A New Fire Burns for the UAW

Striking GM workers in Rochester New York (Zach D. Roberts)

ROCHESTER, NEW YORK – A GM worker chucks wood into the fire barrel on the picket line as a Monday Night Football game blares from an iPhone. Workers huddle to protect themselves from the cold as they watch the game. 

“It’s bone-chilling cold,” says Brendan Green, a middle-aged African-American worker in her first strike. 

While temperatures drop as the strike at General Motors enters its second month, workers say a new sense of solidarity is burning inside of many members. 

Despite the cold weather, Green says she’s enjoying her time on the picket line. 

“I’m on vacation,” says Green. “I’m feeling good about being out here. I’m trying to get out what I’m trying to get out here, so I don’t mind being out here in the cold.” 

Autoworkers say that the strike has changed something. During the recession, many GM workers were willing to make concessions to keep the company afloat. However, now, after GM played hardball by cutting off health insurance to striking GM workers and their families, things have changed. 

“Nobody ever forgets what you do their children,” says African-American GM worker Gene Izzard, a father of four. “And that doesn’t mean we won’t forgive, but we won’t ever forget.” 

“People are starting to realize more and more that we are families, but when the UAW began it was just not about bringing us together for a paycheck, it was more involved in our communities, being involved so far as families and bringing us together as one under that same umbrella,” says Izzard. 

“It says United Autoworkers, but it’s really about United Families out here,” says Izzard.  

“Before the strike, we had about 20-25% of the membership that would show up for a union meeting. After the strike, we got 99.9% of the membership showing up for meetings, and now everyone knows where the union hall is,” says Izzard as he laughs.

 “Not one person in this plant doesn’t know where that hall is now,” says Izzard. “So, when I tell you I’m excited, I’m excited about just that alone.” 

The process of the strike has been a valuable tool for educating many GM workers about the importance of the union.

“I love a full house,” says Izzard. ”It feels a lot better now when you see a lot more people in there 

“It’s fun. You get to hear so many different questions from so many different people,” says the UAW veteran. “I don’t care if it just to ask just one question; there is no such thing as a stupid or dumb question because this is how you learn; this how you get people more involved.” 

As many strikes come to an end as the UAW and GM engage in around-the-clock bargaining, a sense of renewal in the union is felt among union members. A sense of unity is also felt among union members, especially after the hardball tactics of GM. Many hope this sense of unity and renewal will breathe new life into the union. 

“It’s scarred us, it scarred us psychologically, and no one is gonna walk up in here after the strike is over and feel the same way,” says Izzard.

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter who covered everything from Lula & the Brazilian labor movement to major league baseball. He spent years covering union organizing in the South for The Guardian and was labeled by the New York Times as an "abrasive gadfly" for exposing within the labor movement. Raised in a UE union family in Pittsburgh, Elk was illegally for union organizing at Politico in 2015 and used his NLRB settlement to start the crowd-funded Payday Report. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and is fluent in both Pittsburghese and Portuguese, which he learned when attending journalism school at PUC-Rio de Janerio. Email: [email protected]

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