The scandal of corruption and union leaders living like capitalists that is sweeping the UAW has its roots in the pro-company strategy of the UAW leadership. Today, former UAW president Bob King is saying he’s horrified at the corruption, but he is part of the process that led to this sorry state of affairs.
Back in 2011, King spoke at a meeting of the Detroit Area Chamber of Commerce. His speech is no longer available online, but Oaklandsocialist copied it down at the time. It is worth reprinting his speech verbatim here (emphasis added):
“We no longer live in the same world in which the UAW grew up 75 years ago” he said. “The 20th century UAW existed in an era of a national industrial economy and a national marketplace. The 21st century UAW recognizes that auto companies face critical challenges in a global marketplace, and it is our mission to create conditions that will enable our employers to compete and succeed in order to best represent our members. The 20th century UAW tried to find ways to achieve job security, such as job banks, that in the end did not achieve the result we were seeking. The 21st century UAW knows that the only true path to job security is by producing the best quality product, the safest product and the longest lasting product, at the best price.
“Simply put, our highest priority is to join with our employers to produce the best quality products at the best value for consumers.
“The 20th century UAW fell into a pattern with our employers where we saw each other as adversaries rather than partners. Mistrust became embedded in our relations, and as a result we signed onto ever more lengthy and complicated contracts with work rules and narrow job classifications that hindered flexibility and promoted a litigious and time-consuming grievance culture. The 21st century UAW seeks and expects a partnership with employers based on mutual respect, trust and common goals. In a global economy, flexibility, innovation and teamwork are paramount. The 20th century UAW joined with the companies in a mindset that it was the company’s job to worry about profits, and the union’s job to worry about getting the workers’ their share.
“The 21st century UAW embraces as our own the success of our employers in order to achieve the economic and social success of our members, their families and our communities. The 20th century UAW was not primarily focused on the needs of consumers, and we failed to champion forcefully or effectively enough the goals of preserving our environment for future generations through green manufacturing and green products. The 21st century UAW makes as a priority the interests of consumer safety, energy efficiency and environmental protection. The 20th century UAW reacted with hostility and resistance to the historic changes brought about by the globalization of the economy. The 21st century UAW is adopting a more nuanced and constructive approach to global trade and global development.
“We are committed to becoming citizens of the world and achieving trade that spreads prosperity and lessens poverty. We are also committed to saving and growing the American industrial base with good jobs in the United States. Out of the ashes of the cataclysm of 2008 and 2009, a new, more visionary and stronger UAW is being born.
“The 21st century UAW views management not as our adversaries or enemies, but as partners in innovation and quality. Our relationship with employers is built upon a foundation of respect, shared goals, and a common mission, and a mutual social responsibility to create good, secure, middle-class jobs here in our communities in the United States. This commitment to fundamental change is not just a tenet of my administration but is permeating the entire culture of the UAW. Our internal educational resources are devoted to nurturing this new mindset. I can tell you that there is no group of people more committed to the success of the auto industry than the union and our members working in the auto industry. Workers know that the success of their employers is in their own essential long-term interest. They won’t be jumping ship to grab onto a golden parachute. They are in this for the long haul. They are ready, willing and able to do what it takes to make their companies successful. Our members are energized by the new paradigm and welcome their enhanced opportunities to contribute to our companies’ success. ”
You could not get a more perfect example of the pro-company thinking of today’s union leadership. That thinking has not changed. In 2017, then UAW president Dennis Williams teamed up with the auto manufacturers to urge Trump to weaken auto emission standards. (Following behind the manufacturers, Williams did not support eliminating the standards altogether. That would have left the auto industry in a state of anarchy.)
Nor can it be argued that the UAW leadership’s approach has been working, strictly in terms of building the union. In 2017, for example, Nissan workers in Mississippi voted on whether or not to be represented by the UAW. True, Nissan waged a bitter anti-union campaign, but that was to be expected (although the UAW leadership was caught by surprise). But how could that campaign have been countered given the UAW slogan “pro Nissan, pro union”? If you’re going to be pro company, then who needs a union? The proof was in the pudding as some 60% voted against the union.
The UAW leadership is no exception:
- The UFCW’s Local 8, run by International VP Jacques Loveall made an employer, Bob Piccinini, the “union person of the year” and Loveall actually went so far as to try to undermine other UFCW locals in winning some small advances in their collective bargaining contract!
- In Seattle, Ironworkers Local 8 “business manager” Chris McClain sided with Amazon against the homeless.
- And Carpenters general president Doug McCarron has really taken the cake as far as being pro-employer. As the McCarron-controlled Northern California Carpenters Regional Council put it, “We view our relationship with contractors as a partnership, working with you for the good of your company and for union employees…” And as McCarron, himself, said, “We’re serious about customer (meaning contractor) service”.
In order to keep the employers happy, the union leadership has to keep wages down and conflicts to a minimum. In turn, that means the union leadership must increasingly distance itself and insulate itself from the membership. And inevitably once union leaders start thinking like capitalists, they will start trying to live like capitalists. That is what’s happened inside the UAW, and in fact inside the rest of the labor movement to a greater or lesser extent. To root out this corruption and high-roller living of the union officials, what’s needed is opposition caucuses not only committed to making all union officials live at the same level as and directly elected by the members they represent, but also to make the unions fight for the membership and stop taking the pro-company position. That, in turn, requires a return to the methods of the 1930s, but with a twist: No longer can workers in the United States make and hold on to advances in the US alone. Part of a real fighting program and strategy must be internationalism in deeds not just words. In the auto industry, for example, this means building direct links between rank and file auto workers in the US and their counterparts internationally.
The fight to root out corruption is part and parcel of the fight to transform the unions into the fighting organizations that so many workers sacrificed so much to build in the first place.