‘No deal? No wheels:’ Auto workers rally at Ford plant alongside UAW president, local leaders


The United Auto Workers Local 551 headquarters in Hegewisch brimmed with red shirts and picket signs Saturday afternoon as hundreds of union members, leaders and allies rallied outside Ford’s Chicago assembly plant as thousands of autoworkers across the country enter their fourth week of strike.

“Today is about the fabric of the working class, and the autoworkers are a big piece of that,” said UAW President Shawn Fain. “We all, the working class, we are the ones who make the world run. Not the billionaire class. But the working class … we’ve been left behind. It’s not some executive that owns our future. We own the future, working class people from all walks of life.”

Fain’s visit took place hot on the heels of 4,600 striking workers walking off the job last week at the century-old Torrence Avenue plant on the city’s Southeast Side. Morale was only uplifted by the presence of several local figures such as Mayor Brandon Johnson, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates.

Striking workers and supporters attend a rally at UAW Local 551, 13550 S. Torrence Ave., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Chicago.

“This fight is about unraveling a system of inequities,” Johnson said, highlighting the interconnectedness of labor struggles across industries. “This is about unraveling a system of disparities. This is about unraveling a system that wants to pit workers against workers. We’re not going to stand for it, are we?”

Others supporting the strike on Saturday included President of the Association of Flight Attendants Sara Nelson, Chairperson of the Kilusang Mayo Uno of the Philippines Elmer “Ka Bong” Labog, several Chicago public school teachers and other local members from the Service Employees International Union.

“Right here, in this room, I see every gender, race, color and creed,” Nelson said. “We are the working class and we are building up the power … and we are going to wreck the billionaire economy and build up our own.”

Spirits ran high after Fain announced a negotiation victory to members on Friday: plans to strike against the General Motors Arlington Assembly plant in Texas had been called off when the automaker agreed to cover EV battery workers under the labor agreement.

“The future of this industry — we’re not against a green economy — it’s got to be a just transition for the working class. It can’t be a race to the bottom,” Fain said at a later news conference, surrounded by picketing members next to Ford’s SHO Center and Sequencing Centers just northeast of the assembly plant. Cars drove by, honking in support.

“So it was a huge move yesterday, and now we got to lock it down with the other two companies. They’re going to follow suit, one way or the other. We can do it the easy way or we can do it the hard way.”

The union is seeking a new four-year agreement with the Big Three automakers — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis — for its 146,000 members across the country after the previous contract expired Sept. 15. Since then, the UAW has been striking against the three automakers, or the Big Three, for the first time in its 88-year history. Now 43 facilities in 21 states and 25,000 members are participating in the strike.

Since Sept. 30, Ford has laid off hundreds of nonstriking workers across regional facilities in Chicago Heights and in other states like Ohio and Michigan.

“We’re on strike right now because the companies chose not to take care of their workers,” Fain said. “So shame on them for abusing the strike and using the strike as an excuse to put more people out of work.”

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Some of UAW’s demands for the new contract include pay increases, shorter workweeks, and improvements to retiree pensions and health care plans as the Big Three report record profits. Fain said the new agreement is an effort to undo years of sacrifice by autoworkers.

“We want our members to get everything they deserve, and every bit of economic and social justice we can get delivered. So we’re going to do everything we have to do and we’re going to continue this fight,” Fain pointed to a kid standing next to him, the son of a longtime Ford employee. “That is the beauty of this, is our members and future generations are standing up. That’s what this is about.”

Marquel, 5, often accompanies his father Matthew Rowe-Ocampo, 31, to union events. Saturday was no different. The Merrillville, Indiana, resident has worked at Ford’s diversity and inclusion department for 12 years now and is an alternate district representative at UAW Local 551.

“I’m feeling great,” Rowe-Ocampo said. “We’re just ready to see what the company is offering. The reason my son came to support is because he says, ‘My dad deserves more money.’ And he deserves more toys. We want to be able to pay our bills and everything else, just like the CEOs do.”

Before him, Rowe-Ocampo’s father and grandfather also worked at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant. He carries what he learned from them into his work, both at the company and the union.

“One thing that my family has always taught me, especially working here at Ford, was to speak my mind and if I have personal feelings about something to speak out about it,” Rowe-Ocampo said. “And the company should respect it, because we respect this company. It’s our livelihood.”



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