On March 3, Tesla CEO Elon Musk posted a series of provocative tweets challenging the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to unite the Tesla plant in Fremont, California. Musk’s comments came after President Biden shrugged off Tesla during his March 1 State of the Union address while praising General Motors and Ford for their investments in electric vehicles and creating thousands of American-made jobs.
Detroit automakers have a long history of working with the UAW, while Tesla resists unions. In his faltering proposal to “Build Back Better,” President Biden included a $4,500 tax credit for electric vehicles built with components produced in the United States and assembled by union workers. Musk publicly denounced Biden’s union demand.
Musk, one of the world’s richest people, began his tweet on March 3 with the silly suggestion that Tesla workers were happy with their wages and conditions. “Our real challenge is that [la] The Bay Area has negative unemployment, so if we don’t treat and compensate the (cool) people well, they’ll have plenty of other offers and they’ll leave! I hereby invite the UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience. Tesla will do nothing to stop them.”
To add to the excitement of UAW, Musk shared a 2010 video clip from the UAW YouTube channel. World Socialist Web Site workers from Automobile manufacturer NUMMI denounces the UAW for their betrayal. L’usine de New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) – une joint-venture entre General Motors et Toyota – a fermé ses portes en 2010 sans la moindre opposition de l’UAW, laissant 4700 travailleurs sans rien de plus que de maigres indemnités from the start. Tesla bought the plant later that year and, with funding and help from Toyota, turned it into the fledgling company’s first electric vehicle factory. The Fremont plant now employs 10,000 workers an hour.
The WSWS video was captured during a UAW Local 2240 meeting to discuss plant shutdown and termination packages. When ordinary auto workers, who had been kept informed of the union management negotiations, insisted on their right to speak, Arab Workers Union officials insulted them and called the police.
In other words, the workers’ anger was directed at the Auto Workers union for betraying them to lead the company. It was the culmination of decades of a “labor management partnership” on display at the NUMMI plant, which included abolishing seniority rights, job classifications and other measures to protect working conditions on behalf of “ending hostile relations” and increasing productivity and profits.
Musk attempts to capitalize on workers’ hostility to pro-business unions to promote his own libertarian right-wing business model, which relies on paternity and the fierce hostility of workers organizing to oppose capitalist exploitation. Musk, like fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos, believes his operations can run more smoothly without relying on unions to keep workers in line. This is especially true given that the UAW does a poor job of suppressing opposition from big business leaders, as evidenced by the wave of popular revolutions in recent years, including most recently at Volvo Trucks. , Dana meNot available and John Deere.
In 2016, UAW President Dennis Williams — who was later sent to prison in the prosecution of dozens of federal officials and relatives who took bribes from the company or engaged in other union corruption — met Musk and praised him for being a “unique person.” Williams said the UAW was trying to unite Tesla but “didn’t approach it in a confrontational fashion.” In other words, the UAW offered preferential treatment to Tesla to keep labor costs “competitive” in exchange for neutrality in the union’s recognition vote. Deals like this, made behind the backs of workers, were the way UAW campaigns “organised” at Freightliner, VW and many other companies.
Musk rejected the appeal of the Arab World Union and used anti-democratic and illegal tactics to prevent him from gaining a foothold. In 2018, Musk tweeted that his employees would lose their stock options if they voted for a union. The company also banned workers from distributing pro-union literature in the car park outside working hours and was said to have fired workers involved in the organizing effort.
As part of the Biden administration’s efforts to strengthen unions, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided last year that Tesla was violating the law due to Musk’s threatening tweets and its efforts to discipline workers involved in campaigning.
In provoking the UAW, Musk likely believes that the UAW’s regulation engine will be no more successful than the disastrous defeat of the Retail Consortium (RWDSU) last year at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse. , Alabama. Even if the UAW can hardly secure a union vote, Musk knows he can handle them. German auto workers union IG Metall is also seeking to organize nearly 12,000 workers at a new plant in Berlin, which has yet to start production.
The UAW poses no threat to Musk and his business profits. After spending decades collaborating with auto bosses destroying workers’ jobs, working conditions, and living standards, the UAW has already given the green light to General Motors and Ford to create a new level. Workers in electric car factories and suppliers on a much lower wage and benefits basis.
Biden, who regularly promotes himself as the “most pro-union president” in US history, is seeking to fully integrate unions into his institutional and nationalist strategy against China. In an online meeting on February 22 with labor leaders, chief executives and the military, Biden said securing strategic raw materials was key to “national security” in challenging China’s dominance in electric car battery production.
During that meeting, Biden commended the United Steelworkers Union for its agreement with Talon Metal Corporation to participate in “training” nickel miners in northern Minnesota and supply Tesla with a base metal for six years to produce electric batteries. In exchange for preferential treatment from the Union, Talon agreed to adopt a position of neutrality in any organizational campaign.
At the same time, Biden made it clear to USW President Tom Conway that he would not agree to a nationwide strike by 30,000 oil refinery and petrochemical workers as the administration ramps up domestic production along with the escalation of the military conflict with Russia.
After relying on unions to enforce return-to-work policy during the pandemic, the president is once again seeking to use unions as workplace cops to quell strikes, internal dissent over the deaths of nearly a million victims from COVID-19, runaway inflation, and endless demands for “sacrifice” In an attempt to mobilize the United States for a new economic and military confrontation.
While pro-business unions do not offer a progressive perspective to workers, Tesla workers certainly need to organize to advance their interests. Musk amassed his vast personal fortune by imposing heavy exploitation and dangerous working conditions on Tesla.
In 2018, the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) ranked Tesla and Amazon among the most dangerous places to work. In COSH’s national report, serious factory injuries were almost daily, and injuries reported at Tesla were 31 percent higher than the rest of the auto industry between 2015 and 2016.
Last February, the California Department of Employment and Housing sued the company for “systemic racism,” based on allegations by African-American employees at the Fremont plant who said they were the target of regular racial insults and were often assigned the most physically demanding tasks.
In May 2020, Musk ordered the restart of production at the Fremont plant in direct violation of the county public health order due to COVID-19. When Tesla workers protested the danger of reopening, the company fired several workers for not returning to work. The Alameda County Department of Public Health, which succumbed to Musk, later reported that between May and December 2020, about 440 Fremont plant workers contracted COVID-19. Musk was never punished for this illegal act, instead seeing himself rewarded by the market by becoming the richest man in the world in 2020 with a personal net worth of $189 billion. according to ForbesHis fortune is now over $229 billion.
Workers looking for a way to fight Tesla should learn from these struggles and join the growing network of workers who formed labor committees in factories and files. These committees, democratically led by the workers themselves, provide workers with the information and direction they need to mobilize in their sectors and beyond to fight capitalist politicians, giant multinational corporations and unions in their wake who are rallying against them.
These committees are based on the methods of class struggle, not class cooperation, and fight for the demands of the workers, not what the corporate and union leaders claim is reasonable. These include big wage increases and cost-of-living adjustments to protect workers from the scourge of inflation, restoring eight-hour workdays, and full health care and pensions. With the support of the employer, workers control the pace of production and health and safety issues.
The development of electric cars and other new technologies are being used to restructure the global auto industry and launch an international attack on workers. This is why the regular committees reject the nationalism of the WFTU and other unions and fight for the unity of the international working class against austerity and war. The development of such committees is part of the process of building a powerful counterattack by the global working class against capitalism, appropriation of the illegitimate gains of oligarchs like Musk and Bezos and socialist reorganization of the world economy. On the basis of production to meet human needs, not private profit.
WSWS encourages Tesla workers to contact us for assistance in setting up a rank and file committee at their plant.
(Article published in English on March 15, 2022)