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Death of the UAW-Kevorkian Style
War Zone Organizer Mike Griffin reports on the facts behind the defeat of the UAW at VW.
Death of the UAW-Kevorkian Style
From The WarZone
Death of the UAW-Kevorkian Style
by Mike Griffin
The loss of the United Auto Workers [UAW] organizing effort at Volkswagen [VW] in Tennessee is another fatal blow in the destruction of this nation’s once most influential and militant unions. Reporting by mainstream media has been sparse, inaccurate, and willfully incompetent. The media took a dive on the involvement of US Senator Bob Corker and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. They never question incompetent or corrupt union leadership either as they often benefit employers by working against the interests of members. Not one media outlet questioned UAW President Bob King about the horrible concessions the UAW put on the table or their impact on workers . Fair and accurate investigative reporting could have led to a different outcome.
VW pledged neutrality in the organizing effort after the UAW conceded everything but their first-born sons. The Tennessee weasels, Governor Bill Haslam and U.S. Senator Bob Corker, mounted a full- fledged fear campaign. VW workers were threatened that if they voted in a union, the plant would not get new work, receive any more public subsidies and the plant’s future may be at risk. Could the Governor, a U.S. Senator and other high powered players initiate an anti-union campaign without the nod from VW? Here is a story that is pleading for media and Justice Department Investigations. Could a link between VW, Corker, and Haslam produce not only labor violations, but RICCO as well? Serious questions needs to be raised about the gullibility and absolute stupidity of the UAW.
When those two cowards, Corker and Haslam, took the oath of office, they pledged to uphold the law. The right to join a union is law everywhere, but Dixie. Ironic isn’t it; elected US representatives working against American workers for a foreign multi-national corporation right here in America? Is it the water down there, or does advancing the plantation mentality pay so well for every “Dixie Prick” that gets elected? Could it be Corker and Haslam are un-American?
With pressure from the IG Metalworkers, VW’s powerful German union, VW supposedly agreed to neutrality in the election process but “neutrality” is a word that does not translate in German. VW stalled the election for months after the UAW received a card majority while allowing salaried employees to wear anti-union shirts and whip up fear from inside the plant. Outside the plant, Haslam, Corker, and their goon squad worked a willing media. VW wrote the script and the UAW followed it!
The overwhelming responsibility for the loss goes to an incompetent and power corrupt UAW. According to writer, Steve Early, “the UAW disclaimed, in writing, any intention to strike or picket for a first contract”, essentially bending over for VW and it wasn’t backwards. Mike Elk, In These Times correspondent, wrote that UAW leaders committed to “maintaining and where possible enhancing the cost advantages and other competitive advantages that VW enjoys relative to competitors in the United States—a reference to the UAW represented “legacy automobile manufacturers” in Detroit”. Written in typical UAW legal beagle doublespeak, it appears the UAW would assist VW in lowering wages and benefits in Chattanooga and anywhere else VW employees were stupid enough to let the mighty UAW misrepresent them. ”As an additional friendly gesture, the UAW explicitly agreed to curtail what would be the normal scope of contract bargaining by a newly recognized union “and a “Works Council” [company unionism] in lieu of a standard grievance procedure. “Taxation without representation”.
The effort at VW exemplifies the new organizing mantra “Bargaining to Organize”. It’s difficult to find the “bargaining” part in the UAW effort as they have essentially thrown the babies to the child molesters. The good old boys in Solidarity House [UAW Headquarters in Detroit] and the Region 8 office need to look for other work. Somewhere is an employer looking for a crew that can suck a hicky on the tail pipe of a VW bus. The concessions offered prior to certification and negotiation, paints a very bleak picture for the UAW in other organizing opportunities, particularly in the south. The lack of testicle fortitude and incompetence of the UAW has reached a new low but this was not their first foray into Dixie or first horror story.
My experiences with the UAW began here in the War Zone, Decatur IL. In the early nineties the UAW struck Caterpillar, the United Rubber Workers struck Firestone and AIW local 837 was locked out by AE Staley. I was a rank and file organizer for the Campaign for Justice for local 837 [the Staley workers] who during the dispute, merged with the United Paperworkers International Union [UPIU]. During those days of struggle I worked closely with UAW local 751 President, Larry Solomon, a courageous local leader who Caterpillar hated and the UAW considered a thorn in their side because he believed in fighting for the rank and file.
After the Staley struggle was betrayed by the UPIU and the AFL-CIO “New Voice” team of John Sweeney and Richard Trumka, we formed a group of activists who used our contacts to form the Warzone Education Foundation. Our purpose was to provide support to striking and locked out workers regardless of affiliation. We offered our experience to local unions on how to fight back and organize support. We raised cash, food, and Christmas caravans to support struggling workers and their families. Many times we were asked to represent local unions and members in internal trials forced on them by less than democratic internationals; often the UAW. Our intimate knowledge of the UAW and the AFL-CIO is based on those experiences.
The Caterpillar struggle languished for more than six years before a devastating contract was achieved. At the heart of the dispute was tiered wages, rotating shifts, lower benefits and a gutting of the grievance procedure. The contract lowered wages in the Parts division so low workers were eligible for government assistance. The National Labor Relations Board upheld more than 450 violations against Caterpillar; a US record. Many centered on the 250 plus members discharged by Cat; most who had done nothing wrong. Cat would keep all the scabs and destroy the lives of loyal UAW members. The UAW agreed to drop all the NLRB charges and walk away from 250 loyal members. I was with Solomon at the 1995 AFL-CIO convention in New York when Steve Yokich, UAW President who succeeded Owen Beiber, told us that “he was not going to hold up a contract for thousands of UAW members for a few hundred discharge cases”. We were shocked and outraged.
During the six year dispute, the UAW forced the contract back for a vote many times but never once offered any strategy for winning the struggle. The contract failed due to the large percentage of no votes at the much smaller local in Decatur IL, who would not betray discharged fellow members. The UAW promoted the local President in Peoria to the International staff, who then took the thirty pieces of silver, drank the poison, and supported the International and Cat. When the UAW wants a contract to pass, it is common to promote local leaders or tighten the screws on dissident locals. The UAW forgave local union dues owed by members while working without a contract or on strike. Shamefully they forgave the scabs dues but demanded nearly one million in dues from the local to the International. Locals are funded by member’s dues. We believe the UAW used the economic pressure to force the errant local to fall in line. No matter how low Yokich and his band of thugs stooped, the local stayed true to the discharged members. It is extremely important to know and understand how vicious, undemocratic and vindictive top leadership in the business union model is.
Decatur activists circulated a weekly newsletter called “Kick the Cat’ to keep members aware of what the UAW and Cat was trying to pull. The devastating contract finally passed in 1998 when it included the discharged members, but as retirees would later discover, not all the concessions were made available prior to the vote. UAW members came away twirling their shorts on their fingers.
The path to Chattanooga began in Central IL with the Cat struggle. Decatur activists knew the betrayal at Cat was the beginning of something much larger and more hideous than a single dispute. The pattern the industry and the UAW was developing would guaranty the death of the UAW and it was a power corrupt misleadership administering the death potion. The Caterpillar struggle and all that followed was UAW suicide assisted by government and the employing class; the “Jonestown” of organized labor.
In late nineties, Accuride Wheel in Henderson Ky., locked out more than 650 UAW members who produced wheels for mostly unionized truck manufacturers. Accuride’s offer was the worst in UAW history but within the pattern set by Cat and the UAW for parts supply facilities. The local struck briefly then returned to work but rightly refused the offer that destroyed every union value. Accuride locked them out. We were contacted by local union President, Billy Robinson, asking for our help.
With the help of labor activists, we put Billy and members of his local on the road to tell the story of the Accuride struggle. Labor radio and television interviews and speaking tours raised the level of debate, much needed cash and made it much harder for the UAW to bury their betrayal. After being locked out for more than year, regional director, Ron Gettlefinger [disaffeconately referred to as Get Fingered} vowed to support them for “as long as it takes”. The UAW notified Accuride a week in advance of the local union; they would cut off all support for the local. No more strike pay, no medical insurance, and no support from the UAW. It was an all out betrayal and a violation of the UAW constitution. Once again, “Company Unionism” reared its ugly head.
With limited resources, we organized a national picket of Solidarity House [UAW headquarters in Detroit]. We gained the support of a Detroit attorney who filed charges against the UAW with the Public Review Board, for violating their own constitution. The PRB is an independent Agency that handles internal disputes in the UAW. Hundreds showed up for the rousing picket of Solidarity house. There was no mistaking the anger on Yokich’s face as his driver drove him in and out of the grounds. Surrounded by Detroit police, we were warned we would be arrested if we stepped on union grounds; exactly what scumbag employers would do.
Shortly after our picket, benefits were restored at double the rate, but the message was clear to Accuride and the workers. Months later the UAW decertified the local and walked away leaving more than 650 loyal UAW members and their families with nothing. I never felt more ashamed of the union or more loathing for UAW. Word of this betrayal spread far beyond Henderson Kentucky. Accuride was a parts supplier to Freightliner trucks, adding another piece to the UAW/ Industry puzzle.
UAW focus moved to the automakers and the parts industry of Visteon at Ford and Delphi at GM. Automakers wanted a “Me Too” contract with the UAW and used spin-offs to rid themselves of legacy costs. Yokich and the UAW assisted the effort by forcing numerous votes on the devastating spinoffs and contracts. Many members claim the UAW misrepresented the terms and many voted believing they still had GM retirements, which proved to be not so. Again, UAW members were surrendered without any chance to fight back.
The UAW used its less than democratic structure to secure a devastating contract that set back members 50 years. Extremely lower tiered wages, less work rules and representation, poverty level retirements and health care, and no job security, was now the norm. Again future workers bore the brunt as the UAW sold out the next generation. Now employers are free to use racial, ethnic, gender, and age discrimination. The Caterpillar mold was cast. In spite of a billion dollar strike fund and a furious rank and file, the UAW rolled over like a 48 Willeys Jeep. Who would want to join a union visibly colluding with the employers? The road to Chattanooga was paved with deceit, betrayal and cowardice!
What started as a “cooperative effort”, quality work-life, or “jointness” programs under the reigns of Leonard Woodcock, and Doug Frazier, who negotiated himself a seat on Chrysler’s Board of Directors, morphed into a full-fledged sword swallowing contest. Touching pee-pees with the rich and devious was not enough. As the rank and file took it in the shorts, top leaders of the UAW lavished themselves with raises, benefits, and under Yokich, even a golf course at Black Lake, the UAW retreat where insiders told us he golfed with auto executives. As one UAW member quipped, “ Golf course; there’s not enough balls in the entire international Executive Board to play one hole”.
Yokich, in ill health, retired, passing the magic briefcase to Ron Gettlefinger, the Regional Director in Kentucky who stabbed the Accuride workers in the back. Being a “good soldier” in the UAW has its rewards as the outcomes of national elections and conventions are tightly controlled. Even more damning, the UAW blueprint is in that briefcase and again the rank and file has no voice. If a local comes under siege over issues preset by the UAW, they have already lost. The UAW has assisted employers for decades in forcing concessions while quietly waging war against locals and members who refuse to accept a UAW that openly pisses on the blood and sacrifice shed for their precious union.
Gettlefinger was solidly in the UAW mold. He was a short man with a big mustache and a booming voice that made great militant speeches, but his blow didn’t match his go. He reminded me of Yosemite Sam, the Texas blowhard in the Roadrunner cartoons. In spite of the ruffled exterior, he joined a long line of hopelessly incompetent UAW hacks.
After rank and file resistance to massive concessions, Chrysler and GM used the economic crisis feigning bankruptcy. Was it real or was it a tactic to use the courts and government to strip UAW members of legacy benefits? I believe it was the latter and again the UAW stepped up to the plate for the bosses. Isn’t it odd how fast GM and Chrysler recovered with Ford piling on with a “me too” agreement? Under Gettlefinger, automakers got the gold while UAW members got the shaft. Transcending both sides of the aisle, the bailouts were foredawn conclusions made by those who really control government; Wall Street.
What began under the Bush administration, Obama with Ratner the rat as auto Czar, used the power of government to violate ERISA [which is supposed to protect pensions] and loot the UAW with concessions even though the UAW had already given huge concessions. This was Obama’s way of paying the UAW back for their support. The difference is amazing between how Wall Street and union workers are treated by Obama who has done nothing but piss on organized labor. Obama is a Trojan Horse [pretend Democrat] automakers could depend on.
A few years ago, we were contacted by UAW Bargaining Committee members in Cleveland, North Carolina, representing workers at Freightliner, owned by German multi-national Daimler. While the UAW International led a team to Germany without telling the local or having local participation, local leaders mounted a 1 day strike. In retaliation, Daimler fired 5 local leaders and the UAW brought them up on charges. We found a Detroit lawyer to represent them, raised money for their defense and put them on the road to tell their story. In the end the UAW testified against the “Freightliner 5” and helped Daimler end their careers. After the UAW betrayed the Freightliner Five, Daimler rewarded them by moving more of the production to Mexico.
Gary Casteel, organizing director at VW, was the Regional Rep for the Freightliner Five. Casteel threatened the South Carolina AFL-CIO President with sanctions for providing support to the Freightliner Five. No doubt Casteel, at some point, will get a seat on the magic merry-go-round that dumps off Presidents by pecking order and continue dragging the UAW into the corporate abyss? Without real elections, he just has to wait his turn. After one disaster after another, Gettlefinger passed the briefcase to Bob King.
King has enjoyed the benefits of being a good soldier in Detroit and shares responsibility for the Company Union the UAW has become. King is part of the procession of UAW hacks that systematically move through the UAW Presidency, staying just long enough to soak up the huge retirement and benefits. The nearly one billion UAW treasury is anything but a “War- chest” as there is no war or fight back. The treasury is a slush fund to be looted by a generation of incompetent goons. . In the last twenty years the UAW has seen four presidential changes with each president having relatively short tenures. In the absence of real elections, it appears as if there is a seniority system to move the “sell out generation” through the top position to collect their thirty pieces of silver, and then retire in splendor.
King has carried on the UAW surrender legacy well. We have not seen one shred of success during his tenure. After losing at VW, he has shifted his focus on Tesla, the electric car manufacturer in Fremont California. Tesla occupies the shuttered NUMI plant, former home to a so-called successful joint Venture between Toyota and GM and a jointness scheme with the UAW. The joint effort ended when the company made all the decisions and gave the UAW the joint, closing the plant. King is again offering a Works Council to get one foot in the door of Tesla with the other likely on the necks of the workers. Do they need a union? Absolutely, but workers need a real union run by the workers; certainly not the UAW.
In the effort at VW and now at Tesla, all the concessions King offered, the rank and file is excluded from decision-making. Bob really is King! In a UAW news release, King Bob heaped praise on Tesla’s owner but it was all about King and the owner and nothing about ordinary workers. The slobber was so heavy; rumor has it that King will need a tongue transplant before returning to Detroit. King appears to have been cloned from union fraud Andy Stern, former Service Employees International Union President turned corporate shill that divided the AFL-CIO. King will retire in June at the convention after a tenure just long enough to inflict more pain on UAW members and long enough to snag that golden parachute.
When the magic merry-go-round stops in June, Dennis Williams will step out and snatch the brief case. No election and no challenge. He was groomed as Secretary Treasurer since 2010 and formerly a Regional Director in Chicago. Prior to that, he was a good soldier as an International Rep during the Cat dispute and was a negotiator of the worst contract in UAW history at Cat. He gets high marks from labor professor Harley Shaiken at Berkley, who never gets it right. Williams has long had close ties to Obama and even helped him win the Iowa Caucuses. Obama returned the favor by bailing out big auto, bashing the UAW, and turning his back on the house of labor.
The Detroit Free Press, UAW cheerleader for all the wrong reasons, is spinning the myth that a challenge for the presidency could come from a Regional Director. There is no chance a Director will risk his career with a vicious and controlling UAW hierarchy. The last challenge came from Jerry Tucker in St Louis in the eighties; a challenge that ended his career. Courageously, Tucker went on to form the New Directions Caucus in the UAW based on rank and file democracy and fighting against concessions. Tucker offered the only hope for the future of the UAW with rank and file democracy and militancy based on the principles of the UAW constitution of improving conditions for UAW members. Sadly, Jerry Tucker passed away last year without realizing his dream of rebuilding a real union within the UAW.
In the past four decades there is not one example of the UAW mounting a major fight or securing a true winning contract. The UAW is strangling on bureaucracy, incompetence, and power corrupt leadership. That image is mirrored by the rest of the AFL-CIO affiliates who have given up the fight in favor of falling on their faces before the Bastards of the Boardroom. Beg not bargain! Instead of relying on the power of millions of workers, many in key industries, they drank the poison of the Democratic Party. They wasted tens of millions in hard earned dues on the party who passed NAFTA which saw millions of American jobs move offshore and who balanced the budget on the backs of the poor with so-called “welfare reform”. More telling was the bailout of Wall Street with huge bonuses for criminals, no convictions, or meaningful reforms, while Main Street lost homes, jobs, futures, and their faith in America.
Will the UAW survive? The organization might, but the union is almost gone and that is true of the entire AFL-CIO. The last remnants of the union lie solely in a small number of members who refuse to give up the fight. These real labor heroes are labeled, dissidents. It will only be resurrected by conditions so bad that ordinary workers and disenfranchised Americans have no other choice but to revolt. The union must begin anew with mass civil unrest with groups like Occupy, Moral Mondays, a Labor Party, and other movements that dues money could have been better spent on. But that takes courage, vision, and faith in the many and a willingness to risk those precious treasuries, and above all else, leadership. Disorganized labor has none of the above.
Warzone Education Foundation-- Decatur IL
UAW VW supporters
UAW Pres Bob King continues the incompetent and corrupt leadership of he UAW bureaucracy