A lot of important history is being made right now, and something potentially game-changing is unfolding among the American workforce. At this very moment, 10,000 UAW members at John Deere are on strike in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas; 35,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente have authorized a strike; 1,400 workers at cereal giant Kellogg’s are on strike in Nebraska, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee; 1,100 coal miners in Alabama have been on strike since April; 800 nurses in Massachusetts have been on strike since March; and numerous other strikes and strike authorizations are also unfolding. On top of that, record numbers of US workers are voluntarily quitting their jobs, in what is being called the “Great Resignation.”
At the same time, there are crucial struggles happening that may not seem as dramatic as collective strikes but are no less important for the future of the labor movement. One of these struggles is taking place within the United Auto Workers itself, where members are currently voting on an unprecedented referendum that will decide whether or not the 400,000 working members and nearly 600,000 retirees can directly elect their top union officers. Ballots went out on Oct. 19 and are due back at the end of November. If the referendum passes, it could be the beginning of a massive shakeup for the union, which many members say needs more democratic governance and more militant energy coming from the rank-and-file. Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD), a grassroots caucus of UAW members advocating for direct elections, has been leading the charge for this historic referendum. In this episode of Working People, we talk with Justin Mayhugh, who has worked at General Motors in Kansas City for over a decade and is an organizer with the UAWD caucus.
Additional links/info below…
- Justin Mayhugh Twitter page
- Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD) Facebook page, Twitter page, and Instagram
- Jonah Furman, The Real News Network, “A Once-in-a-Generation Chance to Revive the UAW Is Coming“
Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive at freemusicarchive.org):
Jules Taylor, “Working People Theme Song”
Maximillian Alvarez: Right. Welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and supported entirely by listeners like you. Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network, so if you’re hungry for more worker and labor-focused podcasts and radio shows like ours, follow the link in the show notes and go check out the other great shows in our network.
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My name is Maximilian Alvarez, and speaking of bonus episodes, you guys know that I’ve been promising a whole lot of them this month, and I’m excited to say that those are coming down the pike for all of our amazing subscribers. So we’ve got a great interview that I did with the journalist Indigo Olivier, who went to the Teamsters for a Democratic Union convention in Chicago last month, and reported on it for Jacobin. So I got with Indigo about all of that. And as an added bonus, we are going to be posting both an audio and a video version of that interview for our beloved patrons.
Also, by popular demand, we are following up on our fun Halloween bonus episode last year with another all Alvarez sibling panel. So as you guys know, last year, we gave you all a working class breakdown of the Halloween classic Ernest Scared Stupid. And this year, we’re leveling up and we’re taking a deep dive into another spooky favorite and a mainstay in the Alvarez household, the absolute classic movie Tremors. I mean, we watched that movie like a billion times and we have a lot of thoughts about class and Graboids, so if you want to check that out, definitely go subscribe. We’ve also got a super special Strike-tober bonus episode with a super special panel of labor bad asses. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I am beyond excited for that panel, and I can’t wait to share it with you all. So yeah, we’re making good on our promise to make up for last month’s lack of bonus content, and you guys don’t want to miss out on that. So definitely head on over to Patreon and subscribe now.
Lastly, before we get to today’s episode, I wanted to also let you guys know that we are going to be hosting our first ever Working People livestream this Sunday, Oct. 24, starting at 7:00 PM Eastern Time. Again, that is this Sunday, Oct. , and the stream will start at 7:00 PM Eastern Time. Now, we’re still working out some of the technical details, but we will be streaming this to the Working People YouTube channel. And yes, we do have a YouTube channel, we just never really use it, but we’re working on that, and we have linked to that in the show notes for today’s episode.
And if you’re listening to this on iTunes, the full show notes are always on every other platform. For some reason, iTunes just cuts off how much text we can put there, which is very annoying. But anyway, if you go to Spotify or Google or our website, you can find the full show notes there. Anyway, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook as well, if you aren’t already, because we’re going to be posting updates for you all about the live stream as we build up to this Sunday. Now, this is something that we didn’t initially plan for, or we would’ve given you all a little more heads up, but it’s for an important cause and we wanted to do everything that we could to make it happen as soon as we could.
So, some of you all already know this, but our amazing producer, Jules, and his family, have been going through a really rough time, and we want to show them all the love and support we possibly can. I don’t want to put too much of their business out in public, but if you want to know more, you can click on the link in the show notes to the GoFundMe that’s been set up to assist Jules and his family during this difficult time. Now, if you have it in your hearts and your wallets, please donate what you can to their GoFundMe and we’re going to make it our goal to hit that fundraising goal with this livestream that we’re going to be doing on Sunday and that I’ll be hosting. And trust me, it’s going to be a lot of fun, right?
I mean the listener live hang session was awesome. This is kind of going to be a livestream version of that. We’re going to hang out, we’re going to talk about Strike-tober. We’ll have some spooky Halloween fun. We’ll have some special friends and guests drop by and of course, we’ll be responding live to your questions and your comments in the live chat. So yeah, again, please help us support Jules and his family, share the fundraiser in the show notes, donate what you can and mark your calendars so you don’t miss our live stream this Sunday, Oct 24, starting at 7:00 PM Eastern Time for our man Jules and his family. We love them, and we need to support them. So yeah, come hang out with us, help us raise the money that they need and thank you guys so much for doing that.
All right. So we’ve got a nice big, meaty episode and an amazing conversation to share with you all, so let’s get to it. Now, as we all know, there is a lot of important history being made right now in this moment, and something potentially game changing is unfolding among the American workforce. And as we speak, 10,000 UAW members at John Deere are on strike in Iowa, Illinois. In Kansas, 35,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente have authorized a strike, and I believe that that number may be closer to 50,000 by the time that you hear this. It’s kind of like IATSE right? There are a number of different locals that are all kind of have sort of different timelines. But anyway, that’s a shit ton of healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente, and that’s a really important struggle. On top of that, 1,400 workers at the cereal giant Kellogg’s are on strike in Nebraska, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
As we know, 1,100 coal miners in Alabama have been on strike since April, 800 nurses in Massachusetts have been on strike at St. Vincent hospital since March, and many, many other strikes and strike authorizations are also unfolding as we speak. And on top of that, record numbers of US workers are voluntarily quitting their jobs in what is being called the great resignation. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.3 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs in August alone, which is the highest number that we’ve seen since they started tracking those damn stats in the first place. I mean, something is happening here, and we over on this side are going to keep doing our best to make sure that you guys know what’s going on, and we’re going to do that here on Working People, and at The Real News, and In These Times. If you are a worker and you want to make sure that you have a platform to tell your story and have your struggles covered, definitely reach out to us.
We’re going to talk about a really important struggle for today’s episode that’s happening right now, and that all of us need to be paying attention to. So, I mentioned the UAW earlier when I mentioned the strike at John Deere. So, that strike is the largest private sector strike since GM workers hit the picket line in 2019, and it’s a really important one. It’s also very telling. At a time when John Deere is scheduled to record record profits of around a staggering $5.7 billion this year, the fact that the union membership was presented with a tentative agreement that was reached by the union leadership and the bosses, and the membership overwhelmingly voted it down. I mean, we’re talking 90% of members voting, and 90% of those workers saying hell no to that deal. That’s quite a turnout, and that tells you that there is a big disconnect between the leadership and the rank and file. And that’s why it’s going to be really important to see what happens with a referendum that is taking place right now within the UAW.
Now, as the great Jonah Furman writes in Labor Notes, “United Auto Workers members will soon vote in an unprecedented referendum to decide whether the union’s 400,000 working members and nearly 600,000 retirees will directly elect their top officers. Ballots hit the mail October 19th and are due back November 29th. The UAW’s executive officers are currently elected to four year terms by delegates at its convention. An administrative caucus has dominated these positions for the past seven decades, using the powers of appointment available to international officers to wield tight political control.
In the auto industry, where most UAW members work, many are frustrated with years of concessionary contracts that have allowed automakers to build a two-tier workforce with the number of temporary and lower paid workers ballooning. For decades, UAW reformers have called for one member, one vote, and it has always been voted down by convention delegates. Unite All Workers for Democracy, or the UAWD, the new Caucus behind the resolution push, has spent the past two years pushing for one member, one vote. It follows in the footsteps of Teamsters For a Democratic Union, which helped win direct elections in that union in a federal consent decree in the late 1980s.”
All right. So that’s the background that you need, but we also go into all of this in more depth with my guest today, Justin Mayhugh, who is a GM worker in Kansas City, and an organizer with the UAWD Caucus within the UAW. I have so many things that I want to say about Justin and how great he is. I could have talked to him for hours, honestly, and it was just so great getting to know more about him and his backstory, the work that he does at GM, and about all the issues within the union and the rank and file energy that he and so many others are injecting into the union and into the labor movement writ large.
But I’ve already… This intro has already gone on long enough, and apologies for that but we had a lot of announcements to kind of get through. So I’ll wrap things up and I’ll let my conversation with Justin speak for itself. But I wanted to make sure that you all had some context about this referendum, because I know for those of us who don’t know a whole lot about unions or how they work, this stuff can kind of feel in the weeds but when you hear someone like Justin talk about it, you realize how important it is and how necessary this struggle is to turning this moment of labor strife into a labor movement with real teeth and real claws.
Because here’s the thing. Like I said before, something is happening right now. The working class is waking up. People have had enough of being taken for granted, exploited, dehumanized, disrespected, treated like replaceable garbage, while the rich just get infinitely richer, and most politicians don’t do shit to help anyone but their donors. People have had enough of being on the losing side and they’ve had enough of a shrinking labor movement that always seems to be on its heels, and they’re fighting back. Workers are fighting back. Workers like Justin. This is his story.
Justin Mayhugh: Hey, everybody. My name is Justin Mayhugh, and I’m a member of UAW local 31 in Kansas City, Kansas, and I’m also a worker at General Motors Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City. I am an alternate delegate to the UAW constitution for my local, as well as the guide on their local executive board. And I am a member of UAWD United Workers for Democracy, which is a caucus with the UAW that is organizing for a form of our union.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell, yeah. Well, Justin, it’s so great to get a chance to talk to you, man. Really, really excited to get to know more about you, how you came to do this work and to be so involved in the union, and also just like everything that’s going on right now. There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on in the labor movement, a lot of necessary stuff going on among unions and organized labor, and we’re going to really dig into that in our conversation today. Really, really want to get your thoughts on the John Deere strike, the big referendum that the UAW has coming up.
So we’re going to dig into all of that. But as you and I were talking about before the recording, we always love to get to know more about the folks that we’re talking to, and to really kind of let people know and to remind ourselves that when we, when we’re watching on our social media feeds or on our news channels, and we’re seeing these important worker struggles, these aren’t just happening to nameless figures in the abstract. I mean, every single one of these struggles is about human beings with lives and families and long histories that led them to this point, and that makes it all the more important for workers to win what they deserve. So, before I go off on a big philosophical tangent, that’s all to say, is that, yeah man, I want to know more about you and how you came to do the work that you do. So I’m going to start off small. Are you originally from Kansas City?
Justin Mayhugh: Yeah, I’ve lived in Kansas City my whole life and basically, if people don’t know, Kansas City is actually, it’s in Missouri and in Kansas. So I’ve actually lived in Kansas City, Missouri, my entire life. I lived in Nashville about 15 years ago back when I used to play music, but that was probably for a year, a little over a year. But other than that, I’ve been here the entire time.
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. So there’s got to be a back story there. So you did a year in Nashville playing music. What kind of music do you play?
Justin Mayhugh: We played pop punk music back during that craze, early 2000 when that was sweeping the nation for a little while, and not surprisingly, our lead singer was kind of a jerk. So we broke up. We were about to get a record deal. It’s just that story you’ve heard a million times, wherever it’s like a band with a lot of potential, and then they just can’t stand each other. We broke up, and then I kind of just drifted for quite a few years, not really knowing what I wanted to do in life.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, you’re right. It’s sad, but definitely a story we’ve heard one too many times. And I’ve joked many times on the show, right about how I’m deeply jealous of guys like you, who are musically talented, because I don’t have a God damn musical bone in my body. And that translated in high school to me being really jealous of everyone who could play an instrument, but I guess the fortunate side is, yeah, I never had that sort of experience. So were you always, I guess, in that sort of punkish scene? Or were you kind of like a kid growing up in Kansas City who didn’t do what you were told, or was that something that came later on in life?
Justin Mayhugh: I think I was always… I was kind of a kid that didn’t like to do what I was told, but I did. I always had this thing in me where I’m like… It rubbed me the wrong way that you have to do this, you’re supposed to do that, but I didn’t really resist too much until I got quite a bit older. But no, I actually, I grew up… When I first got into music, it was that story you’ve heard a million times before. The Beatles, all those, the Rolling Stones.
I was a big classic rock kid growing up, and then I started hanging out with these guys in high school and they were into punk music and pop punk, and I just kind of really got into that pretty big for a few years. It’s funny, because it was such a short period of time, and I still enjoy some of that music, but I realize it’s probably, a lot of it’s nostalgia for me that reminds me of the good old days whenever you didn’t have a bunch of responsibilities and stuff. But I’m more of a classic rock, I’m back to listening to The Beatles all the time, and a very divisive band named Oasis. That’s one of my favorite bands of all time. Either people love them or they hate them, but I’d say The Beatles and Oasis are my two favorite bands of all time.
Maximillian Alvarez: Oh, man, yeah. You’re talking about kind of that nostalgia that we feel for the times in our lives when we didn’t so many God damn responsibilities and life wasn’t so busy –
Justin Mayhugh: No bills.
Maximillian Alvarez: No bills. Yeah. It’s like –
Justin Mayhugh: Only girl… I mean, I only had girl problems, but at the time it just seemed like… I don’t know this. I don’t know if it’s like this for everybody, but it’s like, am I ever going to appreciate the moment I’m living in right now? You know what I mean?
Maximillian Alvarez: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Justin Mayhugh: Or it’s like, it’s not until you get 10 years later, you’re like, you know what? That was actually a pretty good time in my life.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. Yeah. There’s a really, really kind of important point that I think, you put your finger on something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, and I guess I still don’t quite know what to do with that, because I have this book of interviews that I did with workers during the height of the COVID pandemics. That’s like, last December and January, and I remember in one of the interviews, I’m talking to this bartender in Portland named Ashley, and we started off talking about this. About, it’s not something that millennials only feel but I was kind of connecting to it through my older millennial experience.
But I was like man, I feel like looking back, one of the things that I realized now, is that we just really weren’t raised to ever feel at home wherever we were. No matter where you were or when you were, you always were looking towards the next step. Even from an early age, you’re moving from first grade to second grade, second grade to third grade, elementary school to junior high, junior high to high school, high school to college, or high school to a job or to some sort of technical program. Then if you get a job, it’s like now I got to move up the ladder or I got to go work at this place to get this experience.
I don’t know. It is kind of sad to look back at those times and realize how happy you were, how comfortable you were. But at the time, you never really gave yourself that ability to enjoy it or to feel at home in it. That even seeps into some really kind of deep personal stuff. I don’t know if I’ve shared this story on the podcast before, but I had this really weird experience not too long ago. Where during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we were all in lockdown, or a lot of us were in lockdown, or even if we were going out to work, we were trying to really limit how much we went out besides that. I think a lot of us kind of started rifling through the old photo albums and old Facebook photos and stuff like that.
I saw this picture of my brothers playing basketball in front of our old house. We played just so many hours and days and weeks of ball outside in the driveway. It was just, I was looking at it. I was remembering kind of how great that time was playing hoops with my brothers, or just shooting around by myself. I was like, man, my brothers look good. They look young, they look thin. I think it was my mom or my sister McKenna, who was like, that’s you in the picture. I squinted and I saw that the guy on the left was me. And I got really sad, because I always grew up husky. I always had this kind of body image problem, not living in a family and living amongst people who were always very cruel about my weight didn’t help, but it just made me so sad to look at that picture and think, I was so young and athletic, and I never saw myself that way at that time. I really, really didn’t. I don’t know. You just kind of got me thinking about that now.
Justin Mayhugh: It sounds like we had a very much the same kind of… Because every once in a while I’ll see a picture of me when I was 18 years old, and I’ve always had some of the same kind of body image problems that you’re speaking about. But when I wasn’t playing music, I was basically starving myself, because I’ve always had the same problem, what you’re saying. I’ve always just been naturally a bigger kind of guy, but you’re playing music. You want to be the thinner guy, you know? Cause that’s kind of the stereotype, and I would see those pictures and man, I look so thin, but I remember at that time just being like, I’m just a fat piece of shit.
So it’s like this thing where I’ve never been satisfied. I don’t think I’ve ever been satisfied with my life in general. Like I said, that’s what I’m saying. I don’t know if that’s a normal thing or if that’s just some people, but to your point about talking about, we’re always looking for the next step, that’s the way I feel like we’re kind of taught to believe, that you’re supposed to. After college, then you got to get the job, and then you need the house, and the wife with the white picket fence, you need the kids, and then you got to save up for your retirement, and then you’re just going to be old one day. You know?
Maximillian Alvarez: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Justin Mayhugh: I just feel like we’re, I think maybe a part of it’s because our society, just so much is expected of you as far as paint by numbers, the way you’re supposed to live your life. Man, I look back at that time thinking I should have just really enjoyed that moment in my life. Like you’re saying I never did, I mean, I wasn’t really unhappy, but it was just kind of like, well, what’s the next step? Is my band going to get signed? Are we going to get famous? What are we going –? Instead of just enjoying that moment.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. No, I mean, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just part of growing up. I guess I wonder if any generation feels differently, but I know speaking for ourselves, it definitely doesn’t seem like the ability to feel at home where we were, or even in our own bodies. Just didn’t have the tools to do that. It is really kind of sad to think about.
But I didn’t necessarily want to just go down the sad route, because you also mentioned Oasis. I think one other thing that I do reflect on is, again, I wasn’t a musician, but I did love to write. I wrote poetry and stuff in junior high and high school. Man, I loved to just get in my feels and get all emo, and just crank up some Oasis or whatever, just something that just really kind of took those emotional knobs and turned them up to 10. Right?
Justin Mayhugh: Yeah.
Maximillian Alvarez: I hear what you’re saying. I know that Oasis is a polarizing kind of band, but when I kind of think back to just all my greatest emo moments of looking out the window when it was raining, or walking along the Chicago, the Lake Michigan Shoreline at like five in the morning before I was going to catch a flight back home, and it was snowy, and I was just listening to Don’t Look Back in Anger or Champagne Supernova or something like that. There really is a kind of life saving aspect to that kind of music when you’re in that emotionally tumultuous time in your life.
Justin Mayhugh: I think about where would I be without music? Not really even just playing music, but just the kind of emotional support or whatever it is that music can provide for you when you are going through a hard time, or if you need something to cheer you up, or whatever emotion you really want to have. I feel like music is just such an important part of, at least for me, it’s such an important part of maintaining some kind of level ground, I guess in some way.
Maximillian Alvarez: That’s a really good way to put it right. It’s almost a supplement because there are these times where I feel I’ll be wanting to kind of express something, or I’ll be wanting to feel the fullness of some feeling, whether that’s I know that I’m sad, but I’m working a lot and I’m repressing it. I almost have to sit there and force myself to feel what I know is down there. The way that I typically do that is I throw on my headphones and I’ll play the same song over and over again until I’ll just start crying on my stoop. It takes that sort of practice aid from music to kind of bring out what I knew is in there.
But the same thing goes for if you’re having a good day, and you’re on one of those winning streaks, you throw on a song that’s really going to accentuate the hell out of that. I don’t know, I can imagine in my later years in life, I can still look back on occasional moments where I was just blasting the corniest shit ever like Hall & Oates or something, But just feeling like I was on top of the world. Those definitely are the moments that make life worth living.
Justin Mayhugh: Yeah. 100%.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, let me ask you this then. What age was it then, when you guys were in the band and went to Nashville, was that after high school?
Justin Mayhugh: Yeah, that would’ve been pretty much right after high school. I was probably 19, 20 years old, whenever the band was really starting to do pretty well, but it took us a few years. I think I started playing in the band when I was 17. Then the first couple years we were applying anywhere to anybody, just to play a show really. But then towards the last year and a half of the band, it really started picking up, and we started getting record labels that were interested. So I was probably 19, 20, went up to Nashville, and we were supposed to sign a record deal out there. At the same time that this great thing in my life was happening, which was a thing we had dreamed about, which is getting a record deal and trying to go on tour and all this other stuff, the band itself was falling apart because the personalities were just so, we just did not get along,
Maximillian Alvarez: Man. How did you guys get together?
Justin Mayhugh: We were all, well, the drummer and the lead singer and guitarist, they were friends from maybe a few years before I even knew them, and then they needed a bass player. I was friends with the lead singer, but it’s kind of funny because being in a band with them, which I always tell people it’s like being in a band with people is like being in a relationship, you know?
Maximillian Alvarez: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Justin Mayhugh: Because you got to spend nights with them, you have to basically work, practice with them, play shows with them, drive to the shows. Kind of getting in the band with them is where it started coming to a head, but by the time it really got bad, we were what, three, four years into it. I was like, man, I put so much time into this that I just didn’t want to leave it.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, no, that’s got to be a really hard thing to confront. Like you said, especially at that time in your life, because I was going to kind of ask you. Again, thinking about that whole complex of moving through life, always thinking about the next step. When you graduated, were you just like this is it? I’m going all in on becoming a professional musician?
Justin Mayhugh: Yeah. One thing I miss about being younger is that it’s kind of funny, but I had no idea of reality. It was just, anything was possible, you know? The idea of this little band from this town outside of Kansas City, becoming famous, it just seemed like, oh that’s very feasible. Then you look back on, well actually, it’s a very slim chance of actually becoming reality. And I got out of high school and I knew I didn’t want to go to college, but then there was that pressure to go to college, of well what are you going to do with your life? If you’re not going to become a banker or an accountant, what are you going to do with yourself?
But I was like, well, I’m just going to try to do the band for a couple years and see where it goes. Once I got out of high school, we really started playing all the time. We started traveling the United States a little bit, going to California and doing dumb stuff. I remember we drove all the way down to Alabama. So from Kansas City to Alabama to play one show at a bar and then we drove back up to Kansas City. Which is just, you look back and you’re like, oh man, that was just, we probably played to five middle aged guys that were like, what the hell are these? But it’s probably not anything I would… I wouldn’t change anything about it because I liked being ignorant in a way, of not knowing, you just didn’t look at the world the same way, I guess.
Maximillian Alvarez: It’s a real gift to be able to live, however momentarily, not knowing how unattainable your dreams actually are. [crosstalk] Cause it’s nothing to be ashamed about, you’re talking to a guy who was convinced probably for much longer than I should have been, that a five foot nine stocky, Mexican kid who couldn’t dunk could still somehow make it to the NBA. Turns out that was not in the cards. But again, it’s having that dream and like you said, not having kind of anything squash it out for those important years gave me a lot of motivation to always go out and shoot around, or go get in pickup games. That was worth it. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t become the next Spud Webb.
Justin Mayhugh: That’s funny, because that’s the player I was thinking of, for whatever reason, when you said 5’9″, and I know Spud Webb was even shorter than that. But no, I think that life can just make you cynical. Within the labor movement, I think I really respect organizers, because you meet so many cynical workers and you understand why they feel the way they do. But as an organizer, if people aren’t telling you no, all the time, you’re not doing your job, or something along those lines. It’s just once the whole music thing didn’t work out for me, then I kind of drifted around just taking jobs that I knew wasn’t going to be what I wanted to do with my life. I don’t know. I think I became cynical over time with a lot of aspects of life, I guess. I drifted until I got into the labor movement, I guess.
Maximillian Alvarez: I’m going to pull my best Larry King here. I’m going to say, expand on that. Take us through that drift, I guess, cause that was going to be my next question. How did you, I suppose, end up finding your place in the labor movement? How did you end up coming to work at, you said you’re at GM, right?
Justin Mayhugh: Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Maximillian Alvarez: Talk us through that.
Justin Mayhugh: I was just kind of working. I worked at Walmart before, I worked at these other grocery stores. I worked at a restaurant, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was so disappointed that the music thing didn’t work out. But at the same time, it’s weird because when I realized what the music business was really like, I look back on it and I’m kind of glad it didn’t work out in a way. Not saying I wouldn’t want to be a famous musician, but I don’t even know if I was cut out for that kind of lifestyle in the long run. But I just went a few years just being… I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do, and I was just trying to survive.
Then at some point I think it was around 2009 or 2010, one of my best friends who worked at General Motors in Kansas City, he got me a referral to get hired there. That’s the way that GM at the time, they would only hire people that were referred by UAW members. That’s where you get a lot of family members or a lot of people who were just pro-union people in general would go work there. They’ve since changed that, now that anybody can apply to work there. So he got me in there and I thought I won the lottery, because you hear the stories about General Motors. You’re going to get paid $50 bucks to do nothing basically. I meant to say earlier that I grew up in a very conservative household. So I grew up hearing about how bad unions were, and about how union workers are lazy. I was still to some degree buying into that, going into when I first started working at General Motors, and I got hired in as a part-time worker in I think it was May of 2011.
Maximillian Alvarez: I’m curious to hear a little more about that as someone who also grew up very conservative, and was just really drenched in all of that anti-union kind of sentiment. I heard it just all the time growing up, and it was a lot of it was directed at teachers and kind of public sector workers as kind of being this example of a workforce that had become so lazy. This was right when everyone was really pushing for the fucking charter schools and whatnot. They used teachers and teachers unions as the primary punching bag. But at the same time one of the constant conservative talking points that I heard growing up, whether it was from my family or from Fox News or from right wing talk radio, was a lot of the time people would point to the unions and blame them for the collapse of the auto industry or deindustrialization.
They would look to Flint and they’d say it was the union’s fault. They would say it was workers got too greedy, they demanded too much. The poor struggling businesses, auto businesses, had no other choice but to leave. That was very much the narrative that I had heard growing up. I guess I wanted to kind of ask first, what it was like for you negotiating that, getting hired at GM? Second I meant to ask, so you said that you got hired around the time when you had this sort of two-tier system, were you in that kind of bottom tier when you got hired?
Justin Mayhugh: Yeah. I think the two-tier system started at GM in 2008 or 2009, during the Great Recession. So I came in just a little bit after that, and I got in there and you’re saying, how did I negotiate that whole thing? I don’t know. I guess for me, it’s always just been, one, I always question what I believe, I guess, I’m, I’m not afraid to question it, which I think some people are afraid to question their beliefs really, but that’s fortunately for me, it’s one thing I was lucky that I don’t have a problem doing that. I got into the factory, and I just over time, it probably didn’t take very long.
Actually it didn’t take long at all, because I remember I got in there thinking that I was going to be like putting a screw into a car, one screw every five minutes, and going to be making all this money. I think I started out under $15 bucks an hour, but I was coming from Walmart. So it was still a lot better money. I thought about quitting within the first week. It crossed my mind, this work sucks. It’s not anything I was told it was going to be like. So I thought about quitting, and probably the seeds of me questioning my beliefs on unions and stuff and union workers probably were planted right there. Because it’s like, man, this isn’t what I was told. You know? It just opened my eyes. I always tell people that becoming a worker at GM just changed my whole viewpoint of the way I view the labor movement and everything. It just completely changed everything for me. I’m just very happy that it happened to me, I guess.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, take us back to those early days then. You mentioned that you expected the job to kind of be like, being on an assembly mind, taking a screw, putting it in every five minutes. We always love talking a bit about the day-to-day work that folks do. So, first, what shocked you so much about the nature of the work that you weren’t expecting? I guess if you could, for folks who have never been on a GM shop floor, what type of work have you been doing since you got hired there?
Justin Mayhugh: I’ve been working in the trim department at Fairfax since I started working at GM still, about 10 years now. The things that really got me was just how fast the line moved and how many tasks you’re expected to do on a car. Like I was saying, I expect to be doing very minimal work, and you might have to do 10 different tasks on one car as this car is clanging along the assembly line. So it’s not like it’s steady and you’re expected to put these screws in, but you got to get it in just right and then you got to… I mean, there’s like just a myriad of things you could do. Like I installed the seat belts, the rear driver’s side before, but that was just like the main component of my job. But then there would be six other things you had to do.
And then there was always a thing where the corporation would always be like, well, we need to add more work to people’s jobs so we can cut other people’s jobs.So then they would always be coming to you being like, well, we think you can get another element added to your job. And it’s just this never ending battle in a way with management that is like, hey, listen, I don’t even have the time to get a drink of water in between cars. So it was just the brutal reality of the conditions I guess. And yeah, it was just a jarring experience for me.
Maximillian Alvarez: It’s like a very blown up version of that I Love Lucy episode, where she’s on the chocolate assembly line and she’s like stuffing chocolates in her mouth. It’s like that, but essential tasks with cars to make sure that they’re built properly.
Justin Mayhugh: Yeah. And the auto corporations, they’re obsessed with… The thing I’ve never understood about any company like Amazon or General Motors is, the fact that if you make $8 billion net in a year, net profit, why wouldn’t you just be happy with that? But it never ends, their desire to get even more profit out of workers, even more profit out… How can we do this cheaper? Now we can get rid of foremen. We can get rid of team leaders. We can get rid of the… It just never ends. Even if that is going to affect quality. I always say this, the workers care more about the quality of the vehicles than management does, because we know that the product we build is a reflection of us. I feel like the corporation cares about short-term profitability, like let’s just pump these vehicles out, make a bunch of money. And then, hey, maybe if 10 years down the road, we’ve lost some customers because we’re building an inferior product then, oh, well. That’s kind of the way I feel like they view business.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, and I think this is an important sort of segue into… I really want to get your thoughts on the moment that we’re in now, because I think a lot of folks are getting really excited about… We are in the midst of Strike-tober. There’s a lot of movement happening in organized labor right now, but not just in the organized labor movement. We’re also living through what many are calling the great resignation, where historic levels of workers are coming out of the pandemic, even though we’re not fully out of the pandemic yet, but a lot of workers are quitting their jobs at historic rates. And they’re saying, you know what? This job sucks. My boss treats me like crap. It doesn’t pay enough. It doesn’t have enough regularity in scheduling. There are myriad reasons why people are saying, fuck you to this job. But the fact that so much of it is happening at once, and so many people are participating in what seems like this mass sense that workers have been getting a raw deal for a long time and we’re not going to take it anymore.
There’s something really important there, and I think a lot of folks who are reading about this, who are hearing about it, who are learning about it, they’re asking like, where did this all come from? And so then you start hearing the stories from workers like yourself and the other folks we talked to on the show, and you’re just like, man, it’s been there. This has been like a pressure cooker that has built up for not just years, but I mean decades. You look at all those graphs from like the 1980s onwards, and you see like the wealth of the CEOs and the 1% just skyrocket, and the wages of everybody else just stagnate with the cost of living, and yet you see worker productivity go up at the same time. So workers are now more productive than they’ve ever been, but they’re taking less share of the profits than they ever have, while the bosses and CEOs are taking all of that extra profit and dumping it into the pockets of their shareholders, yada, yada, yada.
And I mean, GM is a perfect example of this. If folks want to know where has this pressure come from? How has this dissatisfaction built up for so long? And I guess we’ll talk about the union side of that in a minute when we talk about this big referendum, but I guess from the corporate side, we already started talking about this. That you had, during The Great Recession and the years afterwards, everyone knows that the auto industry was not doing great, the government bailed it out, the union took big concessions, everyone tightened their “belts”. That was when this sort of two-tier system was really implemented. And I guess I’ll ask you to maybe impact that a bit for listeners in a second.
But anyway, there was all this belt tightening. There’s all this talk about shared sacrifice to keep American car manufacturing alive. Then what happened? A few years later, GM itself was making huge profits, and it closed a bunch of plants and it laid a bunch of people off, including the famous Lordstown Plant in Ohio. I think it was like 14,000 workers alone were laid off in 2018. And it wasn’t because like in 2008, because they were at risk of the industry cratering. It was actually so that they could pay a big stockholder or shareholder dividend, and just totally toss out these thousands of workers whose lives and families depended on these jobs like they were nothing. And then people wonder why workers right now are so pissed.
So I don’t mean to make light of it because it’s a very serious situation, but I guess I want to… This is all by way of asking you, from your perspective, how have you seen that sort of pressure build up in your own area of work, and also maybe kind of in the working class writ large, how do you read that? And if you could, I was also wondering if you could kind of expand on the two-tier thing, because that’s something that I think a lot of people don’t understand why it’s such a sticking point for so many workers. But we’re hearing about it at the Kellogg’s strike, this is something that they were pushing against. It’s something that GM workers have talked about. So I guess, could you take all that motion and talk a bit about where this kind of mass worker dissatisfaction is coming from.
Justin Mayhugh: Yeah. So I think you kind of said it pretty well yourself, which is that this has been decades in the making. And for say, UAW workers in the auto industry, we’ve been taking concessions for 40 years. Now granted, whenever the recession hit, basically the concessions started being on steroids basically. It was like an excuse for the corporations to really gut the union. And unfortunately our international leadership is… They buy into this whole idea of continual improvement, continual, we have to do more and more to be competitive. And to your point of saying they shut down Lordstown and saying, oh, we have to do this. They’re going to keep doing it. Actually my plant is one that’s on very shaky ground right now because we’re building the Chevy Malibu, which is a sedan, so it’s not selling very well.
And then we build the Cadillac XT4, which is never going to be a high seller. And we’ve had this shift shortage that’s been going on because of COVID and then some other issues. And so we’ve been laid off since February. And you see these other plants getting electrical vehicles, big time investments. And I always say, I’m happy for the workers at those plants that are getting the investments but at the same time, I’m like, are we going to get an investment? You realize when you think about it logically, that this whole idea that the corporation, like say General Motors says, we’re all a team and we have to… Shared sacrifice which I think you brought up. It’s like the only people that have sacrificed were the workers. That was it.
The guy that was the CEO of General Motors at the time that they went bankrupt got a $20 million golden parachute to get fired basically because he was incompetent. And so the workers took on all these concessions and the two-tier issue, which is basically anyone hired in 2008 and on, there were no more pensions, so no one from 2008 on has a pension, no healthcare in retirement. We got half the pay for years. So you would have traditional, they call them traditional workers, legacy workers would be making the full pay. And then I came in at General Motors making $14.97 and $15 bucks basically.
And so basically all of our benefits weren’t nearly as good. But the catch about the two-tier thing is that when they vote on these issues like this, the people who are voting aren’t the ones who are going to have to take the concession. People who are going to keep making the amount of money they made, and that would have a pension, were voting for the new hires that weren’t hired yet to not have a pension. So it’s a really devious way that the company found to really break the union apart in a lot of ways, because you’re coming in as a new worker, working next to people making twice as much money, who will have a retirement, that have health insurance when they retire. And you’re working just as hard, and you’re like, I will never have those things.
And so it’s like a psychological battle, I think, as much as like anything else. I think the biggest benefit the company gets out of two-tier is the psychological warfare.. Because workers buy into what the company wants, which is they want me, a two-tier worker, to be mad at the legacy worker. And they want the legacy worker to be like, well, just tell those two-tiers of shut up because you got yours. And then they want the two-tiers like me to look down on the temps, the temporary workers, who really aren’t temporary in the auto industry. Every day they work just as much as I do. And that’s how the system is created. So actually, now, I’d say we had even more than two-tiers. But yeah, it’s a really effective strike, not a strike, a really effective union buster, in my opinion.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah. And I think that you put that so perfectly. It keeps everyone just looking down at the person below them, or looking kind of jealously at the worker next to them, but not directing that necessary anger at the people who have the most say in creating this arrangement, whether they be on the corporate side or even on the union side, which we’ll talk about in a second, but I think you’re absolutely right. It’s the perfect example of divide and conquer. And I guess even if we stay with GM for a moment, it makes sense why people would be so fucking pissed. Because this two-tier thing… I guess this is a good way of leading us into discussion of the union side of things, and the importance of this kind of upcoming referendum, and the work that Caucuses like yours are doing, because you mentioned that this concessionary stuff has been going on for decades. And I think that’s a really important perspective for folks to have.
It’s certainly something I didn’t know a whole lot about until the past few years. But I think that folks will maybe have a general sense that in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the auto industry in the United States was also taking hits, countries that had been battered after World War II, like Japan and Germany, were back on their feet, and those cars were cheaper. And a lot of people saw that as a threat to the American auto industry. So anyway, I’m giving a very kind of history in 60 seconds here. But in broad strokes, it was that sort of situation that put a lot of the American automakers on their heels to the point where even, I think it was like Chrysler was about to go under, got bailed out. And this was like 1980 or 1981. And so this kind of really catalyzed the process of, okay to save the American auto industry, we have to constantly be pushing the unions to take more concessions so that these struggling companies can stay alive, and that we can compete on an international level.
That was kind of the general talking point, and that was really when the cuts started coming, to let all the blood out of the UAW, and the labor movement itself was really taking hits. We all know that Ronald Reagan declared open season on the labor movement when he broke the PATCO strike, but I digress. The point being is that that’s really where a lot of this kind of the UAW and the labor movement in general were not really on the offensive. It was like, here are the kind of consistent cuts and more that you and your members have to give up for us to make this work. And it just kept going that way. And it went that way even more after the recession. And here’s where I’m getting to the point, where it’s like that two-tier system that you were talking about, Justin, was created as a supposedly temporary measure to, once again, keep the struggling auto industry on its feet. It was meant to be, I think, capped at like 25% of the workforce at GM, please, correct me if I’m wrong there.
And then what we’ve seen since then, is that that cap has more or less been removed, and that lower tier of lower pay, less underprotected workers and the temps as well, those are the categories that are better ballooning. While union workers with both that full benefits package is shrinking comparison to the rest of the folks there. Do I kind of have those general strokes right?
Justin Mayhugh: Yeah, yeah, that’s pretty much it. You got the nail on the head there is that GM… And I can always speak about GM in pretty great detail, but GM has certain ways that they go about… It’s all about the narrative, and one of the things they do, and unfortunately once again, our international leadership goes along with this, is that they’ll outsource jobs that were once legacy traditional working jobs in the UAW, they’ll outsource these jobs to a third party, basically. It’s called GM Subsystems LLC. And these are workers that are paid half the wages, blah, blah, blah, but they don’t get reported as being line workers, like how I am or how like a legacy worker would be.
And so it’s a way for General Motors to shift the narrative and be like, well, look, we’re like everybody’s… They’re saying now that they got rid of the two-tier system. I mean, that was their big claim after the 2019 strike, and we came to that contract agreement, it was like, well, look, the tiers are gone now. And it’s like, well, one in my opinion, until every worker has a pension and healthcare and retirement, okay, if we’re both making the same hourly wage, are we equal? I don’t think we are. Like I say they’re like, we got rid of the two tiers. It’s like, yeah, because there’s like four or five tiers now. But for some reason, it’s looked past and I don’t think that our international leadership, they’re not going to acknowledge it because they’ve been complicit in allowing the company to do these kinds of things.
Like actually in Spring Hill, Tennessee, the General Motors plant in Spring Hill, the leadership agreed to a memorandum of understanding, where they would outsource more of these jobs to stay competitive. And so those are jobs that were good paying jobs that will now be done by people making a lot less wages with a lot less benefits. Like you were saying, it never ends, and our leadership is just perfectly fine continuing down this road of like… But my thing is, where does it end? Like when would it stop? Because their whole thing is, like you said, well, we’ve got to remain competitive with the global economy. And it’s like, well, is there any way for a US auto worker to be competitive with someone working in Argentina?
I’ve talked to a General Motors worker that lives in Mexico. He works in Mexico, and he told me that he makes $65. And I said, oh, $65 a day? He’s like, no, a week. So they make $65 a week, how can we compete with that?
Maximillian Alvarez: Wow.
Justin Mayhugh: But that’s how insane our international leadership and General… Well, I know what General Motors is doing. They’re never going to be happy. But our international leadership is trying to sell us on this idea of, we’ve got to keep the… Guys, this is what we got to do to remain competitive. I looked this up because it’s unbelievable to me. But in 1970 there were 400,000 GM UAW workers. And today there are less than 50,000. So the amount of money that General Motors has saved by automation, by closing plants, because to your point saying like we’re more productive today than we’ve ever been. And there’s still crying broke. And our union is still happy to say, yep, we got to keep giving up more to appease the company.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man. Yeah. I mean, you really hit the nail on the head, where it’s just like, it’ll never be enough for them. Maybe that’s the lesson we’ve finally started to learn. And when I say me, I mean workers in general. That we’ve gone so long taking so many concessions or… And I’m speaking, I guess more generally here, because you could talk about the fact that the federal minimum wage has now gone the longest amount of time in US history without being lifted, even though the cost of living has gone up. And right now everyone’s freaking out about inflation. That’s a fucking concession, right? That’s money that you are owed for the labor that you do, that is a direct undervaluing of the work that you do, while everyone’s looking around, especially after the pandemic. And you’re like, Jesus, the super rich increased their wealth by an astronomical amount.
I mean, I’m not blowing smoke up your ass, listeners. Go look at the numbers of how much the super rich have expanded their wealth over the course of this pandemic. And then think about, again, all those concessions that working people have taken for so long, because we were told that you just can’t raise the federal minimum wage. You just can’t pay workers more in general, because then mom and pop businesses couldn’t afford it, or we can’t have more subsidies for childcare or public health care like Medicare for all, which would take a huge bargaining chip out of the boss’s hand if workers didn’t have to worry about their healthcare going away. If that was just a right that everyone had, then we could focus on other shit, but we don’t. And that in a lot of ways is a concession. It’s putting us on our heels. It’s giving all that bargaining power to the bosses and to the politicians that serve them, yada, yada, yada.
Now, you got me on a roll over here, man. I guess before we zoom out too much, I really want to pick up on what you were saying about how, in a lot of ways the UAW leadership, the international leadership, has let this happen and has been part of this. This is really why the referendum, for which ballots are going out tomorrow, and workers will have to have those ballots back by next month, this is why this is so significant. Even in recent years, people have been seeing the kind of headlines about former UAW presidents like Dennis Williams and Gary Jones getting charges from the feds on corruption. And hearing those same old stories that we hear about… The Teamsters, or now the UAW, about this top down union corruption.
People may have a little sense that there are problems within the union. I don’t think that your average person knows how much deeper it goes than that. And how, like you said, that concessionary philosophy, where it feels like union leadership is more hand in glove with management than serving the rank and file. There’s a lot there that people don’t necessarily understand when they’re told to just focus on the high profile corruption cases. I was wondering if you could lay out for listeners, honestly, I’ll ask it bluntly, why is this referendum so important, and what is it, and how did we get to this point?
Justin Mayhugh: The referendum vote is happening because of the corruption scandal that you talked about, where, I want to say, I don’t know, I think it’s 11 UAW officials were found guilty of embezzling, of conspiring with Fiat Chrysler, which is now Stellantis, basically to get a favorable contract for Fiat Chrysler. The government investigated, and then the government mandated that this referendum would take place. Because in the UAW, we’ve had a single political party within our union that has controlled every aspect of the UAW for over 70 years. Since 1946, Walter Reuther became the president of the UAW. I think it was 1947 they controlled every seat on the executive board. They eventually got control of everything. I don’t want to put Walter Reuther in the same sentence as Dennis Williams or Gary Jones, because it’s not like that, but it was a lack of democracy over time that really has ruined our union, because no matter how bad things get in our union, the same people get elected, reelected. The same people with the same ideology.
That political party is called the Administration Caucus. And the Administration Caucus was formed by Walter Reuther back in the forties. They consolidated their power. They’ve only strengthened their grip over the years. Our current system that we have is a delegate system, basically. At my local, people ran for delegate. We voted for them, people from my local. They went up to the convention in 2018 and they voted for… so it’s basically delegates go up and they elect who our international executive board officers are going to be. Somehow these delegates through the years, through 70 plus years, have always voted for the same party over and over and over. The reason why that is, is because the only way you can advance your career within the UAW is if you are loyal to that party.
If you are not loyal to the party, you know that you have no future, as far as trying to get up to international. The Administration Caucus is very vindictive. You can look through history. In the eighties assistant region director for Region 5, Jerry Tucker, ran for regional director. He wasn’t supposed to do that because the Caucus didn’t want him to do that because the regional director was running for reelection. That broke the Caucus’s rules, and they basically cheated in the delegate election. They had people vote in that delegate election that weren’t even delegates. This got investigated by the Department of Labor, I think this was 1986. The Department of Labor found that there was cheating, and they called for another election, and then Jerry Tucker won. He won on that rerun.
When he got into office for Region 5, the rest of the international executive board basically iced him out. We’re not going to let you do anything you want to do. The UAW President, Owen Bieber, at the time, he told the Region 5 staffers hey, you work for me, you don’t work for Jerry Tucker. Even these few occasions where someone from the outside was able to legitimately use the system we have to win, the Administration Caucus found a way to make it where they wouldn’t get reelected, or they couldn’t be effective, they couldn’t implement their vision for what they wanted for Region 5 or for whatever Region.
Another example would be 2002, I think it was 2002, the regional director for Region, I think it’s Region 1, his name was Warren Davis. He was supposed to resign because the Administration Caucus has a rule where once you’re 65 years or older, you have to retire. But Warren Davis wanted to run for reelection, even though he was 65. He ran,, and he won reelection and the delegates voted to dissolve Region 1 so that he couldn’t be regional director. They dissolved the whole region just to stop someone that they didn’t want on the international executive board from being on the IEB. There are no lengths that they won’t go. Basically, we have a dictatorship, is what it is. The referendum vote is, do we want to keep this delegate system, or do we want to move to a one member, one vote system where every UAW member would get their own vote to vote for who they want to be on the international executive board?
Maximillian Alvarez: Thank you for breaking that down. I have so many thoughts, but I also don’t want to keep you too long. By way of following up, I wanted to connect that back to what we were talking about before. Could you say a bit more about, if this referendum passes, What it would mean from your day to day reality on the shop floor, to the larger body of the union itself?
Justin Mayhugh: If it passes, I feel good about it because I feel like most members are really tired of the international leadership. For example, let’s look at John Deere. John Deere, the corporation, is making record profits right now. Yet our international leadership negotiated a deal, a tentative agreement, where new hires, people hired after this contract gets ratified, if it does, when it does, they wouldn’t have a pension at all. They’re negotiating away a benefit to the worker during times of record profit for John Deere. This has been going on, like GM is very profitable yet they closed four plants, I believe it was four plants, in 2019. Lordstown, there’s one in California, one in Maryland. Why are we giving anything up during times of record profit? But that’s all the international leadership knows is to give up more, I got to give up more, the company says, we got to give up a little bit more this time guys.
If we could win one number one vote, that in and of itself would be a historic victory for workers in our union. To me it would decentralize the Administration Caucus’s power within our union. Now it’s not happening all at a convention, but it’s spread out through our whole union where these elections are happening through mail-in ballots, and they can’t control the process nearly as much. I’m sure they’re going to try to by intimidation. When they have these conventions and delegates are, we’re going to vote for who our international executive board officers are going to be, the Administration Caucus has various ways they can influence those delegates’ decisions.
They can offer them an appointed job at international making $100,000 plus dollars with a pension. Or they can try to intimidate delegates and say, hey listen, if you don’t vote for Gary Jones, you might not get a future product from General Motors. This is stuff that they will do and will say to get the result they want from delegates. To me, taking that decision making out of the delegates’ hands and into the membership’s hands would empower the membership, and it would just decentralize the power of the Administration Caucus to a great degree.
Maximillian Alvarez: To really put a fine point on what you were saying for listeners, and again, I think it’s exciting that more people are waking up to this. I’ve been screaming about this on shows that have asked me to come on and talk about the strike wave and the great resignation and yada yada yada. One of the points that I keep trying to make sure I put in there is, look, we’ve been subjected for months, if not the better part of a year now, from these pieces of shit from the Chamber of Commerce, from these business class serving think tanks and so on and so forth, and politicians who are bought off all beyond mainstream media and just constantly saying, no one wants to work, no one wants to work.
All these jobs are available and people are too lazy. Workers have gotten fat off of government assistance. They’ve gotten lazy and they don’t want to go back. These poor businesses are suffering, yada, yada, yada. And I’m like, motherfucker, John Deere is set to make $5.7 billion this year. They’re not hurting. They’re doing fine. If you look around at these other places where strikes are happening, this needs to be part of the narrative. I think people tend to think about, all right, we went through a recession, obviously a lot of people are hurt and yes, that’s very true. We were talking about this when the Amazon union drive in Bessemer was going on. So many small businesses and even midsize businesses were totally wiped off the map with the pandemic.
Amazon has gobbled up a lot of that sector of the economy into itself. Meanwhile, a lot of these other, especially consumer product based businesses, have actually seen explosions in demand, and it kind of makes sense. I remember talking to Cheri Renfro, she was a worker at Frito Lay who was on strike back in July. She said, look, during a pandemic everyone’s staying home, people eat a lot more chips, and so our demand has skyrocketed. But because the working conditions are so bad, we can’t retain workers. And so, the longtimers like myself are basically doing a shit ton of forced overtime and we never get to see our families, yada, yada, yada.
Then you hear about the same shit happening at Kellogg’s. People were eating a lot more cereal at home because people didn’t feel safe going to restaurants for more of their meals. Makes a lot of sense. So thus, workers are working a shit ton of more overtime and that’s not even what they’re striking about. They’re striking over the two-tier system at Kellogg’s. Same thing going on at somewhere like Heaven Hill Distillery, the whiskey distillery that makes some of the most popular bourbons around the world, and has seen that demand go up because again, COVID-19’s happening, people are drinking a lot more, it makes sense. To try to fill that demand, you get the same sort of crazy work schedules and the unions really pushing back against Heaven Hill wanting these extended weekend schedules that you can never really plan on or plan around yada, yada, yada. Hopefully listeners, you’re seeing this trend here.
It’s not just a bunch of mom and pop businesses that are struggling to find someone to fill this job. There are a lot of companies and a lot of individual billionaires and so on and so forth who have done very fucking well for themselves over the past two years. They’re trying to do what they always have done, which is squeeze as much out of workers as they possibly can while paying them as little as they possibly can. The greed, as Justin was saying a lot earlier, is like they can’t help themselves. It’ll never be enough.
I think for so long, we’ve been pushed on our heels and we’ve taken that crap, and so the bosses have really just gotten used to workers being this compliant, subservient workforce that’ll take whatever crap it’s given. And now that that’s not happening, I think everyone’s losing their shit, which is great to see. I guess I wanted to ask you, that by way of rounding out is, building on all the energy that is behind this referendum in the UAW, and seeing everything that we’re seeing around us from John Deere to Kellogg’s to McDonald’s workers going on strike. What do you make of this moment, man?
Justin Mayhugh: A lot of what you’re saying about… I just think people are tired of giving up stuff and being told to be happy they have a job. I think that 40 years of people being stepped on is… it’s finally taken enough of a toll on people that they’re willing to fight. I think people should realize that it’s never going to be enough. General Motors is an extremely profitable company, and they’re constantly looking for ways to wring out even more profits from each worker, and that’s never going to stop. Unions are supposed to be there to fight against that. We need fighting unions, we need militant unions.
That’s something that I don’t think we have a lot of in this country. The UAW is definitely not one. What is our international leadership doing to support John Deere workers? They’re not trying to shine a light on this through social media, through their contacts with the media. I’m sure they could get on television. Dennis Williams got on television to endorse Hillary Clinton back in 2016. He went on Meet the Press for that. They’re not going to get on TV and be like, hey, this John Deere strike’s going on and this is why these workers are striking. It’s just business as usual, which is… I think our international leadership likes to keep us all divided. You’re at this local, you should only care about what goes on at this local. You’re at this local, don’t worry about what goes on…
You’re an auto worker, don’t worry about what goes at John Deere. That’s obviously a huge mistake. It’s obviously wrong. Within the UAW, if these John Deere workers can win their strike, I think it would really boost the morale of members in our union that, yes, it is possible to win. It is possible to be militant and stand up for what you know is right and to win. In the UAW it hasn’t happened in a long time. I want to say, from what I know and what I can remember from reading a bunch of stuff, is that it would’ve been in the nineties whenever, I think it was GM workers went on strike up there in Michigan, and it was like a wildcat strike basically.
The international didn’t want them going on strike. It was at Buick City is what they called it. They won more jobs, they won all their demands because they were smart about it. They knew if we strike, that the local president up there, he actually calculated how much money GM was going to lose each day that those workers were on strike. It really hurt General Motors, and General Motors gave in. I just hope that John Deere workers, and I’m sure they realize this, but from being out on strike in 2019, your international leadership, our current international leadership, I should say, they’re not… I think that they’d be happy just to starve out the John Deere workers. I feel like that’s what happened to us at General Motors.
They starved us out for six weeks. I should say they helped the company starve us out for six weeks. They knew after six weeks, a lot of people were hurting for money. Here’s this contract, that we could have got a lot better contract, but here’s this one where if you agree to it, then we agree to let them close Lordstown, and the three or four other plants. I can’t say how long John Deere workers will be on strike, but the Caucus I’m a part of, UAWD, we’re currently doing a fundraiser. In one day, we’ve been able to raise $32,000. This money, we’re going to send directly to these locals that are on strike, because I think what’s going on there at John Deere and what’s going on at Kellogg’s and all these other places where people are striking, it’s just so important that working people start really fighting back, and that we really start winning again. It’s not going to happen if we just keep following the leadership of people that have more in common with the CEO’s than they do of the person working on the shop floor.