I am a long-time member of UAW 848 and currently serve as President of the retirees. I wrote this in hopes it might get seen by UAW members.
Our bosses know that the turnout in our national UAW election was less than 15%, with the tiniest sliver of a majority on the winning side for Shawn Fain. Fain starts his presidency with the sure backing of less than 7.5% of the members!
The whole world now knows what observant members have known for years — that UAW members are not following the union’s leadership. I don’t think that “apathy” is the correct word to describe this problem. The words we probably need are “neglect” and “distrust.” Leadership has neglected the UAW membership for decades; consequently, the members distrust them.
Corporations are sure to try to break the back of our union in the current round of negotiations. Every concerned member needs to
1) recognize the dangerous situation and
2) begin to re-organize.
Solidarity among members
I was on a call with national AFL-CIO leaders on April 10. They were proud of Michigan leadership because they got rid of “right to scab” and won a bunch of other union and civil rights victories in their legislature.
Most of those AFL-CIO guys just talk about how many phone calls they generated or how many doors they knocked on, but the Michigan guy, the most successful one of them, Ron Bieber, talked about mobilizing the membership.
Communications need improving. For decades now, workers have moved further away from their workplaces and union halls; consequently, on-line communication is a necessity.
Over the last few decades, our union has shifted from print media to digital. However, we have not fully utilized the digital capabilities. In our local 848, Region 8 has provided a very nice web site, but nobody in the local has been given a password. The web site lists officers from past times. In fact, the listed president passed away years ago. The only digital presence we have is our Facebook page. Some UAW locals don’t even have that.
Even when the pandemic was at its worst, our local, and many others, did not utilize on-line meeting programs like ZOOM. So far, attendance has not recovered.
Suggestions for improving our on-line work
1. Train officers and staff on digital platforms
2. Encourage members to get on-line
3. Utilize ZOOM or Google Meets on “hybrid” meetings with in-person and on-line attendance encouraged
Unions need more activities. Our business meetings should include updates of interest to union members. It isn’t hard to organize parties, dinners, talent shows, classes, special speakers, receptions, and discussions. They can be on-line as well as in-person.
We could do more to encourage our members to wear red on a certain day. Currently, the UAW International has chosen Wednesdays, but they might want to review that decision and look to see what day other unions chose. In my area, the Dallas AFL-CIO adopted Thursdays as the day to wear red because the CWA and AFT were doing it successfully.
Solidarity among retirees
There are significantly more retired than active UAW members. Currently, they may have less money and less commitment to their unions, but they have more time. Also, they are pound-for-pound more important in politics because they vote at much higher levels than active members. The UAW set up an excellent network for retirees in the 1960s. It has been allowed to fray in the last few years, but it is still among the best retiree networks in the nation.
Solidarity among political figures
Bosses listen to political leaders. Many political leaders listen to union members. Keeping those channels open is critical. The Labor Steering Committee that Congressman Veasey held at UAW 848/129 hall on April 5, 2023, was an excellent example of what to do.
Solidarity among potential allies
The size of the UAW has been diminishing, as has the entire American labor movement, for decades. The good news, though, is that unions have recently become more and more popular with the general public. We currently enjoy an approval rating over 70% while no other organization nor political figure can top 50%. Congress can’t get to 30%!
In my area during the last General Motors strike, there were unsolicited supporters on the picket lines every day. If our supporters had been prepared in advance and invited, we’d have had a lot more. Another way to get a lot more support is to let people know the issues and how they might be affected. We can build up contacts through social media and participation in other people’s events.
The first place to look for potential support is other unions. Our auto contracts will be expiring this summer in the same time frame as the Teamsters’ UPS contract with 340,000 members.
We need to be active with our AFL-CIO organizations and constituency groups. Special days like May 1 and Labor Day are good times to get together with other unions and union supporters. The leadership group that marched in the 2023 Dallas MLK parade set a good example.
Solidarity with organizing efforts
Every time a union tries to organize, labor moves forward. Our members should be looking for organizing opportunities and opportunities to help anybody, from any union, organize.
I’m on KNON.org “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. My weekly podcast is on the web site or “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my old personal web site