Kathy Goodwin, candidate for the Working Class Party of Michigan in 2022, spoke at the party's convention on November 19, 2023.
A recording and transcription of her speech are reproduced below.
Kathy Goodwin, I have run in the past as a candidate for the Working Class Party.
My origin story is I grew up in the Flint, Michigan area, birthplace of the UAW. I know the intelligence, the sacrifice, and the oppression that produces these highly profitable vehicles.
I have some observations to share with you about the UAW strikes that happened this fall in auto. What auto workers achieve in a fight impacts all workers.
The new contracts at GM, Ford, and Stellantis did achieve 11% up front raises. These contracts were approved by the majority of auto workers.
What auto workers did not achieve is what workers truly deserve: A chance for enough money to live a comfortable life and enough time off work to enjoy life.
These contracts will not catch workers up with inflation. The top wage in 2007 for an auto production worker was about $28 an hour. There's this handy dandy calculator if you Google a website called Bureau of Labor Statistics, and you can put in a dollar amount from a certain year and what is the buying power today. So that buying power today would require $41 an hour TODAY to have the same amount of buying power. And these contracts, it'll be four years before production workers get up to that level.
There was a real opportunity in 2023 to make progress. These negotiations happened during an economic boom for the capitalists. Some auto workers were ready for a fight. While partial strikes were waged at GM, Ford, and Stellantis, all the auto workers were never brought out together.
Under a different leadership at the top of the UAW this year, the words were different than in past decades. Workers heard fighting language for the first time in a long time. New UAW leaders emphasized how profitable the companies are. New UAW leaders said that unless the companies came through on key demands, workers would have no choice but to go on strike.
Demands were not met and strikes began on September 15th.
Now that all three contracts are settled, we see that with partial strikes, the auto workers at Ford, GM, and Stellantis did win the 11% upfront raises.
That 11% is an interesting number. It's the same number, the 11% upfront raises that were fought for and won by the John Deere strikers in 2021.
It shows you that the fight one group of workers makes benefits other workers.
In the new auto contracts, there were improvements for temporary workers, and this was a good thing. But the category of temporary worker did not go away. All who want a full-time job should have one. Work is work. The temporary worker label is just a trick to lower wages. The working class needs equal pay for equal work.
More fighting words were welcome. It was a wonderful change this fall. In the past, it was sickening to see skyrocketing corporate profits and union officials keeping quiet like mice. This time, top UAW officials talked about the working class. It was good to hear that.
This time, top UAW officials talked about the corporations are the enemy. But to have a completely new policy, different from all the old policies, top UAW officials would have had to have added something to that sentence:
The first part, the company is the enemy.
The second part, their profits are not our problem.
Their profits are not our problem.
Let the capitalists worry about capitalism. It's their system.
Let the workers worry about the workers.
In our capitalist society, guess what? The rules and the laws and the practices are capitalist rules, laws, and practices that benefit the capitalist class. To increase the power and the standard of living of the working class requires different rules, different practices.
One thing different about the Working Class Party is this: We say not only are the companies the enemy, but Wall Street behind them is the enemy, and all the workers must organize together to go up against this very well organized enemy.
This fall, the current group of union leaders carefully crafted strike targets to maintain company profits. That devotion to the right of companies to make profits is the wrong policy for the working class.
These were strikes where the working class was held back. They were limited strikes. Workers never got the chance to all come out together this fall. There was no feeling of being inspired by the power of workers fighting for our class to move forward.
Workers never got the chance to have big union meetings to discuss together, point by point by point, each contract proposal.
The fight this fall was twisted into contradictions because UAW leaders were not ready to put the working class first and only. The fight this fall was twisted into contradictions because union leaders have no readiness for the shop floor organizing that creates a strong union from the bottom up.
If the companies are the enemy, why copy the worst practices of the companies? Why not have a vision of a better society and behave better than the companies? Wouldn't that be attractive in a union?
Why as union leaders have a top-down manner exactly like the companies? Yes, this society is top down, but why do union leaders have to copycat that awful behavior? Why keep so many secrets from the workers? Secrets from the workers are the policy of corporations to help them exploit and control. Big companies make decisions hidden in secrecy.
All of the surprise strikes carried out by the top UAW officials this fall with secrecy, this was done because it was said that it would surprise the companies, but it surprised the workers too. Too little information flowed daily within the union.
Our working class organizations, our unions, our working class party should belong to us. It should feel like our organization. When it doesn't feel like that, when it feels like something far away from us, workers have to figure out, how do we get control of it? Working class democracy should be encouraged and felt by all in the unions. We the workers need to push back together, millions of us, all of us who are exploited by this greedy capitalist class.
A political party collecting the working class together needs to be built to fight in the political arena for our working-class interests. Our party must take up the fighting words of the international workers of the world, the IWW of a hundred years ago:
The working class and the employing class have NOTHING in common.
We saw going through these UAW strikes that fighting words are not enough to truly be a new policy. We saw that for workers to achieve what we need, we have to fight outside the bounds of capitalism.
We need to fight for a better society.