American Axle workers began to return to work earlier this week, after the end of a three-month walkout in Michigan and New York. The struggle—one of the longest walkouts in the auto industry in decades—ended in a bitter defeat for the workers.
In 2008, 3,600 workers at auto parts supplier American Axle & Manufacturing in Michigan and New York struck from February 26 through May 23, against a threatened 50 percent wage cut–from $28 to $14 per hour.
Workers were in a battle against not just their employer, but against an ongoing pattern of wage-cutting contracts imposed by the United Auto Workers union. The strike took place soon after the UAW first imposed a two-tier structure at Ford, GM and Chrysler in late 2007, and one year before an expanded two-tier wage, set at 50 percent of standard base pay, was imposed for all new hires in the Obama administration's forced bankruptcy and restructuring of Chrysler and General Motors in 2009.
Shortly after the strike began, American Axle CEO Richard Dauch threatened to close his US plants and shift production to Mexico and other low-wage countries if workers did not accept his demands. Since the UAW fully accepts and defends the capitalist system, it had no answer to this economic blackmail.
After isolating the strike for 87 days with strike pay of just $200 per week, the UAW forced through a sellout contract that slashed wages from $28 an hour to $18.50, and in some locations as low as $10 an hour, setting a new benchmark in the permanent lowering of wages across the auto industry. Dauch claimed the deal had reduced labor costs by 50 percent.
The Detroit-Hamtramck factory was in operation for more than 90 years. Before the strike it employed 2,200 workers, but just 300 remained by the time it finally closed in February 2012, at the conclusion of the sellout contract.
The plant was demolished in 2013.
The present crisis facing auto workers has its roots in the earliest days of the United Auto Workers. Parts workers had a significant part in the mass struggles of the 1930s that established the UAW as a mass industrial union.
The following statement will be distributed to American Axle workers voting on the tentative agreement at UAW Local 235 in Detroit on Thursday.
Auto parts maker American Axle said it will close its Detroit manufacturing complex in February following six months of talks with the UAW over massive new concessions.
On Saturday, April 5, Workers at American Axle and Manufacturing in Detroit spoke to the WSWS about their history and their current struggle against company demands to slash their pay by two thirds.
The World Socialist Web Site spoke with American Axle strikers in Detroit on May 18 and 19 about the wage-cutting agreement signed by the UAW.
Larry Porter reports for the WSWS from the American Axle picket lines in Detroit as the strike extends into its second month.
On Thursday, April 24, 2008, auto workers on strike at American Axle rallied in Detroit outside a shareholders meeting of the company.