UAW shirks campaign at Mercedes-Benz

November 22, 2014

From the November-December 2014 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—Instead of holding an election of rank-and-file workers at the Mercedes-Benz auto plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the United Auto Workers union (UAW) in October simply declared that Local Union 112 was in existence to represent workers at the plant. UAW officials said they hoped to convince a majority of the 3,400 full-time workers there to join the union, and are seeking to persuade Mercedes-Benz management to accept the union as the sole representative of the workers.

This is in keeping with the perspective of former UAW President Bob King, who tried to obtain management’s agreement to not oppose union drives—a profound departure from historic practice of convincing workers to join the union and battling management to gain their victories. These battles helped to establish solidarity and brotherhood, which were undermined by the union bureaucracy in recent decades with concessionary contracts imposed on rank-and-file workers.

 A recent example of the backfiring of King’s strategy occurred last February at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., where workers rejected the UAW despite management’s actual support of the union drive. Following this defeat, the UAW nevertheless unilaterally established Local Union 42, and UAW officials now claim that a majority of the Volkswagen workers are union members. The fact remains, however, that the culture in the South is very strongly anti-union and unionization efforts there have consistently failed.

The UAW has to change both its tactics and strategy if it hopes to succeed in the South. But new UAW President Dennis Williams has pledged to continue the policies and practices of King, who, more than any UAW president before him, has tied the UAW more closely to auto management and always declared, “We are all in the same boat”—unlike the auto worker who said “I don’t see any auto executives on the unemployment line with me.”

—Andy Phillips

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