After previously rejecting two proposed contracts over the heads of their union leaders, workers at John Deere voted to approve a new six-year contract Nov. 17 that wins big gains for them. The new contract, approved by 61 % of the 10,000 Deere workers, members of the United Auto Workers in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas, will give them an immediate 10% raise, an $8,500 signing bonus two 5% raises, and bonuses to workers who meet production targets.

The workers went out on strike Oct. 14 after overwhelmingly rejecting a contract negotiated by UAW leaders and the company. They subsequently rejected another offer and continued the strike.

The Deere walkout was one of the latest in a wave of rising militancy of working people around the country (see Notes from Growing Union Activity on Labor News page of this website).

Record Profits for Companies, “Crumbs” for Workers

The rising worker militancy has been fueled by the fact that the companies they work for have been recording record profits. John Deere, for example posted a net profit of $6 billion this past fiscal year, the highest in its history, with the values of its stock tripling. Its net worth is now around $100 billion.

“The company is reaping such rewards, but we’re fighting over crumbs here,” said Chris Laursen, one of the striking workers at the Deere facility in Ottumwa, Iowa and a former president of his local at the plant. And a statement issued by Chuck Browning, the director of the union’s agricultural department, declared, “Our members at John Deere strike for the ability to earn a decent living, retire with dignity and establish fair work rules.”

In Iowa, the strikers had wide public support. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll conducted Nov. 7-10 shows 58% of Iowa adults mostly sided with the workers, with just 16% mostly siding with Deere. Support cut across political, age, gender, income, educational, urban and rural divides.

“UAW John Deere members did not just unite themselves,” UAW international President Ray Curry said in a statement. “They seemed to unite the nation in a struggle for fairness in the workplace. We could not be more proud.”

Workers May Have Hit Their Breaking Point

The increasing series of labor actions has caught the attention of many observers of the current political scene. In his op-ed column in October 15’s New York Times, Nobel Economics Laureate Paul Krugman noted, “Long suffering American workers, who have been underpaid and overworked for years, may have hit their breaking point….America is a rich country that treats many of its workers remarkably badly. Wages are often low; adjusted for inflation, the typical male worker earned virtually no more in 2019 than his counterpart did 40 years earlier. Hours are long: America is a “no-vacation nation,” offering far less time off than other advanced countries. Work is also unstable, with many low-wage workers – and nonwhite workers in particular – subject to unpredictable fluctuations in working hours that can wreak havoc on family life.”

 Des Moines Register, 11/17