to force auto workers into 60-hour weeks to keep their jobs.
Public spaces in front of these profiteer offices are fair game for non-UAW members to protest and spread the word: auto workers deserve more, and big investors have taken what they never toiled to earn.
As a last resort, call. In-person pickets and rallies will build relationships and pressure the boss the most. But on top of that, you and other strike supporters can leave a stern phone message for Big 3 CEOs by calling 318-300-1249, thanks to a solidarity effort from environmental non-profits including Labor Network for Sustainability and Greenpeace. Let the executive goons know why you and your union co-workers stand with the UAW.
Dan DiMaggio contributed reporting from the 2021 Frito-Lay strike.