The autoworker strike is building an alliance between unions and climate activists

Car manufacturers are posing as champions of progress against a backward union.


On Planet MAGA, where climate change is a Chinese hoax, rightwing media says Joe Biden’s promotion of a “woke” transition to electric vehicles is harming autoworkers and causing a strike.

In an opinion piece for In These Times, Sarah Lazare says too much of the mainstream media coverage parrots the auto executives’ line that union demands will force them to abandon their investments in electric vehicles.

Car manufacturers are posing as champions of progress against a backward union. Actually, the auto industry’s biggest lobbying organization recently came out against a proposed Biden administration regulation designed to ensure that two-thirds of new passenger cars sold in the U.S. are all-electric by 2032.

In 2019, a Guardian investigation revealed that global auto giants were key opponents of action on the climate crisis. In 2020, E&E News found that scientists at General Motors (GM) and Ford knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change. Later, their political lobbying undermined global and U.S. government attempts to reduce emissions.

Like so many labor actions these days, the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike is a response to several decades of rising inequality. In 2008, during the financial crisis, autoworkers sacrificed a great deal when the federal government saved the auto industry. In an analysis for the Economic Policy Institute, Adam S. Hersh writes, “Union workers agreed to a wage freeze, entry of lower-wage ‘tiered’ workers, and other concessions affecting retiree pensions and health care benefits. In 2009, the companies suspended contractual cost of living adjustments and have not had one since. Since that time, average consumer prices have increased nearly 40%, and autoworker wages have not come anywhere close to keeping up.”

Hersh notes that profits at the “Big 3” auto companies — Ford, GM and Stellantis (Chrysler) — went up 92% from 2013 to 2022. CEO salaries jumped by 40% and the companies handed out nearly $66 billion in shareholder dividend payments and stock buybacks.

“The companies have more than enough means to meet worker demands, remain profitable, and make the necessary investments to grow into electric vehicles,” Hersh writes. “The Big 3’s $250 billion in profits since 2013 amounts to nearly $1.7 million for each of the roughly 150,000 workers covered by UAW collective bargaining agreements. What’s more, the automakers are set to receive record taxpayer-funded incentives to support their expansion into electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing. Business tax credits and government-backed loans provided by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and bipartisan infrastructure law will substantially boost the profitability of the companies’ investments in developing new EV technologies, expanding and retooling manufacturing facilities, and manufacturing critical EV components.”

More than 100 climate and environmental groups have signed an open statement expressing

solidarity with the UAW. The union’s president, Shawn Fain, recently co-authored a Guardian op-ed with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California).

“The electric vehicle transition must be as much about workers’ rights as it is about fighting the climate crisis,” the authors write. “We will not let the EV industry be built on the backs of workers making poverty wages while CEOs line their pockets with government subsidies. There is no good reason why EV manufacturing can’t be the gateway to the middle class. But the early signs of this industry are worrying. We will not let corporate greed manipulate the transition to a green economy into a roll back of economic justice.”

The vast majority of electric vehicle plants in the U.S. don’t have unions, and offer lousy wages and benefits. They have received billions of dollars in subsidies from the Biden administration. Is that right? There was a proposed tax credit for cars and trucks built by domestic unionized workers. Sen. Joe Manchin was opposed, and since his vote was needed for the bill to pass, he successfully blocked it.

“A clean energy transition where CEOs pocket billions in profit from taxpayer subsidies while simultaneously breaking union power and pushing workers into economic insecurity is a pathway to political backlash,” Sydney Ghazarian, an organizer at the Labor Network for Sustainability, told In These Times. 

Ghazarian also pointed out that the Inflation Reduction Act is not a Green New Deal.

“[The Inflation Reduction Act] was a historic investment in the energy transition, primarily in the private corporations that are responsible for driving [climate change] in the first place,” she said. “This is in contrast to a Green New Deal, which has a vision of massive investments in the public sector, communities and green jobs.”

This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.