By Jerry Goldberg, UAW 900 retired
As the United States Justice Department seems hell bent on moving to a government takeover of the United Auto Workers union (UAW), a rank and file movement, called Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD), has emerged with a plan to avoid this disastrous federal takeover. UAWD is invoking Section 8 of the UAW Constitution. The resolution being circulated by UAWD calls for the convening of a special UAW convention to implement union democracy through direct referendum elections of the leadership on the basis of one person one vote of the membership. It also calls for full transparency in financial and all union matters through mandated direct reports by the union executive board to the membership.
Federal investigators not interested in workers’ rights
The federal investigation of corruption in the UAW leadership has led to the indictment of nine (9) UAW international officers and staff members, including three International Vice Presidents and a Regional Director. It has led to the resignation of UAW president Gary Williams whose home was recently raided by the FBI.
A January 6 Detroit News column by Daniel Howes, the federal government’s chief source for media leaks about the investigation, notes that the US attorney’s most recent charge against UAW Region 5 director Vance Pearson and UAW “official B”, identified by Howes as former UAW president Dennis Williams, accuses them of conducting “a racketeering enterprise” inside the union. Howes indicates that use of the term racketeering in connection with these recent charges is a big step toward a federal takeover of the union.
Federal Oversight would be disastrous for the union
There is no question that the corruption that has been exposed in the UAW leadership is a disgusting phenomenon. It is linked to the “team” model of corporate-union cooperation with its myriad of “joint” programs that has infected the union particularly since approximately 1980.
However, if there is any thought that federal oversight is intended to benefit the rank and file, one only has to look at the record of Martin Schneider, the US attorney leading the charge against the union. Schneider is a Trump appointee who earned the appointment by serving as Senior Advisor and Assistant General Counsel in the Trump White House’s anti-worker, anti-poor budget office. His biographical profile on the Justice Department website notes that prior to being appointed to the position of US attorney, Schneider served as the Chief of Staff and General Counsel to the Michigan Supreme Court, the most right-wing anti-worker court in the US. Schneider was the lead counsel for Governor Rick Snyder during the City of Detroit bankruptcy, where he argued that the Michigan constitutional protections against cutting public pensions were inapplicable in bankruptcy. This helped pave the way for the 40% cut in city worker pensions that ensued. He comes from the Wiley Rein law firm, which represents employers against workers suing for payment of wages and hours they earned, and defends corporations against charges of employment discrimination, wrongful termination, and violations of the Family Medical Leave Act.
The history of the Teamsters union holds lessons on the impact of federal oversight. Teamster rank and file were able to take advantage of federal supervision of elections during federal oversight to unseat the incumbent and get reformer Ron Carey elected president in 1991. However, as reported in an article in Jacobin Magazine by Joe Allen, when Carey led and won a militant strike against United Parcel Service, UPS pressured Congress to begin an “investigation” of Carey. This forced his removal from office and led to UPS reneging on its agreement to hire 2000 additional workers. In addition, the underfunding of the Teamster pension fund actually worsened under federal oversight, as it was put under the “watch” of Goldman Sachs, the US Department of Labor, and Northern Trust Global Advisors.
Unite all Workers for Democracy Offers way forward for the Union
A post on the UAWD’s facebook page by Travis Watkins, a member of UAW local 167 in Wyoming, MI and a steering committee member of the group states:
“For those interested in bringing article 8 to their local, here is the resolution and a tool kit to make this happen. RICO is coming and its paramount the membership take control of our Union before government receivership. It’s our responsibility and duty to do so.”
The resolution being promoted by UAWD states:
Resolution requesting a Special Convention of the UAW for the purpose of strengthening accountability through referendum elections of International Executive Board Members and other means to increase transparency and accountability.
Whereas, Federal law enforcement investigations have led to charges against nine UAW International Officers or International staff including seven guilty pleas so far and,
Whereas, The Membership of the UAW is the highest authority and,
Whereas, The current process of electing our International Executive Board members has led to a single slate or party controlling the upper level of our union for over 70 years and,
Whereas, Lack of accountability has led to a sense of entitlement and criminality in the upper echelons of the International UAW and,
Whereas, Other National Unions such as the United Steelworkers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, etc… hold their International Officers accountable through direct referendum elections by their memberships and,
Whereas, The Membership of the UAW needs to exert greater accountability over the officers who are elected to serve us,
Therefore be it resolved that under Article 8 Section 4 (2) of the UAW Constitution, UAW Local ____ requests a Special Convention for the purpose of amending the UAW Constitution to change the method for electing our International Executive Board to Direct Referendum Elections by the UAW membership and,
Be it further resolved that the purpose for the Special Convention is also to amend the UAW Constitution to require the Secretary-Treasurer to publish the minutes of the International Executive Board Meetings on the official UAW website and a detailed quarterly financial report on the official UAW website and,
Be it further resolved that the purpose of the Special Convention also is to disconnect the salaries of international officers from the percentage of the salary of international representatives. Since the International Executive Board negotiates salaries of international representatives it is a conflict of interest to have their salaries adjusted when they agree to wage increases for International Staff. Salaries of International Executive Board should revert to the salaries as assigned in the 2014 UAW Constitution or such amount determined by the delegates to this Special Convention and,
Be it further resolved that the rules for the Special Convention allow amendments to the aforementioned Constitutional Amendments may be offered from any properly credentialed delegate to the Special Convention and,
Be it further resolved that ballots for the referendum vote on the Special Convention be mailed to Local Unions of the UAW by February 21, 2020 the Special Convention of the above stated purposes be held in Detroit, Michigan in May of 2020 and,
Be it finally resolved that each local union will conduct new delegate elections as required under the UAW Constitution Article 8 Section 4 with local union delegate numbers and voting strength recalculated according to Article 8 Section 9 based on the 24 month period prior to October 2019.
The UAWD website notes that 15 UAW locals representing 20% of the entire membership must adopt the resolution in order for the resolution to be submitted to a referendum vote of the membership. At a webinar held a January 17, 2020 organized by Labor Notes on behalf of the caucus, it was reported that thus far 12 locals representing about 10% of the UAW membership have adopted the resolution. They include: locals 1250 (Brook Park OH), 167 (Wyoming, MI), 259 (Hicksville, NY), 276 (Grand Prairie, TX), 774 (Buffalo, NY), 838 (Waterloo, IA), 1097 (Rochester, NY), 1853 (Spring Hill, TN), 1981 (National Writers Union), 2075 (Lima, OH), and 2322 (Holyoke, MA). At the webinar, leaders of UAWD indicated that the deadline for getting the resolutions passed is February 14, so time is of the essence.
Critical period for union
The creation of UAWD, and the effort to take measures to restore rank and file control of the union and prevent federal government oversight, comes at a critical juncture. The auto companies are in the midst of a shift to electric and autonomous vehicles, in the process of which they intend on eliminating thousands of UAW jobs. The rank and file must take the lead in developing a strategy to protect auto workers’ jobs and demand that the benefits of new technology are enjoyed by the workers who produce the wealth, not just used to fatten the profits of the bosses.
A special convention can and must take up these issues as well. It is time to re-raise the demands for a short work week, 30 hours work for 40 hours pay, guaranteed lifetime jobs for the workers, and 30-and-out pensions. All these demands were fought for, and some were won by the union, as answers to the displacement of jobs through technology. Unfortunately, they have been abandoned by the union leadership as it adopted the labor-corporate cooperative model that led to corruption at the top and weakened solidarity on the shop floor.
The recent GM strike, and the support it garnered among the rank and file and also from fellow unionists and activists, signaled that the time for a revival of the UAW tradition of class struggle unionism is now. The creation of Unite All Workers for Democracy, as an effort to prevent a government takeover of the UAW, and to restore union democracy and militancy to the union, couldn’t come at a better time. To get involved with UAWD and to learn more about bringing the resolution for a special convention to your local union, contact: email firstname.lastname@example.org, website, uawd.org, Facebook Unite All Workers for Democracy.
This article was modified on 1/26/2020 to correct a typo. The webinar organized by Labor Notes was held on January 17, 2020, not 2019.