On Detroit's east side the clock struck midnight on Sunday and spirited picketers outside the GM Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant listened to a fitting hip-hop tune, "We Ready" by Archie Eversole. It marked the start of a United Auto Workers walkout against GM involving nearly 50,000 workers at factories in the Midwest and South.
Initially, before midnight on a pleasant 67-degree September night, the lion's share of picketers at the Detroit plant were UAW workers from Chrysler and Ford, out supporting their brethren. After midnight, the GM workers started trickling in to join the crowd for a picket shift.
It's the first UAW strike since 2007.
The first night of a major strike is exciting, invigorating and scary. I know. I was on strike for 19 months at The Detroit News, starting on July 13, 1995.
At the onset, there's a sense of liberation, passion and righteous indignation. Then there's the scary part of losing a regular paycheck in exchange for measly strike pay. And of course, the uncertainty of the how long the strike will last and its impact on loved ones and future plans.
One striker outside the plant, James Cotton, a team leader and a 17 year GM employee, told me the automaker has forgotten the past. "We gave up a lot a few years ago . . .and now they are making more money than ever and all we're asking for is the stuff that was taken away from us. And they don't seem to want to do that and so I believe it's very necessary" to be on strike.
UAW Vice President Terry Dittes, echoed similar sentiments in a statement earlier in the day: “We stood up for General Motors when they needed us most. Now we are standing together in unity and solidarity for our Members, their families and the communities where we work and live."
Shawnte McMichael, a 15-year employee who works in the material department delivering parts, said on the picket line:
"I'm kind of sad. I hope it's over soon. We're out here ready to fight."
In a statement Sunday, GM defended its position:
“We presented a strong offer that improves wages, benefits and grows U.S. jobs in substantive ways, and it is disappointing that the U.A.W. leadership has chosen to strike at midnight tonight. We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency. Our goal remains to build a strong future for our employees and our business.”