Detroit DSA and Auto Workers Caravan team up to protest General Motors

Dianne Feeley

January 23, 2019

Detroit DSA, Auto Workers Caravan, and a few other organizations teamed up to publicize DSA’s showing of Poletown Lives! in December. That successful event laid the basis for developing the Coalition for a Green New Deal. Put together with the dynamism of the Detroit DSA chapter and its awareness of the need to concretize the Green New Deal, a coalition meeting in late December included members of DSA and AWC along with various environmental and community organizers. We developed an initial strategy to oppose the General Motors plant closings, calling for GM to reverse its decision and live up to the contracts it had signed with U.S. and Canadian unions. If they did not, we called on the Detroit City Council and other governmental bodies to exercise eminent domain to take over and convert the plants. A short discussion about what the plants might be used for proved the need for much more discussion. And given that there were five plants, perhaps one size didn’t fit all. We decided that calling for labor and community meetings to discuss the future was the best, and most democratic, way to proceed.

Canadian, Brazilian and U.S. autoworkers protest GM plant closings

We agreed our first event was to organize a demonstration at the International Auto Show’s charity night. A committee drafted the coalition letter, which was distributed as broadly as possible via email and Facebook. The letter was sent to the president of the two UAW locals facing immediate shut down, to the chairs of their retiree chapters, to the director of the UAW Region, and to the UAW International president and three vice presidents. It was also sent to a number of Unifor locals, particularly Unifor Local 222, which represents the Oshawa, Ontario plant.

The coalition letter and leaflet highlighted the use of eminent domain in the case of the GM Detroit-Hamtramck plant (Poletown) partly because Detroit employed eminent domain to level a working-class community and gift it to GM so that the corporation would remain in the city and provide jobs. Given that eminent domain was used to build the plant, why not use eminent domain to rescue it?

AWC put out its own leaflet, more geared to autoworkers, pointing out that the GM announcement may be related to demanding more concessions or even attempting to whipsaw one facility against another, as it had done a decade before when it pit the Ypsilanti, MI plant against Arlington, TX. (Arlington “won.”)

We were able to distribute several hundred copies of the AWC leaflet at a Unifor rally in Windsor a week beforehand, and at Poletown local’s meeting.

Congressperson Rashida Tlaib speaks to the rally

Although we never heard directly from UAW officials, they decided to schedule a candlelight vigil about a half-block from the site of the coalition demonstration. AWC members leafleted the vigil, inviting members to come over to the demonstration. And when the four GM workers from the Sao Jose dos Campos plant (near Sao Paolo) who had come to Detroit for the coalition demonstration unfurled their banners, UAW members flocked around them. Then 16 members and retirees from the Oshawa plant arrived with their banners, flags and whistles and joined with the Brazilians. It was an impressive sight of workers in the Americas prepared to fight together!

Unfortunately the UAW rally never mentioned the presence of the Brazilians and Canadians, and only spoke against the four UAW plants slated to close. But what was important was that the AWC and Coalition came to the UAW event. And as the UAW event wound down, a coalition contingent, with a marching band, led the way to the starting site of our demonstration. A number of UAW members, who only learned about our action that evening, joined in our march of over 300.

AWC is pledged to continue our coalition work. This means helping to build community awareness as well as organizing within our own unions.

We are also beginning to organize a commemoration of the Flint sitdown victory for February 11. In this case, we are asking for locals to organize rallies or meetings that link the Flint struggle to our struggle today.