The Agony and the UAW

I love my union dearly. The United Auto, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) is largely responsible for some of the greatest leaps forward in the history of the American labor movement. But I’m terrified that we’re in trouble today.

Sing the union’s praise!

The UAW’s main contract, and one of the most important union contracts in America, expires September 14. They have decided to target General Motors then demand the same contract from Ford and Fiat/Chrysler. It’s called “pattern bargaining” and it has made the autoworkers some of the best-represented workers in American history.

Workers in Aerospace, like me, and other UAW-represented workers have done pretty well, too, but not as well as the auto workers. 151,000 of them face the contract expiration that looms over us right now. They voted by impressive margins to authorize strikes if the union negotiators decide it’s needed.

Trouble in the News

Just making everything worse, FBI and IRS agents are investigating the possibility of corruption at the highest levels. I believe 9 from the upper echelons of the union have already been convicted or pled guilty. It is fascinating to speculate on how people will react to this bad news.

I know how the Trotskyites of the 4th International feel, because I read several of their posts. They are full of glee. They call the union a “criminal conspiracy” and, apparently, can’t wait for more convictions.

A quite different reaction came from People’s World, a news service loosely associated with the Communist Party, USA. They aren’t happy with the news and want to minimize its effect on the contract negotiations. That’s my attitude, too.

Whatever some union officials may have done, if indeed they did, there’s no reason to penalize 151,000 ordinary workers for it. The government of the United States is clearly against working families, and hitting the headlines with their investigation during contract negotiations is clearly anti-worker.

UAW leaders haven’t said much to the public about the investigation. President Gary Jones has made it clear that they are focusing on the negotiations and trying to get the best possible contract. That’s exactly right, in my book.

Something Worries Me More

The UAW leadership hasn’t said a lot about the investigation, but that isn’t my main concern. What worries me to death is that they haven’t said much about the negotiations either!

I’ve been writing for some time about the recent upturn in some union activities. The most notable successes were the school employees in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona last year. But there are other, smaller successes, too. All of them involve mobilizing union members, their families, their friends, their churches, their community organizations, and even their political representatives.

Everybody who reads labor news knows that such broad mobilizations can win, and are probably the only possible way to win in today’s world. “Go it alone” is discredited. I don’t want to see the mighty UAW go alone into disaster, but I’m afraid that might happen.

So What Can You Do?

If the UAW leadership isn’t asking you for help, what do you do? All I could think of was to sound the alarm and start asking people if they would be willing to help when and if the union asks.

I made up a sort-of pledge that says, “We are backing the United Auto Workers union in negotiations with the auto industry. Many of the best things in American labor history came from the UAW. Standing with the UAW is standing for America!

Name, zip code, and contact information:

______________________________________________________ ______________________________

______________________________________________________ ______________________________”

I’ve given them out all over my area. Who knows if they will help? Who knows if they will ever even be needed? I can’t just stand by, and I hope you can’t either!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

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