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I am worrying that members may resign from the United Auto Workers because they see no way to overcome the union’s problems. Leaving the union would be a disaster for those individuals and for all their brothers and sisters. Better to stay in the union and force it to change.

Here is a short list of reform suggestions:

  • One-person-one-vote for critical decisions
  • End nepotism
  • No staffer control over membership deliberations
  • Join the rest of the labor movement, especially in politics
  • Full disclosure and cooperation with the membership
  • Meetings in most economical venues
  • Put “joint” activities under the same rigorous accounting oversight as regular union activities
  • Hold meetings in economical venues

The Longer Explanation

The new acting President of the United Auto Workers (UAW) is named Rory Gamble. His peers on the International Executive Board asked him to take over after they pressured the elected president, Gary Jones, to take a paid leave of absence. On UAW.org, Gamble writes: “…I know recent events concerning members of our leadership have disappointed and angered many of you….”

He is referring to federal indictments against a number of active and retired top union leaders and published allegations against some more, including Gary Jones. Newspapers also reveal that other former leaders are testifying in the federal investigation. Charges and allegations include embezzlement, corruption, and money laundering. Two former top staffers published an op-ed calling for the entire leadership to be fired.

The specifics in the newspaper articles say that union officials could not account for money spent on wrist watches, golf fees, expensive cigars, and fine liquors. I’d like to come back to that.

Union Busters and Their Friends

In these times, no one should be surprised to learn that the government is trying to destroy the UAW and its leaders. No one should be surprised that the corporate media is doing all they can toward that same end.

What is surprising is the commentary that follows the news releases. Writers who say they are union members are buying into the anti-union onslaught wholeheartedly. When Gary Jones stepped down, for instance, hardly anyone wrote on social media about whether or not he had actually done anything wrong. Almost all of the comments, instead, were calling for his head. The mildest among them were saying that his salary should be cut off immediately. This is before any official charges have been filed.

What Makes Unionists Anti-Union?

Some union problems are built in, even when the union is working well.

Union servicing reps and negotiators know that their efforts are unlikely to please any union member without pissing off another one. If the union wins a raise for someone, for example, someone else demands to know why they didn’t get the same raise, or a higher one.

The published results of union ratification votes in the recent General Motors strike reveal that 42% of those voting did not like the contract offer well enough to accept it. They must have known that they were voting to continue the grueling strike, but they bravely voted against the offer anyway. After the other 58% ratified the contract, that 42% was certain to be discontent. It’s built in to contract negotiations that somebody will be glad and somebody else will be mad.

In enforcing union contracts, servicing reps spend a lot of time, maybe the majority of their time, helping the very worst members. A worker who stays sober and comes to work on time regularly may not see his/her servicing rep for months on end. The drunk who screws up has the servicing rep on speed dial. There’s really no way around that.

When the union is working well, seniority is strictly observed. The first people to get promotions and raises are the ones that have been on the job longest. The first ones laid off are the newest. There’s no way around that, either, because the alternative would be to let the boss decide, and he will go with his nephew every time! But seniority creates a built-in problem for unions, especially during times like the last few decades, when more people are getting laid off than hired and the membership keeps aging.

Unions aren’t revolutionary. Hot-blooded young members with high ideals and little to lose are always wanting their union to take on and destroy the establishment. They are always disappointed because unions don’t want to destroy companies or systems. They just want better treatment for their members. It’s built in.

But There are Preventable Problems

Unions became increasingly isolated after the 1947 Taft Hartley law was passed over President Truman’s veto. The progressives in the union movement were kicked out en masse. The conservative union leaders then embraced “business unionism.” They stopped struggling for social programs like shorter working hours, increased Social Security, and national health care. Instead, they bought management’s suggestions for company-provided pensions and health care. The UAW, in what is often called the “Treaty of Detroit,” led the charge backward.

Most union members were glad. They started seeing their wages, pensions, and health care get better and better while people without unions could only enjoy a residual effect. Union officers learned to play golf with management while growing more and more isolated, not only from the working class at large, but from their own members. In the long run, it was a recipe for disaster, but in the short run, during America’s great post-war boom, it worked great for the members. To this day, many union members think the leaders of the 1950s and 1960s were some kind of geniuses.

Membership fell steadily after 1957. Disaffection, separation of union leaders from everybody else, grew worse. Membership participation in union meetings declined. Leadership became increasingly opportunist. That is, they took UAW staff jobs because they were really good jobs, not out of any commitment to the union (witness them today hurrying to testify for the union-busters). Nepotism is one of the uglier aspects of opportunism, and it is weakening the UAW.

Then came Reagan

By the late 1970s, the United States began to lose its economic hegemony over the rest of the world. Other industrial nations rebuilt the factories that were bombed flat during the war, and they started producing products that were as good or better, and often cheaper, than those made in the United States. Little foreign cars, for example, became quite trendy in America.

In the presidential election of 1980, the employers committed to a solid plan to drive down unit labor costs in America. They found an excellent spokesperson and mobilized the government, the media, and most of the establishment around him. With government help, they shipped the best American manufacturing jobs overseas. They automated jobs away. They busted unions when they could and passed anti-union legislation at every opportunity.

Unions, who had completely forgotten about the historic fight to shorten working hours in response to automation, bled members. Some of them tried to adapt through strategic mergers with other unions and by innovative approaches to organizing. A few of them did OK, but the UAW wasn’t one of them. Membership fell from 1,500,000 to around 400,000.

The UAW responded to the Reagan assault mostly by embracing the “Big 3” auto companies and declaring that the enemies of the union were not managers but, rather, were foreign workers, especially the very successful Japanese. They pushed “buy union-made cars,” without mentioning that most of the foreign auto companies were unionized. They immersed themselves into company-led “jointness” ventures and “team” production. Union editors were encouraged, even directed, to give up their union newspapers and join forces with management.

One result was that “joint” ventures created opportunities for corruption, and one direct result of that is some of the UAW leaders now in jail or under indictment. They are charged with stealing funds that were designated for joint training programs that had poor fiscal accountability.

The other result, far worse, was that UAW leaders were more than ever isolated from the members. Instead of interacting with members at work, they built a hierarchy of union staffers around them that completed their isolation. The union staffers, who have their own separate staff union, continued to get the best that the UAW could offer, while members’ wages and benefits eroded away.

One could argue that the UAW staffers, not the members, run the union. It is true that the UAW still has a good democratic constitution with regular elections and constitutional conventions. The problem with those conventions is that they are orchestrated by the staff. While some unions prohibit staffers from even being on their convention floor, UAW staffers literally lean over every delegation during conventions. Hardly anything happens at UAW conventions that was not planned out in advance by the top UAW leaders and executed by their paid staffers.

About Those Cigars

Readers of the many anti-UAW articles may have wondered what union leaders might have been doing with all those expensive cigars, golf fees, watches and bottles of liquor that they were supposed to have stolen. They couldn’t have worn that many wrist watches. They couldn’t have drunk and smoked that much while playing that much golf. The answer is pretty obvious. They probably used luxury items to guarantee, through small bribes, the continuing loyalty of the legions of staffers.

We end up with the situation in the UAW today. A significant number of union members are so confused and alienated that they actually vote for their own executioners. Others, possibly with the best of intentions and highest motives, are joining the media call for destroying the union!

On the Upside

No one should overlook the fact that the General Motors workers were able to carry out a successful 6-week strike even while the biggest and sharpest union-busting effort since the McCarthy period was directed against them. No one should overlook the fact that the UAW still has 400,000 intelligent members and several hundred million dollars. No one should overlook the fact that the UAW has one of the proudest and most progressive histories in America. No one should fail to notice that the American people are becoming more and more aware of just who their real enemies are and how to fight back. That’s a lot to build on.

Short-term Solutions for the UAW

It isn’t likely that President Rory Gamble is going to be able to pull the union together with a few worn platitudes about “solidarity in the ranks” and “a few bad apples.” Even if union leaders survive the government investigation, their alienation from the membership will continue to eat the union away.

There are two guys who think they have found a section of the UAW constitution allowing for the members to call a special convention and elect new leadership. They have a Facebook page with 12,000 likes. The two guys are arguing that members should join their effort rather than doing what has become almost traditional – “voting with their feet” – and leaving the union.

I hope they can pull it off, because it might help keep our union together. But just holding a new convention under the same old system isn’t really a long-term reform. For example, the convention delegates are already elected. Under the UAW Constitution, they are the same ones that attended the last convention, and they will be sitting in front of the exact same staffers.

Long-term Solutions

Our union needs an entirely new attitude toward its members. Staffers must stop subverting our democracy. Members must be consulted and listened to. Top-down thinking must go.

The union also needs a new attitude toward the public. More and better communications are needed. “Go it alone” must be condemned as a union strategy and “solidarity with all workers” must become our new guideline. We need to completely get rid of our isolated, separate, political program and join with the other unions in the AFL-CIO.

The United Auto Workers, once the most progressive and democratic union, must take its place again at the head of this wonderful new progressive movement that is sweeping America.

–Gene Lantz

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

I attended the DFW Archives Bazaar in Denton, Texas, on November 2. They may seem like introverted bookish people, but they are revolutionaries.

Forty archives had tables up all day. Some of them such as public libraries are familiar to all of us, but some were slightly more esoteric. There are, for example, collections called “Dallas Jewish Historical Society,” “Diocese of Dallas,” and “The Dallas Way: an LGBT History Project.”

What’s Revolutionary?

We have more information at hand than ever before in history. Even though the forty archives at the bazaar are walk-in study centers, they also have digital aspects. All the information ever collected by anybody, in the six millennia since writing began, is in some stage or another of being digtitized and made available on the internet. It’s getting easier to find, too, thanks to these revolutionary librarians and archivists.

I wish there was an international digitization plan, so it would go even faster, but it’s going pretty fast now.

When we have enough information, truth becomes available to us. We may choose to hide it behind lies and opinions for a time, but there’s something to the old adage, “truth will out.” Lies and superstitions are wound around the truth and cannot long escape its gravitational pull.

Well-informed people are people who can figure out what to do. Eventually, they will, and that’s revolutionary.

Today’s young people are the first generations to have this incredible bank of knowledge at hand. We can hope that they will use it well, and I am certain that they will.

–Gene Lantz

If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site. I’m also on KNON radio. every Saturday at 9 Central Time

Movie Review: “Harriet,” Directed by Kasi Lemmons, 125 minutes

If you study Harriet Tubman’s life and accomplishments, you’ll wonder how the film makers thought they could cram it all into a mere two hour movie. I heard a radio review with the director, who said that she wanted to make sure that people didn’t see the film as a mere biopic.

It is a biopic, though, complete with those little written sub-headings that show the times and places where important events took place. There was probably no other way to do it, because Harriet Tubman was not a one-time heroine. Her personal exploits in saving people from slavery and in actually ending slavery spanned decades in time and hundreds of miles in distance.

We really loved this movie, but my movie buddy and I love history and the civil rights movement. We think of the American Civil War not as a meaningless tragedy as it is usually portrayed, but as a giant leap forward for all of us. Those who agree are really going to like “Harriet.”

So get comfortable for a long and edifying experience when you go to this one. It’s worth it.

You can listen to an opera about Tubman on Youtube: https://youtu.be/0wpqiyA1nHE

The 1978 TV mini-series, :A woman Called Moses,” can be bought on-line:https://app.pureflix.com/videos/253311526823/watch

The theme song with animated video is on Youtube: https://youtu.be/2bl3KJgWQKk

The Wikipedia version of Harriet Tubman’s life is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Tubman

–Gene Lantz

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

I learned to type almost 70 years ago, and I still communicate with typing every day. But I also talk to Alexa, and she (it) talks to me. We are only scratching the surface.

For decades, scientists have been able to detect brain waves outside a person’s head. Any waves that can be detected can also be amplified and transmitted.

It is only a matter of time until someone interprets those waves into something a computer can read, and then a whole new wave of communications revolution will begin.

If a computer can read brain waves, it can pass the information along to other computers, sensors, and robots. Utilizing his/her brain waves, a person could theoretically run a factory. It’s probably possible now.

If a computer can read brain waves and translate them correctly into instructions for other machines, it could also translate them into new information to be passed to the brain of another human. At first, the machine might simply translate into language, just as Alexa does now. But later, a human and machine could learn to understand one another directly without the need for language. The technology is within our grasp. As soon as somebody figures out a way to monetarize the project, it will take off!

In the 1960s, a lot of long-haired hippies liked to wear headbands. It was partly practical, because lots of people wore their hair long. But it was also a fashion reflecting something about their outlook. I envision a future where lots of us wear headbands or turbans, depending on the size of the technology we need to send and receive information without using language.

Just as today’s information explosion is changing everything about the ways we live and work, this big new improvement in communications will have social effects. It is obvious, for example, that we can’t go on working some people for long hours while condemning others to unemployment and poverty. We should have shortened the workday decade ago, and we will certainly have to in the future.

I look forward to new and better ways to transfer and process information. There is a relationship between truth and opinion, between science and superstition. Even today, while politicians mobilize millions of dollars and the highest of technology to deny the truth, truth tends to win out. Opinions, outright lies, and superstitions are everywhere, but they are wound around a core of science and truth.

As humans gain and process more information, we will discover more truth. Eventually, we will tend to become ungovernable by others, and capable at last of governing ourselves. It isn’t that far away.

Gene Lantz

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

It’s a peculiar thing for an activist to deliver such bad news, but there really aren’t any solutions for working people within our nation. Here’s why: If we won decent treatment for American working families , the cost of labor in the United States would go up. That’s exactly what the bosses keep telling us, but it’s true.

If the cost of labor went up in the United States, then the nation would suffer competitively with other nations. Eventually, the other nations would take over whatever goods and services we now offer to the world.

It’s a little bit easier to see in microcosm. Take, for example, the American auto industry. During the General Motors strike just concluded, management argued all the way through that they couldn’t afford to be less competitive with the transnational companies, like Nissan and Volkswagen, that are producing good cars in the United States for the United States market cheaper than General Motors. They claimed, I think, that they pay $10-$13 more per hour in unit labor costs.

Nobody really disputes that. It’s the handwriting on the wall. Eventually, those companies with the lower labor costs could drive General Motors out of business, unless we do something.

So it is in international affairs. The nations with the lowest labor costs tend to take over from those with higher costs. A lot of us would like to think that the Chinese economy has grown because of socialist planning, and maybe good planning had something to do with it, but I imagine that their unit labor costs deserve a lot of the credit. The same is true of the other rising Asian star, Vietnam.

As long as workers live in separate nations and compete with one another, then there will be pressure to drive down unit labor costs. That’s us, you and me, unit labor costs.

So there is no solution within the United States or within any of the competing nations.

That’s the bad news.

Want the Good News?

The good news is that our present idea of nation-states can be overcome with internationalism. Capitalist nation-states are fairly new in human history, and they can be overcome. The good news is that internationalism is making progress. Unionists allied with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) recently held a big conference in Nepal. They went over the same kinds of problems that we might have discussed at an American trade union conference, but their solutions are different. Their solutions are internationalist.

More and more, we are seeing the AFL-CIO unite the progressive forces in the United States. They are also doing some good outreach in other countries. President Richard Trumka recently honored the leading Brazilian leader, Lula da Silva, even though he’s in prison. Tomorrow, American trade unionists are meeting with Mexicans in El Paso to discuss problems concerning immigration. Those are marvelous developments. They point the way forward. It’s what we need. It’s what we must have.

How Do We Get There?

Working families struggle at every level. Contract fights, elections, legislative battles, and whatever else comes up. Working families have a big stake in everything that happens, and they have to fight to get anything at all. More and more, we are seeing people fight for one another. It’s called solidarity, and it’s growing nicely.

The fights will continue and so will the solidarity. It will grow into international solidarity, too. Keep going, everybody, you’re doing great!

–Gene Lantz

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

Those of us who have been pulling for the General Motors strikers might begin today to evaluate what we have learned.

  • Striking can pay off in the current economic and political situation
  • General Motors employees showed incredible gumption
  • Union solidarity is terrific
  • Public solidarity with union members is rising
  • Union-busting can be beaten
  • We could have done a lot more than we did
  • The American people are learning which side they are on and what to do about it

On the day before voting is supposed to end, it looks like at least a 60% ratification vote. 

That’s Courage!

There’s a lesson right there. Apparently, 40% of the union members were willing to continue the strike beyond its 6th week! Being on strike is really, really hard! Whether one agrees with them or not on the contract, one surely must concede that they really have guts!

The contract summary is on http://uaw.org. Some of the newspersons have written that it comes up short in providing job security and in bringing the “perma-temps” into full-time employee status. But the people who actually know what they’re talking about consider it quite a victory.

We Win! 

The top American union leader, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, wrote:

“I’ve never felt prouder to be a union member. Backed by millions of brothers, sisters and friends across the country, UAW members stood together to win the fair treatment that they’ve earned over years of selfless sacrifice. I commend the UAW’s national negotiators for standing firm to deliver on what their members demanded and hope this will bring an end to one of the most courageous fights I have ever seen. This is the latest victory in a wave of collective action happening across America. Working people won’t allow greed to dictate our lives, and we won’t tolerate a system that’s been rigged against us. Bosses everywhere should take note—we’re not going to take it anymore.”

On the picket line on day one, it was like a carnival! There were any number of people who were not UAW strikers. Some were from other unions, but some were not union members. Many of the passing cars honked approval.

Social media started spouting all kinds of solidarity messages. Some of them came from the union, but a lot of them were home-made. Political office holders and candidates started posting “I stand with the strikers” and proud pictures of themselves on the picket lines. Several presidential candidates were among them.

A lot of people were asking how they could help. Cases of water were stacked up. People brought cookies and other snacks. In my area, one AFL-CIO unit started raising money to help strikers with financial problems through United Way. They weren’t asked by the union, and they didn’t ask the union. They just did it!

Yard signs of solidarity started going up, and lots of people were asking how to get one.

Beating Union Busting

The newspersons talked more about this strike than they usually talk about anything to do with the union movement. They completely missed the important part, though.

What they could have said was that the 2019 General Motors strike represented an all-out union busting effort by General Motors, other corporations, right-wing ideologues, and the federal government. The result was an historic victory for working families!

Most of the coverage came from two Detroit newspapers. Every article and opinion piece always included the government’s investigations of top UAW leaders on charges of corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement. Investigations had been going on for a while, but they really hit the news on September 15, when the strike began!

Writers on our side, people like me, didn’t talk about these investigations because we recognized them for what they are: union busting. They were hoping to divide the strikers from one another, from their leadership, and from their growing public support. Now that the strike is over, I expect the fanfare to fizzle.

We Could Have Done More

I am a long-time UAW member from the aerospace section. I did not expect the UAW leadership to utilize the lessons that won unprecedented victories for the teachers of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. I hoped they would, but I didn’t expect it and, unfortunately, they met my low expectations.;

Basically, all the UAW leadership did was call a strike and set up the financial structure to pay the members who carried out their strike duties. What might they have done?

  • They could have organized their retirees and other supporters to join the pickets and carry out other solidarity actions
  • They might have suggested that supporters could carry out informational pickets at car dealerships
  • They might have had an ongoing union educational program for off-duty strikers
  • They might have had social events for strikers, and even for supporters

But, as far as I could tell, they didn’t.

Contrast the General Motors strike with the Chicago Teachers strike that started just as the autoworkers were winding down. The Chicago Teachers held a national solidarity day, today, in which everybody published selfies of themselves or their organizations. Their hashtag, #putitinwriting, will give them thousands if not millions, of contact information for supporters all over the world! If they should decide on expanding the strike or, for example, on raising money, they now have an incredible base of support!

If the Chicago School Board doesn’t cave soon, we are likely get a real lesson in modern fighting tactics from the Chicago teachers!

Summing Up

News coverage of the 2019 General Motors strike will continue to nit pick over the contract details. A few of them might discuss the strike tactics. But they will continue to miss the historic importance: The American people are ready to fight, and we are learning how to win!

–Gene Lantz

I’m usually on http://knon.org/workers-beat every Saturday at 9AM, unless a tornado destroys the studio. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

What Do You Have to Lose?

Today, while Corporate America, dark money, and an even darker government are trying to destroy the United Auto Workers, it would be good to consider what it means for all of us. To do that, look back in American history to a time before the UAW became the first great success of the Committee for Industrial Organization.

In 1935, nearly all American unions were weak. They were divided by craft. Only the most elite and skillful, nearly all white men, were even considered for union membership. The few unionized African Americans were isolated in segregated unions. White and black unions in the same workplace even scabbed on each other! The many child laborers, of course, had no union representation at all.

Color and gender lines were broken once and forever in the union. The UAW organized industrially. That is, everybody who worked in the industry was a candidate for membership. Their anti-discrimination pattern and their militant action were followed in the great upsurge that followed, and working people in America gained unprecedented power.

The UAW never limited itself to contract battles. They threw themselves into the political fight against the fascism that was growing in America and around the world. In the 1960s, the UAW organized its retirees into a national organization that fought for, and won, Medicare and Medicaid!

The explosion of worker power went far beyond improving wages and benefits. America’s civil rights also surged forward, and the UAW was more than just a great example to follow.

The UAW supported the civil rights movement. If you have looked at photos and videos of the American civil rights movement that began in 1954, you may wonder who was that white man in the front ranks? He was the President of the United Auto Workers! The first version of Dr King’s “I Have A Dream” speech was written in his Detroit office, which was in the UAW’s Solidarity House. The United Farm Workers’ first big contribution was $10,000 delivered to Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in California by UAW Representative Pancho Medrano of Dallas, Texas!

Before the UAW, most American workers were no better off than day laborers. Corporate America has never forgiven the union for its part in bringing dignity into our workplaces. They would like nothing better than to destroy the UAW and the entire American labor movement. That’s why we have to fight!

–Gene Lantz

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