UAW delegates endorse economic platform, some say not enough
UAW Local 602/Twitter

DETROIT—Delegates to the Auto Workers convention in Detroit endorsed a resolution mandating an economy that works well for the middle class, not the rich. But several delegates said it doesn’t go far enough. They want higher wages and stronger planks protecting part-timers and temps.

The economy resolution was accompanied by another demanding an organized industrial policy for the U.S. That drew unanimous support as both whizzed through on the convention’s second day, June 12.

The main economy resolution put the UAW on record demanding full employment, with an emphasis on infrastructure spending. It also demands equal pay for equal work, “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” and Federal Reserve board emphasis on employment, not just curbing inflation, among other things.

It also demands “a real living wage,” not just a raise to $15 and a union, and laws that protect and enhance the right to organize. The manufacturing resolution campaigned for green jobs as good jobs.

The economics resolutions were followed by the biggest debate of the day, and possibly of the convention, as the 2,000 delegates jousted over continuing a 4-year-old dues increase. The big issue in the discussion was whether part-timers in the private sector, like full-timers there, should pay 2-1/2 hours’ worth of their monthly pay in dues.

The hike, raised from two hours’ worth four years ago, was designed to replenish the union’s strike fund, which had fallen to $596 million. It’s now $721 million, after the hike four years ago. The dues would revert to two hours per month if the fund rises above $850 million. If it then subsides below $650 million, the 2-1/2 hours would return.

Keeping the strike fund healthy and growing, several delegates said, is important because the union goes into bargaining with the Detroit 3 automakers next year.

President Scott Houldieson and all of Local 551, representing Ford workers on Chicago’s South Side,  led the opposition to continuing the dues hike, citing that issue in particular. They said proportionally the part-timers are paying more of their salaries than full-timers. But they lost on a show-of-hands vote among the 2,000 delegates.

But the top-heavy U.S. economy dominated the morning debate.

“Our economic system has been rigged to benefit a small number of people at the top at the expense of the rest of us,” said David Parsons of Local 4121 in Seattle, representing University of Washington research assistants and teaching assistants.

Workers, he added, “are held hostage by corporate leaders and politicians who support them.” Unions in general, and the UAW in particular “hold out an alternative.”

“No family should have to make a choice of paying bills, buying food or having a roof over their heads,” added Walt Downey of Local 1542 in New Castle, Del.

Several delegates linked politics and economics. One blasted politicians who “once elected” with unionists’ support, “allow their greed to cloud their vision. Our phone calls and e-mails go unanswered. We must hold these flip-flopping pols to their word.”

And Denise Caldwell of Local 7 in Detroit said “we need to be more vigilant to make sure they (politicians) vote for the things we want them to vote for – and when they don’t, give them hell.”

The few complaints were that the economics resolution didn’t go far enough.

“I favor the resolution, but It mentions nothing about temps,” who are an ever-larger share of both UAW members and the workforce in general, Houldieson said. “And $15 an hour is no longer a minimum wage in Chicago and Detroit, because of gentrification. We need a living wage, and we need a raise from the greedy bastards that captured our economy.”

“When the 99 percent is collectively tired, fed up and angry, we can collectively take on the one percent, by working at the grass-roots,” Caldwell commented.

The one outright exception was a Texas delegate who said his then 16-year-old son would never have gotten a job at Six Flags had the amusement park been forced to pay a higher minimum wage, since he had no work experience at all. He was hired as a cleaner. The son, now 26 and married, is a skilled tradesman, the delegate said.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.