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Congress' Afro-Latino lawmakers back auto workers' strike

The United Auto Workers union announced Friday morning that pickets will likely commence at additional GM and Stellantis factories across the country.

As the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike heads into its second week, members of Congress—including a number of Afro-Latino Catholics—have voiced their support for the protesting workers at the center of the struggle.

The labor action, which began on September 15, concerns roughly 145,000 automobile workers employed by Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Stellantis (which owns the Jeep brand). Their union is seeking increased wages in light of inflation, improved benefits, and a 32-hour work week, among other demands. The three auto companies produce about half of the vehicles manufactured annually in the United States.

Striking workers in Wentzville, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis—second only to Detroit in auto production—will be joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York for a Sunday rally, which the public has been invited to attend. Also present will be Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, who represents a neighboring district to Wentzville’s.

“Auto workers on strike are asking everyday people to stand with them by joining their rallies and picket lines,” said Ocasio-Cortez on social media this week.

“Let’s show the Big 3 what solidarity really looks like.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Bush, both of whom are known for their membership in the progressive U.S. House bloc known as “The Squad,” have been outspoken proponents for the UAW strike, as well as for labor actions in recent months, including the planned UPS workers strike earlier this summer that led to a favorable new contract in late August. Ocasio-Cortez also joined striking Hollywood writers at a July event in New York.

The support may represent something of a return to form for Ocasio-Cortez, who faced criticism for her vote to ban a strike last December for railroad workers—a controversial move that involved most of The Squad voting with the bipartisan majority. The rail workers’ labor dispute came to a head almost exactly a year before the UAW strike in 2023.

Ocasio-Cortez’ fellow Afro-Latino Democrat in New York, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, has also spoken out on behalf of the striking auto workers, however indirectly.

Though he did not directly address the issue when a questioner mentioned it during a C-SPAN interview the day before the strike began, he tweeted support for the action this week, resharing a bilingual post from Rep. Jesús García of Illinois. (Roughly 30% of U.S. auto workers are Black or Hispanic.)

Rep. George Santos, a Republican congressman who identifies as a Black Catholic, tweeted on September 15 that striking auto workers have the “absolute [right] to give everyone hell”—breaking with several prominent members of his party.

Speaking to reporters the same day, President Joe Biden spoke of “record profits” for U.S. automakers and the importance of strong unions and fair contracts.

“I also believe the contract agreement must lead to a vibrant, made-in-America future that promotes good, strong middle-class jobs that workers can raise a family on,” said Biden, who has since been invited by UAW president Shawn Fain to join the picket line.

“I respect workers’ right to use their options under the collective bargaining system.  And I understand the workers’ frustration.”

In the week since the strike began, UAW members have picketed at one factory each among the Big Three automakers, but union reps say action will soon be expanded against GM and Stellantis if talks do not progress. Ford will avoid that move for now, as negotiations have reportedly been positive.

According to a report from The Intercept on Tuesday, all three automakers attempted to pre-empt the strike by temporarily closing factories thought to be involved in the strike. They were outwitted, however, and inadvertently closed non-picketed plants while strikes at other plants moved forward.

During a livestreamed event from Detroit on Friday, the UAW announced that if talks with GM and Stellantis do not turn for the better by noon ET, strikes will commence at 38 factories in 20 states.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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