DETROIT - The United Auto Workers union is unfolding a fightback program at its 36th Constitutional Convention here this week. Like the rest of the union movement and workers worldwide, the union has been under assault from corporations and their political minions. In response, it is going on the offensive with a program called "PRO Members." The "O" is for organizing.
While far-right politicians engineered a highly-publicized defeat for the UAW at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the union is nevertheless growing.
UAW victories in the gaming industry and in factories related to the auto industry are steadily adding new members. The big nut the union has to crack remains the growing number of transnational auto plants in the South. But UAW leaders at the convention are positive about their future efforts.
Long-time organizing efforts are still in place in Chattanooga and at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi. UAW leaders have leveraged help from many international supporters who are represented at the convention.
Japanese, Brazilian, German, and South African autoworkers are among the dozens of representatives from other countries. Canadian union leader Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, said, "No one has done more to bring the global trade union movement together than [outgoing UAW President] Bob King."
Nearly 1,000 delegates at the UAW convention overwhelmingly passed an organizing resolution titled "A Voice for All Workers." It outlines the problem: "The last four years have brought a wave of attacks on our basic right to organize and bargain. In 2011, corporate interests and their political supporters launched an all-out assault on public sector collective bargaining. In 2012, despite strong public opposition, legislators in Indiana and Michigan rammed through so-called 'right-to-work' laws, designed to weaken union representation in both the public and private sector. Earlier this year, workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant were threatened by their own elected officials, who told them that if they exercised their federally-protected right to form a union, their jobs would be in jeopardy."
The resolution also says, "Our fight isn't only to protect our existing rights and roll back unjust laws that deny them. We must also go on the offense to strengthen our labor laws, expand bargaining rights and find new, creative ways to represent workers. That includes workers in non-traditional employment arrangements ..."
In its 2014 bargaining with major U.S. auto companies, the UAW will be faced with new "right-to-work" laws in a number of states, where the union's legal right to collect dues from all workers in each bargaining unit will lapse. This includes the core of the union in Michigan. The new legal situation will require every union to conduct in-plant internal organizing drives that were never needed before.
On the positive side, everything at the convention here suggests that the UAW is gearing up to the tasks before it.
Photo: Jim Lane/PW