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Over 10,000 Deere workers launch first strike in 35 years

To learn more about joining the John Deere Workers Rank-and-File Committee, Deere workers can email deerewrfc@gmail.com or text (484) 514-9797.

Deere workers begin strike at midnight

Approximately 10,100 workers at agricultural equipment giant Deere and Company began to strike at midnight Central Time early Thursday morning. The workers are located at plants in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas, as well as two parts centers in Georgia and Colorado. The walkout is the first at the company in 35 years and is the largest strike by manufacturing workers in the US since the 40-day strike at General Motors in 2019.

“Our time is now!” a Deere worker in Illinois told the WSWS. A second worker added, “We are glad to be going on strike, it shows we’re not settling. That’s what everybody wanted the first time,” i.e., when the last contract expired on October 1.

“People knew it was time based on the horrible TA [tentative agreement] Deere offered, so they’re fed up and ready to do what’s necessary,” a third Deere worker stated. On Facebook, workers at multiple plants called for mass picketing in the morning.

The strike follows the overwhelming rejection by workers, in a 90 percent “no” vote last Sunday, of a concessions contract backed by the United Auto Workers (UAW). The deal would have included wage increases of just 11-12 percent over six years, well below the current inflation rate. It also would have ended pensions for workers hired after November this year, expanding the tiers first established by Deere and the UAW in 1997.

The UAW was desperately trying to avert a strike until the last minute. It scheduled the strike deadline for 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, three days after the decisive defeat of its agreement. It told workers nothing about the content of the talks with Deere in the interim, in line with its strategy of keeping its members in the dark throughout the year.

Earlier in the evening, after UAW Local 865 sent a mass text to workers at the Harvester plant in East Moline announcing picketing would begin at midnight, other locals quickly took to Facebook to deny the statement, saying that a strike had not yet been called.

The UAW’s official announcement of the strike on its website presented a completely upside-down picture of its attitude towards the walkout and workers’ demands. “Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules,” said Chuck Browning, Vice President and director of the UAW’s Agricultural Implement Department. “We stay committed to bargaining until our members’ goals are achieved.”

In reality, UAW executives like Browning (whose annual reported compensation exceeds $200,000) spent the last week and a half attempting to sell a contract that met absolutely none of the needs referred to in the statement. As throughout the auto industry, the UAW has been a loyal partner in helping Deere continuously attack wages, health benefits, pensions and working conditions for the last 40 years.

While the UAW was frantically working to find some pretext on which to call off the strike, it was clear that Deere was doubling down on its demands and making its preparations for the struggle in the days leading up to the deadline.

Managers distributed leaflets on the factory floor touting the already rejected deal this week. Workers were told to clear out their lockers and remove any locks on toolboxes. On Wednesday, Deere began cancelling the following day’s shifts and instructing third-shift workers not to come in. Rumors have swirled for weeks that the company was training white collar and salaried employees on production jobs, planning to deploy them as scabs.

The talks between Deere and the UAW throughout the year have not been “negotiations” between opposing parties, but rather strategy sessions between the company and their “partners” among the union executives over how to ram Deere’s demands through.

However, both were clearly unprepared for the scale of the opposition among workers, who are determined to win serious advances, with Deere making record profits and already struggling to keep up with orders.

The walkout at Deere is part of a growing strike wave throughout the US and internationally. Deere workers are joining thousands of food production workers, telecom workers, coal miners, and nurses and health care workers already on strike.

The strike at Deere will have a galvanizing effect on other sections of workers, including auto parts workers at Dana, who have been kept on a day-to-day contract extension since voting to reject a UAW- and United Steelworkers-endorsed contract in late August and early September.

While the UAW was unable to prevent a strike at Deere, given the extent of the anger among workers and its tattered credibility, it will work all the more feverishly to strangle and sabotage it.

As at Volvo Trucks earlier this year, the UAW is seeking to to starve workers on just $275 a week in strike pay out of its nearly billion-dollar strike fund, which it will only start to distribute after several weeks. The UAW will also attempt to continue its information blackout and censorship of workers, with the aim of isolating them and preventing other workers from learning about and joining their struggle.

Deere workers have already taken several critical first steps in rejecting the agreement and launching the walkout. Most importantly, workers formed the John Deere Workers Rank-and-File Committee last week. The committee issued a statement calling for the rejection of the contract, which was widely read by workers in the lead-up to the vote.

In order for the Deere workers’ struggle to be carried out on the strongest possible basis, rank-and-file strike committees must be established in every plant and warehouse, enabling workers to link up, circumvent the UAW’s blackout, and coordinate their fight.

In confronting a transnational giant such as Deere, workers must mobilize the broadest possible support, including among Caterpillar, Case IH and autoworkers in the US, and Deere workers in Mexico, Brazil, Germany, India and elsewhere, all of whom are seeking a way to combat low wages and intolerable working conditions.

Deere Harvester worker speaks on impact of COVID-19, voices support for rank-and-file committee

The WSWS spoke with a worker at Deere’s Harvester Works plant in East Moline, Illinois, along the Mississippi River and the border with Iowa. The town is adjacent to Moline, where Deere’s international headquarters are located.

“This was a tough year for us with COVID,” he said. “We had clashes with management with safety procedures. As far as money goes, some peoples’ departments were eliminated and [those workers] lost $50,000 in a year.”

Deere has been able to keep its plants running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as supposedly “essential critical infrastructure,” citing national security provisions issued by the Department of Homeland Security in March 2020. At the time, the UAW issued a joint statement with Deere supporting keeping the plants open, even as the coronavirus first erupted uncontrolled throughout the country.

As with virtually every workplace in the auto and broader manufacturing industries, neither Deere nor the UAW have released public tallies of the number of workers sickened or killed by COVID-19. By mid-2020, COVID had already killed at least several dozen autoworkers in the US and Mexico, according to the limited reports in the corporate press which were undoubtedly underestimates. Countless more lives would have been lost if it were not for the wave of wildcat strikes by workers that forced a shutdown of the auto industry beginning in March 2020, which was subsequently prematurely reopened with the support of the UAW that May.

“I’m interested in getting involved with the committee,” the Deere worker continued. “My priority is improving my life and the workers’ lives around me. The company’s not going to give us what we need, the UAW isn’t going to budge, so we’ve got to do it ourselves.”

The John Deere Worker Rank-and-File Committee, formed last week, issued a statement last Friday calling for a “no” vote on the UAW’s concessions contract and the establishment of rank-and-file committees at every plant to prepare strike action.

“I feel like doing something like building the committee would be good for bringing people together at the company,” the worker added. “I know more people would like to be involved, I think, who want to know what direction to take.”

Deere worker denounces UAW information blackout, collusion with company

A Deere worker who wished to keep his name and location anonymous to prevent retaliation told the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter Wednesday night: “They are not telling us s**t. I saved for this because I knew it was coming. The UAW is pissed because they thought we were dumb enough to fall for their bargaining tactics with the company again. They have no idea what to do. But we know what to do.”

Speaking about the impact of the UAW corruption scandal and how it has fueled workers’ opposition, he continued, “There’s way more than 10,000 of us that are pissed off. The union doesn’t grasp the fact that we are pissed at them too for the theft of our dues. It doesn’t matter that the scumbags got some jail time, it’s the fact that most people know that they sell us out for their own gains.”

The worker concluded by expressing his appreciation for the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter, stating, “By the way, I want thank you for putting out the info that no one else does. I’m not sure where or why you came to exist but I do appreciate you. The union says you are a union-busting website but I see the truth with what you say.”

UAW locals issue conflicting instructions with hours to go before strike deadline

With hours left before the midnight strike deadline for more than 10,000 Deere workers, a UAW local issued instructions to report to picket lines at midnight, which was anxiously denied by another local shortly thereafter.

At 5:32 p.m. Central Time, UAW Local 865 sent a mass text to workers employed at Deere’s Harvester Works in East Moline, Illinois. “UAW Local 865 will begin picketing HX tonight at midnight. Please report to the Union Hall 20 minutes prior to your picket time on your assigned day.”

Approximately 30 minutes later, Local 74 in Ottumwa, Iowa issued a statement on its Facebook page denying the strike was confirmed to begin at midnight, saying that the mass text from Local 865 had been sent accidentally. Evidently fearful that workers eager for strike action would immediately begin to walk out, Local 74 wrote: “UPDATE: There has been a text accidentally sent from UAW LOCAL 865 (Harvester). THERE HAS NOT BEEN A CALL TO STRIKE!”

Local 74 officials justified the announcement on the grounds that the UAW “bargaining committee is giving Deere & Co. all the time offer [sic] outlined in the deadline.”

Local 838, covering the largest concentration of Deere workers, in Waterloo, Iowa, posted a virtually identical statement.

As has become almost universal practice by UAW local officials overseeing Deere workers, both Local 74 and 838 cowardly disabled comments on their announcements, seeking to cover up and muzzle workers’ opposition.

Workers at other plants told the WSWS Wednesday evening that they had been receiving directives from local officials on where to report for strike duty, but had yet to receive confirmation of the strike itself.

The conflicting announcements are further evidence that the UAW is still working desperately behind the scenes with Deere, hoping to find some sort of pretext to justify calling off the strike.

Deere, UAW continue closed-door talks Wednesday afternoon, hoping to avert strike

Deere and the UAW are continuing last-minute talks in advance of the Wednesday night strike deadline, according to a report in the Waterloo Courier. The UAW is keeping workers in the dark as to the content of the discussions or even what it is supposedly demanding of the company, as it has throughout the year.

Since Sunday’s colossal defeat of the UAW-backed tentative agreement with Deere, which workers voted by 90 percent to reject, the union has been desperately seeking some means of forestalling a walkout. The UAW had sent its negotiators back to meet with Deere representatives on Monday and pushed off a strike deadline until 11:59 p.m. Central Time Wednesday night following the contract rejection, stalling for time and hoping to secure some fig leaf with which to sell the same basic deal.

Workers reacted with anger and suspicion to the news that the company and the UAW were continuing to hold talks Wednesday, with many fearing that yet another 11th hour extension or pro-company contract would be announced. “How f*****g pathetic,” a Deere worker told the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter. “Corruption at its best. They’ll come back with some BS.”

The fraudulent character of the “negotiations” was revealed by Deere’s propaganda blitz in recent days to push the same agreement workers already overwhelmingly rejected. Company management distributed flyers on the shop floor Wednesday which attempted to present Deere’s demands for below-inflation wage increases, lump-sum retirement payments, and other givebacks in the best possible light.

At the same time, reports indicated that Deere was making preparations in the event a strike could not be prevented. On Wednesday, the company began cancelling early-morning Thursday shifts at some plants and instructing workers not to come in to work, workers reported. Workers in Waterloo, Iowa, were also told to remove their belongings and locks from their lockers, according to a report in the Des Moines Register.

Workers should place no trust in the pro-corporate UAW and any claims of a “new” deal which may emerge. Workers must make their own preparations for a company-wide walkout at the Wednesday night strike deadline, whether the UAW calls one or not.

In a statement Monday which has been widely read by workers, the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter urged the formation of rank-and-file strike committees at every Deere plants in order to coordinate joint action, break through the UAW-imposed censorship and information blackout, prevent another sellout, and carry out a successful fight for what workers need.

Such committees should link up with the recently formed John Deere Workers Rank-and-File Committee, which is demanding a 30 percent general wage increase, the immediate end of the tier system, the restoration of fully paid health care and pensions for all workers and retirees, and more.

Video: Why Deere workers are getting ready to strike Wednesday night

In this video, WSWS Labor Editor Jerry White reviews the issues behind Deere workers’ 90-percent rejection of the UAW-backed contract on Sunday.

Deere workers reject UAW-backed contract by 90 percent

Deere workers wary of stall tactics by UAW, press for strike action

In the run-up to the 11:59 p.m. strike deadline Wednesday night, Deere workers pressed for a walkout and voiced concerns over the possibility that the UAW would seek to block a strike with another 11th hour concessionary agreement.

A worker at Deere’s Atlanta parts distribution said, “If the international [UAW] refuses to let us strike, there will be a ton of backlash, or if they push this contract through without our voice being heard.”

An Ottumwa Deere production worker added, “I truly don’t believe the company or International understands how intolerant we have become to their excuses and games. I think they have greatly underestimated just how bonded we are in solidarity and how truly fed up we are.

“They want a fight? They will get one! For the last 18 months, we have suffered and sacrificed through a pandemic and that has conditioned us for what may come. If our demands aren’t met, we won’t budge. Any tentative contract short of what we asked for simply won’t pass, and if they think that they will pull together a Hail Mary contract before midnight then that will be nothing but a stall tactic, a mere attempt at getting an extension so they can continue to suck productivity off of us while trying to stab us in our backs.”

Full report

WSWS Autoworker Newsletter statement: Form rank-and-file strike committees to prepare for company-wide walkout Wednesday night!

Deere workers’ colossal defeat on Sunday of the pro-company contract backed by the United Auto Workers, in a 90 percent “no” vote, is a powerful indication that workers are ready and determined to fight after suffering decades of concessions enforced by the UAW.

Deere workers are standing up and saying, “Now is our time!” At meetings preceding the votes on Sunday and in numerous comments on Facebook, workers demanded strike action and denounced the UAW for once again pushing a contract dictated by the company.

With workers in such a strong position, now is the time to act! Rank-and-file strike committees must be formed at every Deere factory and warehouse in order to prepare for a company-wide walkout on Wednesday night, whether the UAW calls one or not. If there is to be a serious struggle, workers themselves must undertake the organization of it.

The UAW, for its part, has no intention of conducting any fight whatsoever, as its record over the last 40 years and all its actions in the so-called “negotiations” with the company this year show. Workers are thus entering into a battle with two fronts: against Deere and against the UAW.

Read the full statement