General Motors and Yellow Vests

Grind for October 21st
“Governments need to have both shepherds and butchers.”
– Voltaire

One Step Closer

The Headline

General Motors makes progress with auto union after month-long strike

The Grind

General Motors CEO Mary Barra met Tuesday with United Auto Workers (UAW) leaders to solidify a new four-year labor agreement.

The meeting, her first with union reps, comes amid a strike that began last month when the two sides failed to meet a deadline for negotiating the agreement.

When it is reached, the contract will affect more than 46,000 hourly workers.

Workers are asking for fair pay, better healthcare, profit-sharing, and opportunities for temp workers to become full-time employees. Union members are also concerned by planned facility closures.

The Details

After weeks of public argument, the automaker and the union made progress during extended negotiating sessions last week.

On Monday, union leaders called officials from GM facilities throughout the country to Detroit for a “contract update.” Barra met privately with UAW President Gary Jones at GM’s headquarters in Detroit last week.

GM shares, which had dropped 7% since the strike began, jumped 2% on Tuesday.

Those close to the matter say GM is reconsidering workers’ demands to shorten the 8-year period that new employees must work to reach top wage.

The automaker has also agreed to boost wages for the next four years through a combination of pay increases and lump-sum bonus payments.

These benefits won’t matter without a promise from GM to build its vehicles in the US, cautions lead UAW negotiator Terry Dittes. “We believe that the vehicles GM sells here should be built here,” says Dittes.”We don’t understand GM’s opposition to this proposition.”

According to Credit Suisse, the strike has reduced output by more than 100,000 vehicles and will cost GM about $1.5 billion even if the company manages to recover some of its losses.

Deja Vu

The Headline

One year later: The Yellow Vests are still protesting

The Grind

French citizens hoping to revive the Yellow Vest movement last month were disappointed when their efforts were thwarted by police.

“I think I saw more security forces on the street than protestors,” says Amandine Cantournet, who drove 5 hours to attend a protest in Paris on September 21st.

Security forces arrested some 150 people in Paris, clashed with 300 in Montpellier, and employed water cannon and tear gas to disrupt a group of nearly 1,000 professors in Toulouse.

The event was nothing like last year, when more than 300,000 participated in violent demonstrations and President Macron’s approval rating dropped to 20%.

“We have a bizarre situation where [the movement] is still there,” says French political science researcher Bruno Cautres. “Even if you have fewer people demonstrating…we have never seen that before in France.”

The Details

The Yellow Vest (gilets jaunes) movement began in November 2018 in response to a proposed fuel tax that would have pushed the price of diesel fuel up by 25 cents per gallon.

Protestors said the tax would disproportionally affect rural motorists who commute to work.

The protests quickly evolved into a working-class revolt against President Macron, with French citizens demanding lower taxes on the poor, higher taxes on the rich, better public services, and fair representation.

By January 2019, nearly 3,000 police and civilians had been injured and at least 10 people had been killed.

President Macron responded to the protests by suspending the fuel tax and embarking on a months-long tour to speak with residents in hundreds of towns throughout the country. He announced a series of reforms in April, and his 2020 budget plan includes $10 billion in tax cuts to households and $1.2 billion to businesses.

The movement, which has lost most of its momentum, was unsuccessful in its attempts to participate in the European Parliament elections in May.

“The movement has always said it needs to be structured to be effective,” argues Thierry Paul Valette, one of the movement’s leaders. “We must show the country that we are engaged…So many of our grievances come from being shut out of local politics for too long. We need to turn that discourse around. And what better way to do that than to show up on the political stage?”

Last month, the group presented a list of candidates for municipal elections in Paris.

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