UAW Begins Strike Against Big Three Automakers

September 15, 2023

While South Korean car makers Kia and Hynudai face legal action from seven American cities, domestic auto companies also have their fair share of problems on the horizon. For weeks, Detroit’s Big Three–Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (owner of Chrysler)–have been deadlocked in negotiations with the United Automobile Workers (UAW). Representing more than 150,000 workers across the industry, the union has demanded a 36 percent raise over four years, pointing to rising inflation and big corporate profits. Carmakers, meanwhile, offered to increase wages between 17.5 percent and 20 percent over four and a half years. 

Unable to come to an agreement before their contract expired last night, today thousands of UAW members are now on strike across three plants, one from each major Detroit automaker. This marks the first time in history that the union has gone on strike against all of the Big Three simultaneously in a labor action that could just be getting started. UAW president Shawn Fain said the union is employing a tactic called a “stand-up strike,” beginning at just a few auto plants before spreading to more locations if the union’s demands are not met. “We are using a new strategy,” said Fain. “We are calling on select locals to stand up and go out on strike.” With factories in Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio already confronted with picketing workers, automakers have no idea where other actions could take place if the strike continues.

Over the past 20 years, the UAW accepted smaller contracts as American automakers struggled to compete with car companies overseas. More recently, however, the Big Three have enjoyed unprecedented success: Ford has earned more than $3.7 billion so far this year while GM made $5 billion. Fain also frequently mentions the enormous salaries given to Detroit’s top executives, with GM CEO Mary Barra taking home $29 million last year while Ford boss Jim Farley earned $21 million. “This is our generation’s defining moment,” said Fain two hours before the contract deadline expired. “The money is there. The cause is righteous. The world is watching. And the UAW is ready to stand up.” Only time will tell how long this labor action will go on, but if the ongoing Hollywood strikes are any indication, both workers and management could be prepared for the long haul.


  1. Why is the UAW striking against Detroit’s Big Three automakers? 
  2. What is a “stand-up strike,” and do you think this tactic will work against the Big Three automakers?

Sources: Neal E. Boudette, “U.A.W. Goes on Strike Against Detroit’s Big 3 Automakers,” The New York Times, September 15, 2023; Jeanne Whalen and Lauren Kaori Gurley, “UAW Strikes Begin Against Big Three Automakers,” The Washington Post, September 15, 2023.