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
An editorial in the Washington Post says that labor’s share of GDP is 56%, an all-time low. “The key [to understanding our oddball economic situation] is what happens to wages. For all the talk of workers having so much power, union membership reached an all-time low in 2022, and wages for most workers have not been keeping up with inflation. Companies made hefty profits because they raised prices faster than their labor and other costs.” –Heather Long in WAPO
Heather Long’s opinion is quite a bit different from what we in labor normally publish about labor’s situation. Recently, for example, we pointed out the large number of new union members nationwide, but we failed to point out that our organized percentage of the overall working class is still falling, just as it has since the 1950s. To start winning, we have to do something different from what we have been doing.
I’m in the Auto Workers Union. One side of the current national election says that we must do something dramatically different no matter how scary that may sound. The other side says they’re the ones with experience who know how to run things because they have been running them absolutely since 1947. In their literature, neither side takes note of the incredibly low turnout in the national election: 11% in the first round. There are some projections that it may rise to 16% in the runoff, but I doubt it. No matter which side wins, their main problem is going to be regaining the kind of membership participation that they had before 1947.
I would like to suggest that the “something different” for the UAW and all of American labor is to take advantage of our unprecedented popularity with all workers, unionized or not unionized. Over 70% of the American people approve of labor unions while not a single Democrat or Republican person or organization can get over 45%! I think we could win a nationwide boycott or a united nationwide organizing drive or even a nationwide general strike. Should labor give change a try or should we keep on slowly circling the drain? –genelantz
I’m still on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site at http://lilleskole.us.
Hochschild, Adam, “American Midnight. The Great War, a Violent Peace, and America’s Great Crisis.” Mariner Books, 2022
I found a free Kindle copy through the Dallas public library’s “Libby” service. Now I wish I had a hard copy because of the facts in this history of America from 1917 to around 1924. You could call it the Red Scare. You could call it the most shameful period after the Civil War. Or you could call it a warning about today and tomorrow.
This book changed my view of the period. Previously, I thought that government had simply allowed vigilantes to run amok — arresting, assaulting, and lynching just about anybody they chose. That was bad enough. Having reach Hochschild, I now realize that government was not just standing aside, they were actually fomenting, cooperating, and leading the nastiest gangs of racists they could find. Nearly all the spying was done by government hires. The worst of the mass acts of repression came directly from government agencies.
One might think that the Justice Department would have stood for justice, but they were probably the worst perpetrators. A lot of the worst assaults were called the Palmer raids, after Attorney General Palmer. After them came, probably, the armed forces; but many government offices were in on it, including the post office! J. Edgar Hoover, notorious race baiter, union hater, and all around sociopath, made his chops in the period. We were stuck with him for another 50 years!
Near the end of the book, Hochschild tries to tote up the numbers of people killed, horsewhipped, imprisoned, deported or otherwise deprived of life and liberty, but it’s a hopeless task. Besides, he’s basically talking only of federal cases. All the nasty things that happened at state and local levels would probably have doubled or tripled the size of the book. Then there’s the non-government participation of anti-union bosses and ideologically-driven racists and nativists to consider!
The rationale for the horrors began when Woodrow “He Kept Us Out of War” Wilson was re-elected in 1916. A lot of Americans, including the growing Socialist Party and some of the members of the Industrial Workers of the World, strongly opposed the war. The repression was originally released against anybody who did not want to join the bloodfest. But why, anyone might ask, did it continue after the end of the war and well into the 1920s? The excuse used most was Bolshevism, but the targets were American working people.
There are a couple of things I would have liked to have found in this account. The Greencorn Rebellion in Southeastern Oklahoma was an early expression of anti-war feelings among sharecroppers, including whites, Blacks, and Natives. I would also have appreciated an attempt to go beyond tallying assaults, deportations, imprisonments, and murders just to find out how many workers lost their jobs during this awful period. Of all the terrible things that government and employers do to workers, the most widely applied, and thus the most effective, is to deprive us of the ability to earn a living.
Hochschild clearly condemns certain government officials. He leaves the final judgement of President Wilson open to debate. He gives some credit to “good guys” such as Emma Goldman, Kate Richards O’Hare and of course Eugene Victor Debs. He mentions Frank Little, one of the first anti-war spokespersons lynched. William Z. Foster, who worked through the whole period to try to bring the labor movement together and develop its fighting potential, remains hidden in our histories.
I have always found it interesting to speculate what might have happened in America if different leaders had headed the Socialist Party, the IWW, or the AFofL. Worldwide, the many socialists capitulated early and supported their governments in World War I. There were only two that didn’t. The other one was Russia.
I’m on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. I have about 150 podcasts under the name “Workers Beat Extra” there, too. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
Film Review: “In Dubious Battle,” Directed by James Franco, 1917
“In Dubious Battle,” directed by James Franco, 1917
Prime video still has “In Dubious Battle” for a few more days. It’s an interesting and progressive film with a strong pro-worker attitude.
Jim and Mac are farm worker organizers of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1933. Even though the fighting Wobblies were largely crushed in most industries by the red scare during and after World War I, their Agricultural Department outlasted all their other fine efforts. Pulitzer winner John Steinbeck wrote the book around 1937 based on strikes and labor battles in California. It isn’t as well known as his “Of Mice and Men,” nor “Grapes of Wrath,” but it’s about the same people: itinerant farm workers of the Great Depression.
Mac is the old hand. He’s rather cynical as he teaches the neophyte Jim how to focus on agitating a battle to the exclusion of any other considerations. They take jobs as apple pickers in order to encourage the downtrodden workers to rise up and fight their exploiting bosses. In that regard, the film is quite inspirational and really sounds close to what really happened.
Actually, I kind of hope it isn’t what really happened, because the bosses and their hired terrorists seem to get and keep the upper hand. I watched the film with a genuine union organizer with real experience, and she had severe criticisms of the way the strike was begun and handled.
As art, though, the film is pretty good. I don’t know how the producers were able to do it, but they assembled quite an assortment of headliners in the main speaking parts. We spotted Selena Gomez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Robert Duvall, Sam Shepard, Ed Harris and Bryan Cranston. James Franco directed himself in the main role.
The result is a film that is fine for inspiration, but not for learning organizing tactics. If there were real people like Mac and Jim, they should have learned this: it is not sufficient to fight. It is also necessary to win!
I’m on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9 Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
Pearson, Chad E., “Capital’s Terrorists. Klansmen, Lawmen and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century.” University of North Carolina Press, 2022
Pearson brings us a new understanding of America’s terrorists. From April 9, 1865 to January 6, 2022, our terrorists were not primarily motivated by race hatred or stupidity, as we are usually told. Instead, they were instruments organized, and often physically led, by America’s employer class. Big capital used the most shameful events in all of American history to one end: keeping working families down.
Pearson starts with the Ku Klux Klan. They weren’t just random racists. They were deliberately organized and carefully led to force former slaves to work for little or nothing. They still are. Later organizations may have been called “Law and Order Leagues,” or “Citizens’ Alliances,” but they continued to use vigilantes when it suited them. Their purpose was exactly the same: making sure that working families could not successfully organize.
Even though employers could usually county on judges, local police, national guards and even the U.S. Army to side with them, they also found it expedient to organize illegal terrorist activities. That’s what the book is about.
Pearson organizes his explanation with biographical information on the main ideologues for employer terrorism. One of the worst was a newspaper owner; another was a best-selling author of fiction. Both were expert propagandists justifying all legal and extralegal means available to keep workers down.
For us in Dallas, there are some local angles to the story. Martin Irons was a great union man who was ruined and martyred by the terrorists. He called the 1885 Southwest Railroad Strike during a convention in nearby Sherman. His grave is in Bruceville, halfway to Austin, where he died in poverty.
Except for some very good analysis of the January 6 attack on the nation’s capitol, the book limits itself to the 19th century. If it were brought a few years closer to today, it might have talked about Henry Ford’s “Service Department” of goons and criminals that maimed and murdered union supporters on behalf of the company.
Perry and a handful of other gangsters were fired from Ford’s East Dallas assembly plant on suspicion of theft. They complained to the newly-formed National Labor Relations Board, where a young attorney named Nat Wells wrote down their testimony. They told Wells about kidnapping, tar and feathering, and whipping suspected union organizers on behalf of Ford. They indicated that they had plenty of help from local police and the Dallas Morning News. Wells wrote it all down and it became part of the United Auto Workers’ legal action against Ford Motor Company – and that played a big role in the UAW’s successful organizing drive in 1941, four years after their triumph at General Motors. Thanks to Joe Wells and Dr George Green for keeping this story in our histories.
Dr Chad Pearson teaches history at University of North Texas in Denton. I intend to interview him for my podcast as soon as I can get his contact information.
I’m on KNON.ORG’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, you might look at my personal web site
Would you help me write a futuristic novel about what happens after the revolution? Help me speculate about what Commissioner Leo Torres does after his election to the World Council chartered to develop a model for future living and human happiness.
Unlike most American Sci-Fi, there is no dystopian end-of-the-world in this one. Thinking people have managed to stop all the current trends toward certain annihilation. A coalition of the Progressive Party and the Green Party has wrested control from the old economic rulers. All the people who are still alive after the devastation caused by our current system have a chance to meet their basic needs.
Leo Torres was a very minor figure in the Progressive Party during the revolutionary days. By a fluke of time and place, he achieved great popularity, or possibly notoriety. In his first novel, the Progressive Party leaders asked him to take on the title of “Commissioner” and resolve a very minor problem in an obscure part of Oklahoma. In the second novel, he gets a somewhat more complicated assignment, but still minor, in the Texas Panhandle.
Because of his undeserved but considerable popularity, and because he has shown himself to be trustworthy, the Progressives decide to make him a candidate for World Council in the third novel. He learns a few things as he travels the country in his successful campaign. All the preceding novels are on-line at http://lilleskole.us.
Should he take his seat on the World Council?
What priorities should he have?
What assignments or committees will he be assigned?
What laws and legislation would YOU want enacted, if you were in Leo’s place?
Help me out by sending your ideas to email@example.com.
Taylor, Clarence “Reds at the Blackboard. Communism, Civil Rights, and the New York City Teachers Union,” Columbia University Press, 2013.
There once existed a powerful teacher organization that fought for every progressive aspect of education in New York City. The American Federation of Teachers today, which has advanced in social unionism far beyond the bad old days of President Albert Shankar, is still miles behind the Teachers Union of New York of 1935-1964.
They represented teachers with grievances, they fought for better pay and working conditions as unions do, but they also challenged the basic racism and corruption of education in their times. They fought hard, for example, to expose the explicit and implicit racism in textbooks. They did everything they could think of to improve school materials. They fought for integration of students and faculty. They fought just as hard for gender equality.
Their greatest accomplishment may have been to make the schools part of the communities they served. These were not nominal PTA’s holding fund drives, but honest hard-working community organizations working for community improvement — especially among the most downtrodden constituencies.
One important aspect of school racism was new to me. After Brown V Topeka in 1954, the main physical change in education was to shut down all the segregated Black schools and lay off their teachers! Most of those teachers stayed laid-off because they couldn’t get jobs in the so-called “integrated” schools. The Teachers Union of New York fought hard to get jobs for Black teachers! If anybody else did, I hadn’t heard of it.
While they were bringing social unionism to its heights, the Teachers Union had to fight off management’s attempts to undermine it. Male chauvinism and anti-semitism were useful tools for the bosses, but their big cudgel was anti-communism. Social unionism was the Communist Party’s program and a some of the Teachers Union leaders were reds.
Management, like bosses everywhere after 1947, were able to get a lot of people fired and a lot of careers destroyed. The American Federation of Labor kicked the Teachers Union out over anti-communism. They joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations and continued to thrive as social unionists. However, after 1947, the CIO joined the anti-communist wave and kicked the Teachers Union out again. The Board of Education managed to have the Teachers Union decertified as representatives of their members, so they could no longer settle grievances nor negotiate for job improvements.
Even then, they didn’t quit. The Teachers Union survived as an important voice for social unionism, especially for civil rights and community cooperation, until 1964. They need to be remembered.
In 1985, I had a tiny role in a part of the revitalization of American labor. I’d like to get it written down.
After a wonderful upsurge that started around 1932, labor leaders lost their way in 1947 and became isolated. Fortunately the membership couldn’t be ignored for long.
The revitalization actually began well before my time, in the 1960s. It was an extension of the civil rights upsurge that began around 1954. African-American unionists carried the lessons and tactics of the civil rights movement into their unions. For the most part, they were rebuffed by their leaderships, but nothing is ever completely lost in the progressive movement. People learn. People remember.
The newest, possibly most important, twist in the labor reform movement happened in 2021 when over 60% of United Auto Workers members and retirees voted to do away with the old delegate system of electing top leadership and move to the more democratic “one member one vote” method.
It was a setback to the old Administrative Caucus that has dominated the UAW consistently since 1946. I think a look back at earlier reform efforts gives some perspective to today’s important developments.
REFORM IN THE MINERS AND STEELWORKERS UNION
Reform was strong in the Miner’s Union after Jock Yablonski and his family were murdered December 31, 1969. In the Steelworkers, reform was clearly on the agenda when Ed Sadlowski ran for president around 1975. I think Sadlowski might have been the first union candidate since 1947 to allow reds to help him campaign, and that was a very big deal. I campaigned for Sadlowski, but my real role in labor’s reform was a lot later and in my own union.
NEW DIRECTIONS IN THE UAW
For me, it was 1985-1992 and the New Directions Movement in the United Auto Workers. My part, and the origin of the New Directions Movement, started in the middle of a contract fight with LTV Corporation in Grand Prairie, Texas. The fight started in March, 1984. The first 9 months or so showed everything that was wrong in the UAW and in most of the labor movement.
Our union, Local 848, didn’t have a clue about carrying out a fight. The blame for that goes back to 1947 when the anti-union Taft Hartley law passed. It outlawed the most progressive unionists and left the opportunist “business unionists” in charge. Business unionists had no fight in them. They put their full confidence into working with management and gave up on informing and mobilizing their union members.
Local 848 members, like most Americans, had never fought for anything and certainly not for a contract. “Unionism” consisted of working with management for crumbs from their table, then working on a grievance procedure to keep them from stealing their crumbs back during the life of the contract.
But LTV was a profitable corporation when it offered giant takeaways in 1984 contract negotiations. The Assistant Director of UAW Region 5, Jerry Tucker, was experienced in plenty of fights – not necessarily in unions but in the civil rights movement. He pushed the Negotiating Committee to turn down the contract and design a new strategy for a fight.
Tucker called the strategy “Running the Plant Backward” or “Work to Rule” and called it a new strategy. History-conscious workers, of whom there were hardly any, recognized it as an old-fashioned slowdown. Union members were asked to do exactly what they were required to do and nothing else. “No contract, no overtime!” was our big slogan starting out. On May 21, four workers and I were fired for refusing to work overtime. Tucker had previously arranged to call a walkout when/if anybody got fired. Later, a few dozen more were fired, mostly for participating in the walkout.
Initially, it didn’t work at all. Our local union leadership hadn’t the slightest idea of how to run a slowdown. The membership certainly didn’t know. I don’t even think Jerry Tucker had a clear idea. The big walkout and rally on the day after we were fired netted no more than 300 workers. I counted them carefully. That was about 6% of the bargaining unit! I knew then that we were in a lot more trouble than anybody was saying.
The company implemented their “last and final offer,” which included their takeaways. Then they stopped collecting our dues for us.
WE HAD NO IDEA HOW TO COLLECT UNION DUES!
American unions in 1984 did not have the first clue on how to collect their own dues. They had “dues checkoff” from companies since before World War II. In 1941, Mr Ford voluntarily GAVE dues checkoff to the UAW, because he wanted the union to depend on him financially. It worked.
Local 848 made its biggest, nearly fatal, mistake as soon as it was clear that we had to collect our own dues. Leadership assumed that people would voluntarily come to the union hall and pay their monthly dues.
Let me pause to brag: I told them that people are not accustomed to paying their bills in person. I asked them to send out a monthly bill, but the Financial Secretary told me, “If they won’t come over here and pay their dues, they don’t deserve this union!” I heard that over and over again for the rest of the year while my union went broke. By Christmas, fewer than 20% of our members were caught up on dues. Insiders said it was 10%.
Our financial disaster was hardly the worst part of the story. Our program of “No contract, no overtime” fell flat on its face on the day I was fired. Even though I organized pickets every Saturday morning through that winter, our members grabbed up the overtime. Our top officers did, too. I found out later that the Chairman himself was telling top officers to work overtime!
My part, up to the end of 1984, had been to organize the 65 fired workers and keep them in the struggle. I had zero leadership role in directing the struggle, but I made sure that the firees were not forgotten by getting a big bunch of us to every meeting, by picketing the plant when people went in to work overtime, by publicizing our events, and by helping a series of publicity stunts to keep people thinking about our fight.
December was a miserable time for everybody, but especially for the 65 fired workers. Only about 30 of the 65 were doing anything to keep up the fight. News from the International Union was particularly depressing. Leadership told us that the International UAW wanted us to take the concessions and end the struggle, even if some of the firees were sacrificed. One “settlement,” we were told, was negotiated between our UAW International Financial Secretary and LTV management on a golf course!
President Carroll Butler and Assistant Regional Director Jerry Tucker weren’t giving up, but they were certainly ready for some new tactics.
THE LOCAL MAKES A TURN
Our local union leadership did a major turnaround in January. They decided to collect dues inside the plant. Elected union stewards were issued receipt books and every activist we could find was asked to help get the members to pay up.
It wasn’t just a financial decision, or a minor organizational change. It was a turn toward mobilizing the membership – exactly what the union movement hadn’t been doing since “business unionism” took over. It worked, too. Our “percent” of dues-paying members rose steadily from January until we won our victory in July.
As the receipts and cash dollars started pouring into the hall, we bogged down as accountants. Fortunately for the local, I had accountant training, computer training, and I could type. I rigged up a Commodore 64 – it had 64 kilobytes of memory – to two floppy disk readers and kept track of all dues. An extra benefit was being able to tattle on the elected leaders as to who was collecting their dues and who wasn’t. Every time Tucker visited, I could present him with graphs showing which departments and which job families were “on the program” and which weren’t.
By June, 1985, we still didn’t have an impressive “percent” in plain numbers, but my trusty little computer could show that we were pretty solid in certain critical units. For the first time in the entire struggle, we thought we might have the potential to shut LTV down. Leadership called a strike. Management asked for a settlement before we even went out, so the strike lasted only 11 hours!
On July 5, 1985, all the fired workers put on our union shirts and lined up at the LTV gate. We stayed in line while Chairman BJ Meeks took us, one by one, to our proper departments and let us go back to work. I posted a video of this. Our little battle was won!
I have a longer account of the 1984-85 struggle on http://lilleskole.us. On my “GeneLantz” youtube account, I have 52 videos about it. Each has “struggle” in the title.
Our victory was celebrated all through the union movement. I was given credit and a new nickname, “golden fingers” for my typing, accounting and computer work.
I guess that some of us thought we had really helped curve the union movement in a good direction, but we were disappointed in due time.
The most bitter part for me personally came almost immediately. When the 1985 contract was settled, I hoped to keep our super-active fired union members together. But we fell out over how to deal with demands from the International UAW. The new contract penalized the firees by withholding 3 months from our full back pay. We were told, though, that we would not have to pay back the strike pay that we had accepted while we were outside. It balanced out.
But the International UAW demanded that we pay back every cent, immediately! When I protested, a toady little International Rep called me a “freeloader!” I had been standing outside the plant and fighting for my union for one year, one month, one week, and one day; but he called me a “freeloader!”
The firees broke up over this demand. Some of them said they would never pay it because it was grossly unfair. Three of them even got out of the union and became scabs. Some of the better-off firees had the money and paid off right away. I circulated a petition to get a year’s delay while we paid it off in monthly installments, and that’s what I did. But I was not able to get the other firees on that program. We never pulled together again.
I resolved then and there to join a reform movement, if there was one. And there soon was. Riding on the success of Tucker’s “new” tactic at Local 848, he launched the New Directions Movement and ran for Regional Director.
He won that election, but the International was able to keep it all tied up in court, so that Tucker was only able to serve about 1 year of his 3-year term of office.
Meanwhile at Local 848, the International provided an even bigger problem. When we elected officers, we expected our top leaders who had worked with Jerry Tucker to win, to ride their popularity into re-election.
I remember that one of the people who was most against Jerry Tucker’s fightback program ran for local union president right after the 1985 contract was settled. His son was on the Election Committee. A particularly nasty cartoon was circulated against Carroll Butler, the President who carried us through the big 1984-85 fight. I called up the printer to see who had created such a nasty and underhanded attack. The printer told me candidly that it was an International Rep!
The good guys won the election, but, acting on a complaint from the losing candidate’s son on the Election Committee, the UAW International ruled the election illegal and made us hold it over. When a local is forced to hold an election over, the incumbents look bad. President Butler held his office barely, but Chairman BJ Meeks lost. We were furious! My notes at one meeting read, “BJ says int’l forced this local into another election… ‘you have not seen people as vicious as this International!’”
New Directions supporters started holding meetings around the country. At Local 848, we held our meetings after the official union membership meeting. I attended them and, compulsive note taker that I am, kept a lot of notes. I also attended several national NDM meetings.
We had some terrific supporters. Paul Shrader, a close assistant of Walter Reuther’s, supported us. Film maker Michael Moore, fresh from his success with the satirical movie about the UAW, “Roger and Me,” gave us $1,000 and a very nice endorsement speech. Our really big gun was Victor Reuther. The Reuther Brothers were associated with some of the UAW’s biggest historic successes. People told me that Victor was “the best of them.” He certainly stepped up to help Local 848 and was totally committed to New Directions.
Victor made speeches at fund raisers for us. I was pleased to serve as Master of Ceremonies at one of them. Victor also made cheeseboards that we auctioned off to raise money.
A related historic event occurred in the period. The Canadian section of the UAW, carrying some of the same reform program as New Directions, split off and formed the Canadian Autoworkers Union. Victor infuriated the International by speaking at their first convention.
Jerry Tucker always referred to New Directions as “the real Reutherites,” even though the Administrative Caucus (UAW leadership) we were trying to defeat had been set up by Walter Reuther. It was hard to argue with Jerry Tucker when he had the only surviving Reuther brother standing right there with him!
New Directions had a very clear program and solutions to the major issues in the union movement: outsourcing, runaway plants, whipsawing, ”team concept,” new technology, democracy in the union, and giveaway contracts. NDM especially hammered on the idea of “one member, one vote.” As everyone knows, we won that in 2021 in a government-supervised election. I’m glad to get it, but I’d rather that the members had chosen it by voting for New Directions 30 years earlier.
I can’t claim to have been a leader of New Directions. I certainly wasn’t, but I played a role. I tried to line up an obscure UAW Local in the Southern Part of Dallas. It was a battery plant with maybe 50-60 workers. I took the union president out to Steak and Ale at my own expense. I gave him a sales pitch for change, but he voted with the Administrative Caucus.
At Local 848, I wrote and distributed our own New Directions pamphlet called “The Arrow.” I still have a few copies. Jerry Tucker put out a 3-fold pamphlet with parts of the NDM program on it. I have a few copies, including one devoted entirely to “one member one vote.”
At one national meeting, we discussed going all-out to reform the UAW. The argument was over whether or not to run Jerry Tucker for International President. I remember speaking strongly in favor. In fact, I think I made the motion nominating him. Maybe I just motivated for the motion. I remember saying that if Jerry was willing to take all the chances for our cause, why would any of us want to stand in the way?
WHY THEY WERE/ARE AFRAID OF THE UAW INTERNATIONAL
Even though we like to think about the UAW’s great history in organizing and standing up for all workers, especially workers “of color,” the main business, practically the only business, of local UAW officers after 1947 was contract negotiations and enforcement. The International, with their expert reps, lawyers, and top researchers, usually dominated.
For example, take the problem of terminations. When companies terminate a UAW member, we grieve it. Usually, the company forces us to grieve it all the way to arbitration. The professional UAW International Reps and the legal staff, experts that they are, handle most of those arbitrations. Without them, local union officers would feel pretty helpless, and companies would soon be firing anybody they wanted to, especially union officers!
The International UAW sat on top of union democracy, too. I have been told that professional union business agents/reps are not allowed to attend union conventions, but in the UAW they sit right at your table and watch every move you make. Or, worse, they stand behind you. International Reps tell the members when to make a motion, when to make a second, and when and how to vote. Anybody who steps out of line is carefully noted, and they can expect trouble during their next elections, negotiations or arbitrations.
I attended my first convention during the New Directions period. Our International Rep sat at Local 848’s table through the entire convention. BJ Meeks and others bravely voted their own convictions, but the intimidation was heavy. Years later, I attended another national convention, and the International Reps orchestrated literally everything that happened.
Have you ever heard of the Praetorian Guard? They were crack soldiers who were charged with guarding the Roman Emperor after democracy had disappeared. They did a great job. That’s how I see the legions of International Reps in the UAW.
So, one may very well ask, how did UAW active and retired members work up the courage to defy the UAW International and vote for “one-member-one-vote” in 2021? Because the government ran the election and gave us a secret ballot. Secret ballot!
At the convention, Jerry Tucker failed to win the presidency. Our vote counters had expected it, but they were sure that we would win the directorship of Region 1 (mostly California). In an excruciating evening of hand-counting the votes, we lost that one, too. I took an historic picture of Victor and Sophie Ruther, glassy-eyed in defeat, as UAW President Owen Bieber announced the result.
The UAW then disbanded Region 1, so New Directions lost its strongest foothold. Anybody who had supported New Directions braced for the wrath of the UAW International, from Victor Reuther to the smallest.
As I was never in the circle of leadership, I don’t know what discussions and decisions came about, but I had a personal experience that pointed downward for me. Here’s how I remember it:
UAW Local 848 President Carroll Butler, the stalwart of our 1984-85 contract fight, one of the strongest supporters of New Directions, and I were standing on a hotel veranda looking out over San Diego. Out of the blue, he handed me two $100 bills. He told me to donate it at the next New Directions meeting. He wouldn’t be attending, he said, and he didn’t want anybody to know where the $200 came from.
In other words, one of our bravest and strongest men was disassociating from New Directions. That’s when I knew it was over. I kept trying, but the rigor mortis was already setting in. I still have a copy of a letter I wrote to Jerry Tucker dated October 29, 1992: “Dear Jerry. ND activities at Local 848 have stopped altogether.… Wish I had better news. In solidarity, Gene.” I didn’t get a reply.
SOME NOTES IN MY FILES. Folder dated 12/19/92 and titled “New Directions.”
3 copies of “The arrow.” I scanned one in Pictures/arrow1192.jpg
I scanned 4 photos: tucker-jerry, tucker-mrsjerry, reuther-victor,
I found a photo of Butler with Roy Kinney & Pancho. Another with Silva. They are in “pictures” now.
Copy of “The Arrow,” January 1991 //I wonder if that’s an error and it was 1992?// “Don’t blame Local 276!” about the whipsawing battle where GM in Arlington beat out Willow Run, Michigan. //I had completely forgotten that I wrote and published “The Arrow” to build New Directions in North Texas. It was a 1 page, letter sized, newsletter. Looks like my printer was a dot-matrix.//
Handwritten notes from 7/21/91 NDM meeting starting at 15:15. “There are 18 folks here.” “Dot goes to St Louis meeting next Thursday. Dick proposes that our cake sale money go to Dot for her expenses. Passes.” “Urges New Directions meeting at 2 on 3rd Sunday of August. Passes” 23 people here.
Handwritten notes from 8/18/91 “Joe Silva says agents in Local 148 are circulating an anti-Tucker leaflet that says Tucker negotiated a contract here that cut out overtime. Butler sent back a a letter pointing out that 1) we still have overtime 2) tucket didn’t negotiate it.” “BJ [Meeks] gives history of NDM: fightback at 848 was origin. Int’l made deals, agreed to give up COLA. Afterward, we decided int’l should be accountable, just as a local is… Not just Jerry Tucker… “Really what NDM is all about is fightback” –BJ Meeks.
“Dot reports on national coordinating meeting. Ken Fout of TDU, Ray Rogers [subject of movie Norma Rae], Dan LaBotz, Jane Slaughter all there helping to formulate ideas and experiences.”
“ND campaign platform 1) internal democratization & reform 2) collateral bargaining 3) organizing 4) pol action and relations with other unions 5) internationalism” “Vote was 14-3 in favor of a national candidate. 3 felt the movement had not come far enough along.” “Glen Plankett of Local 148 reports that they want no less than 7 days to review contract.”
“Nov 2nd in Detroit will be national meeting of ND” “Ralph says we must stop automatically endorsing democrats. Says reactionary Republican Dick Armey is the best rep he ever had.” “BJ mentions possibility of getting Arrow out through interplant mail.” (never happened)
Copy of “The Arrow”: October 1991 “Local 848 getting ready to win” includes a short article “New Directions national conference. UAW members are invited to attend the 3rd Annual National Conference of the New Directions Movement in Detroit November 1-3. “The discussion going on in the New Directions Movement is designed to reverse the general downward trend in strength of our international union. NDM has proposed positive solutions to problems of outsourcing, runaway plants, whipsawing, team concept, new technology, democracy in the union, and giveaway contracts. Registration for the conference is $35 per person. Hotel reservations have been arranged for $39 per night. Air fares are cheaper when reservations are made as early as possible. For more information call (3140 531-2900 (NDM office).”
Copy of “The Arrow,” November 1991 Headlines: “The Race is On! New Directions will challenge International in 1992!” It advertises a ND meeting at 848 on Nov 17 “after the membership meeting.” “Checks should be made to ‘New Directions’ and sent to PO Box 6876, St Louis, Missouri, 63144” //I could scan this//
Copy of “The Arrow”: May 1992 Calls for a May 17 NDM meeting on May 17 “after the union meeting.” Includes a call from Jerry Tucker to support 13,000 Caterpillar workers who had struck through the winter.
Excerpt from “A Troublemakers Handbook” named “Inside Strategies” The story of contract victories the UAW leadership does not want told.” Reprinted by New Directions Educational Fund. There are some quotes from Jerry Tucker. There are a lot of quotes from Joe Silva, who was always carried away with his fantasy version of what was really happening. It paints a much rosier picture of the struggle. In this version, everything we did worked great. In reality, it was a lot harder.
Inside strategies, in this version, were first developed by Tucker at Moog, then at Schweitzer and Bell Helicopter before it was successful at LTV.
A NDM three-fold leaflet. UAW a “one-party state.” “Steelworkers, Mineworkers, Mailhandlers, and now even the Teamsters have one-person, one-vote elections for national officials. Why not the UAW?”
Another 3-fold leaflet. This one has a quote from Vic: “Our union is drifting aimlessly. No longer democratic. Trapped in the corporate agenda. Unwilling to fight for our members today. The UAW needs new policies and new leadership. Through the fight for true democratic voting rights at the rank and file level, and for a true vision of a new direction, we can fulfill our historic destiny and restore real accountability and solidarity.” Signed “Victor Reuther, UAW Co-Founder”
This leaflet is all about “one person one vote.”
Three lightly printed sheets showing contributions to NDM from Elaine and me. Includes our $5/month contributions and my record on button sales.
Very lightly printed letter dated 10/29/92 from me to Jerry Tucker. “Dear Jerry. ND activities at Local 848 have stopped altogether. …one page single spaced… Wish I had better news. In solidarity, Gene”
Erik Loomis “A History of America in Ten Strikes,” The New Press, New York, 2018, 301 pages
I got my Kindle copy free through the Dallas library. People might think it’s just a blow-by-blow account of ten very interesting and dramatic strikes, but it’s more than that. Each strike is put in its economic, political and historical context. One couldn’t, for example, understand the Bread and Roses textile strike without knowing, first, that New England farmers were so desperate that they were willing to give up their daughters. One couldn’t understand the success of the Flint Sit-Down without knowing, first, that labor’s political efforts had paid off beforehand.
Every history has a framework. Usually, they are based on the idea of “great men” who “made” history. This book’s framework is much more realistic. Its ribs are certain especially interesting contests between working people and their bosses. Its spine is the class struggle in America. It’s a very good way to make history understandable.
Since the book was submitted for publication, we have seen a nascent strike wave in America. People who never could organize before are joining unions. That includes techies, retail workers, and even Starbucks employees. At the same time, a recent (2022) poll said that we have lost another half-percent of the total workforce. I assume that brings us down to around 10.4% as we descend down a ladder of destruction that began in 1947 when we had about 35%.
One could argue that I am being completely subjective, but I don’t agree with the book’s conclusions. The author seems to think that the future for American labor lies in organizing in the service sector, whereas I cling to the older idea that basic industry and transportation are primary. The difference has to do with how one thinks change might come about.
Most activists today, whether they would admit it or not, believe that labor’s role is to strengthen progressive electoral efforts. The more people that join unions, the stronger our voting power. Once we have enough voting power, we will win elections and depose the bosses. I think that major union leaders share that view, but I don’t.
Labor’s strength goes far beyond electoral statistics and is, in fact, a matter of confrontation. Service workers have never been able to confront the bosses fundamentally and never will. I’d love to have more of them in the union movement, and I’d love to win elections, but only basic industry and transportation can shut the bosses down.
I’m on KNON’s Workers Beat talk show at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. KNON publishes my “Workers Beat Extra” blog Wednesdays on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site where I put my life’s lessons.