Strike in the US
The United Auto Workers (UAW) union called a nationwide strike in the US against General Motors (GM) on 15th September. Following the strike call, some 46,000 members walked off the job beginning at midnight. The strike continues till date on 28h September, while talks are in progress.
The strike came a day after the manufacturer’s four-year contract with workers expired without an agreement on a replacement. There was no point of agreement between the two sides in the contract negotiations, with disagreements on wages, health care benefits, the status of temporary workers and job security. Contract maintenance workers at GM plants in Michigan and Ohio also walked off their jobs, earlier on 15th September, in a parallel dispute with contractor Aramark. GM’s last major strike was in 2007 when 73,000 workers at more than 89 facilities walked off the job for two days.
GM in North America posted an operating profit of $11.8 billion last year and 10.8% margin. The UAW union is demanding a share in the earnings gains and is pressing for higher wages and benefits, as well as a commitment to save the four U.S. factories the company has moved to close. The union has also called the company to account for prioritizing profits over jobs and outsourcing U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico, where labour costs are cheaper. Along with a demand in wage increase, the union is fighting to limit the ranks of temporary workers GM can use, which is currently at an average of about 7% of its U.S. workforce. Temporary workers are paid about half the wages of permanent workers.
In its negotiations with the striking United Auto Workers union, General Motors has offered a concession to console the workers: It has proposed building a new plant in Ohio to produce batteries for some of the one million electric cars it hopes to sell globally by 2026. The plant could create several hundred jobs in the hard-hit region, but workers would likely get paid only about $17 an hour, well below the $31 an hour that many assembly workers earned in the earlier auto unit there. The operation would be under a separate contract. And the work force would be far smaller than the more than 3,000 who once assembled the Chevrolet Cruze there.
Strike in South Korea
Unionised workers at the South Korean unit of GM launched an all-out strike for the first time in more than two decades on 9th September, demanding higher wages and protesting against the US carmaker’s restructuring plans in the East Asian nation.
The 8,000-strong union at GM Korea downed tools on Monday 9th September at all three of its plants in South Korea and continued the strike for 48 hours, expressing opposition to potential lay-offs due to declining production volumes. Some 8,000 workers participated in the walkout at the plants in Incheon, west of Seoul, and Changwon, 400 kilometres southeast of the capital. The union launched four partial strikes last month and has been boycotting overtime work since Aug. 22.
The union is demanding a 5.7 per cent increase in basic monthly salary, one and a half months of wages in incentives, and a cash bonus of Won6.5m ($5,400) per worker.
GM Korea has refused, citing huge losses at the unit. The company closed one of its four plants in South Korea last year and cut headcount in the country by nearly 20 per cent as part of a global downsizing of its operations.