Which side is UAW on?

From the July-August 2014 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—The United Auto Workers (UAW) union elected Dennis Williams, former UAW secretary-treasurer, as president for a four-year term during the union’s Constitutional Convention held in Detroit on June 4-5. Following his election, Williams pledged to eliminate the existing two-tier wage system that pays new hires $15.78 an hour compared to $28 an hour for older workers doing the same job,

Williams pledged to seek wage increases for older workers who haven’t had a raise for nine years, although they recently did get year-end profit-sharing bonuses. He also declared that there would be no more of the concessions that have plagued the union members for decades.

Cindy Estrada was re-elected Vice President, the first woman to hold that position, She will head the GM division, which means that she will be facing GM’s CEO Mary Barra in contract negotiations next year. The new head of the Chrysler department is Norwood Jewell; while three-term Vice President Jimmy Settles remains head of the Ford department.

The union now has about 400,000 members, compared with 1.5 million in 1979. While the UAW has had a modest increase of 22,000 members in the past four years, the new members have not been in auto but in casinos, education and healthcare.

Where there have been increases in auto, they have resulted from the union strategy of gaining vows of neutrality from employers during unionization drives. Even that did not always help: Volkswagen supported the union drive at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., but the UAW failed to win the representation vote. Williams noted that the Volkswagen battle was not over, but the union can’t try anything there for another year under the terms of the failed attempt.

In his farewell speech, former UAW President Bob King stated that the union had to continue the efforts he had expended to develop global alliances with unions in Europe, Latin America and Asia, and urged support for a dues increase, which the delegates approved.

Williams, in affirming that he would be continuing King’s policies and practices, shows that he is a product of the bureaucratization of the union movement as it evolved from a fighting arm of the workers to a cooperating agent of the corporations they had once fought. This seems to be indicated in Williams’ statement that he did not “like confrontations.” 

If Williams follows in King’s footsteps, it will mark another four years of cooperating with management to keep rebellious workers under control and maintaining the exploitative and dehumanizing conditions on the production line.

—Andy Phillips

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