Rally decries economic divisions in car industry


DETROIT, Michigan — Members of the Autoworkers Caravan said Sunday the inequality underlying life in the United States was now evident across the auto industry.

The demonstration on the eve of the North American International Auto Show had drawn a letter of support from workers in Italy battling Fiat/Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne.

“In Turin Italy, Fiat has blackmailed workers threatening to close down the plant, if they don’t forfeit their right to a national accord on work time and overtime, a part of their health care benefits and their right to strike against management pretensions,” said the letter from Loiacono Pasquale and other former union representatives from Fiat Mirafiori in Turin.

Wendy Thompson, a retired United Auto Workers member and former elected UAW official, said the objective of this year’s demonstration was to call attention to the gap between auto workers and auto executives.

“Auto executives, part of the one percent, are crowing about their return to profitability at this year’s autoshow,” said Thompson. “The one percent — not workers — are profiting from the rise in worker productivity,” she said.

The crowd for this year’s demonstration outside the auto show was smaller than in the past, roughly three dozen.

But last year’s contract negotiations had cut into the interest in public protest.

Last year, the Autoworkers Caravan, which describes itself as an advocate for rank-and-file workers inside the United Auto Workers, was instrumental in pushing the union into negotiating wage increases for second-tier workers, who are paid less than more senior UAW members. “In the past, we have been very successful in drawing interest in the concerns of workers who build the vehicles seen at the North American International Auto Show,” Thompson said.

“The claim of new jobs overlooks the 150,000-plus auto jobs cut since the Wall Street financial crisis. And some ‘new’ jobs are paying poverty wages,” she said.