Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (D-N.Y.) (Center) and Rep. Cory Bush (D-Missouri) (Left) join striking United Auto Workers members of 2250 at one of the picket lines of the General Motors’ Wentzville assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri, on Sunday, September 24, 2023. Photo by Bill Greenblatt for The St. Louis American
by Dawn Suggs | The St. Louis American
Ten days after tens of thousands UAW workers walked off their jobs at selected sites and began a “stand-up” strike against the “Big Three” automobile manufacturers, Ford, General Motors and Stilantis after contracts expired on September 15, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY, 14th District) came to Wentzvillle, Missouri, at the request of US Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-MO, 1st District) to join the picket line, meet strikers and speak at a rally for UAW workers of Local Union 2250 held in the Union Hall which borders General Motors 70 acres of land.
AOC asserted that contrary to what “Wall Street analysts” and “Washington insiders” tell you, “Our whole economy is in a special kind of crisis; an absolute economic crisis of inequality.”
‘They gave up everything from their pensions on and they saved the automobile industry and I think that now that the industry is growing back that they should participate in the benefit of that and I would take a look at significant increases in salaries for executives and growth of the industry.” – President Joe Biden
“They say, ‘Look at [Gross Domestic Product].’ They say, ‘Look at growth rates, look at job numbers. How are we in crisis?”’ said Cortez.
“That’s an easy thing to say for someone who primarily experiences this economy on paper, who isn’t choosing between childcare and work, or medicine and rent.
“It’s easy to say that when you’re not making those decision because those of us that do have to make those decisions feel them in the calluses of our hands and the aches in our joints at the end of a long day when we don’t have time to spend with our children and our loved ones. That’s where we feel the economy, and this is where this crisis is going on today.”
Mark Woolfolk (left) and Ann McCrary (center) head out to the picket line after attending the UAW rally held at UAW Local Union 2250 Ken Worley Hall, where Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) spoke on Sunday, September 25, 2023. Photo by Dawn Suggs | St. Louis American
Both Bush and Ocasio-Cortez thanked Katie Deatherage, UAW Local 2250 president, and Brandon Campbell, UAW Region 4 director, who spoke at the rally. Bush also acknowledged St. Louis County NAACP Director John Bowman, and a number of St. Louis Board of Aldermen members who attended the rally.
Bush introduced herself as “The daughter of a former union meat cutter.”
“I know first-hand how the union can help people to live better lives, good lives, providing safety for families and better benefits. So, to you all, my UAW siblings, you deserve to have your needs met.”
“Autoworkers have earned the ‘Big Three’ 12 billions dollars in the first half of 2023 and yet workers are making 10% less than last year, does that sound right to you?
“The CEO of GM makes 362 times what his median worker makes. I don’t think that the CEO, any CEOs are worth 362 times more than the workers who are building their product,” said Bush. She referenced US Senators who say, “If you strike, you’re fired, a simple concept to me,” and put forth this argument, “If executives can afford yachts and multiple vacation homes, yet their workers struggle to afford to pay for housing, that’s a red flag. It’s time for a change.”
Perhaps the most raucous response from the lively crowd, primarily UAW workers, to Bush’s remarks came when she brought it all home, and made a local reference, “When workers who build a Chevy Colorado can’t afford to buy a Chevy Colorado, that’s a red flag.”
She elaborated, “When the Big Three raise the prices on cars by over 35% for the past four years and UAW wages have only gone up 6% during that same time, that’s a red flag. It’s time for a change and that’s a simple concept for me.”
“Our collective struggle and our mission is so intertwined. If it’s happening in Wentzville, it’s happening in Detroit; if it’s happening in Detroit, it’s happening in Toledo; if it’s happening in Toledo, it’s happening in New York.” – Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO)
Bush and Ocasio-Cortez’ talking points dovetailed when they took issue with what UAW president Shawn Fain and President Biden, the first president to join a picket line in modern times according to the White House, have all pointed out: UAW workers are owed for their sacrifices which helped the Obama Administration bail out and subsidize the automobile industry which was collapsing during the recession that began in 2008.
“I think the UAW gave up an incredible amount back when the automobile industry was going under,” said Biden in a press conference on Monday before he joined the strike on Tuesday in Wayne County, Michigan.
“They gave up everything from their pensions on and they saved the automobile industry and I think that now that the industry is growing back that they should participate in the benefit of that and I would take a look at significant increases in salaries for executives and growth of the industry.”
Bush earmarked “Community project spending for the UAW” and mentioned over $1 million she brought to St. Louis to create the automotive repair training center.
“That is estimated to [bring] direct annual economic impact of $4.2 million dollars right to the region. It’s UAW.” She spoke of her support of UAW rights to a four-day, 32 hour, work week and presented a resolution which the Missouri NAACP issued in support of the UAW workers.
At the time this was written, negotiations with Ford and UAW were reported to have progressed and all of the Big Three have apparently offered 20% raises. Purportedly, benefits gap is where they’re having difficulty reaching agreements. With Biden’s administration launching the American Climate Corp, the UAW is seeking more protections. Not as many workers will be needed for assembly lines to produce electric vehicles. President Biden said, “I always support UAW,” and though offering his support on the picket line this week, his administration does not appear to be getting directly involved in negotiations between the union and the Big Three. If the strike continues and results in a recession in the Midwest, there will be more pressure for his administration to get involved.
While neither Congresswoman addressed concerns about these developing pressures on the industry or the competition from non-union foreign automakers manufacturing cars in the U.S., including Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen, at the rally, Bush spoke about how the conditions for workers in the automobile industry contribute to a shared experience and struggle throughout the U.S. “Our collective struggle and our mission is so intertwined,” she said, “If it’s happening in Wentzville, it’s happening in Detroit; if it’s happening in Detroit, it’s happening in Toledo; if it’s happening in Toledo, it’s happening in New York.”
Ocasio-Cortez spoke of the importance and significance of what UAW striking members of Local 2250 are doing for all American workers, “You’re showing all working people the only way to change the tide in an economy that is built for the 1%.
“The way we win this is to know that solidarity is the strategy because the 1% does everything within an inch of their lives to break the grip [of solidarity] and make us turn on each other… They finance a media to divide us by race and geography and class and culture. They make us argue over whether people of different identities deserve rights. We need to unite and stand up for ourselves collectively and stop the nonsense and demand the economic dignity that we all deserve.”
The picket lines at General Motors in Wentzville that day were roughly 45% African American and also intergenerational.
Dawn Suggs is a filmmaker, writer and digital director of The St. Louis American.
This article originally appeared in the St. Louis American