This report provided by a Virginia Worker staffer
MARION, VA – This small Appalachian town whose population has been dropping since the 60s hosts one of its only unionized workforces located at General Dynamics Mission Systems, represented by UAW Local 2850.
The UAW also represents Volvo and Mack Truck workers, who manufacture semitrucks and parts about an hour away in Pulaski. UAW Local 2069 also went on strike last year.
Needless to say, the UAW is one of the most significant business unions in southwestern Virginia, with regional worker power and growing militancy among its union members.
In both cases, the UAW negotiates new contracts about every five years, and averages a strike every 15 years, with their last strike in 2008 at both locations.
Every worker VW correspondents interviewed on the picket line at Marion had been there for over 20 years. Neither company represented by UAW has high turnover among senior workers, and for decades these manufacturing jobs were some of the best jobs workers could get in the region.
However, in 2008, employers introduced a two-tiered system at both Volvo and General Dynamics. Employees hired after 2008 were no longer eligible for the same retirement benefits and pensions as veteran workers.
New workers retain fewer protections that have enabled both companies to engage in cyclical hiring and layoff practices of new workers, in order to maintain their astronomical corporate profits.
General Dynamics cornered the defense manufacturing market, making jet engines, tanks, and combat vehicles. The company received $38.5 billion last year, with a net revenue of $4.7 billion.
Due to supply chain issues, the pace of manufacturing isn’t meeting the demand, so workers say now is the best time to strike for costs-of-living adjustments as inflation soars.
For six weeks now, these workers have been maintaining their picket line. Their average salary for new hires is just above $30k.
The Marion plant covers one million square feet and has 300 workers, 270 of whom are on strike. 99% of the membership approved the strike and the remaining scabs are mostly comprised of managers.
“Whenever we strike, managers try and cover our jobs and end up just fucking it up. What we do is really precise,” one worker said.
“After the strike is over, we end up having to do months of repairs just to fix management’s mistakes.”
VW Correspondents asked how these workers felt about what they were manufacturing going to Ukraine. “You just got to know that in government-backed contracts, half of those billions of dollars in aid are going to administrators to mismanage the entire transaction,” they said.
They have five tents set up with port-a-potties at all of the entrances to the plant. The workers come to the strike in shifts. The worker were, however, grilling deer burgers for one another. They brought smokers and boomboxes. Spirits were high, to say the least.
One worker exclaimed how happy they were to read that union election petitions have surged by 56% nationally this year. Yet US workers generally are still unfamiliar with unions and strikes. “We have people drive by, they see our signs, and they ask us, ‘What’s a strike?’” he laughed.
Strikes are the most useful tool workers have to negotiate better wages and working conditions, and because of no-strike clauses in all UAW contracts, workers can only legally strike every five years after their contracts expire.
These workers hold the picket line 24/7 for months on end. Striking workers appreciate support— bring them coffee & donuts, honk your horn for them, carry a sign— and, most importantly, never cross a picket line.
Conditions are getting worse for workers everywhere, and workers are fighting back.
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