The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

UAW President Steps Aside—The Beacon of the GM Strike Remains!

Nov 11, 2019

This was the editorial in the SPARK workplace bulletins, for the week of November 4, 2019.

After a vote by the executive board of the United Auto Workers union, UAW president Gary Jones requested a paid leave of absence. The Detroit News reported he agreed to repay wages paid to him during the leave if he is convicted.

In fact, Jones has not been charged with any crime. But other officials in the UAW region that Jones once headed have been. And the Feds have leaked information, implying that Jones along with those other officials embezzled union funds, and used union money to pay for personal expenditures.

Who really knows what Jones or others did? Jones hasn’t even been charged yet. Most haven’t had their day in court.

But even if he did embezzle union money, workers should be the ones to hold him to account.

Look who is accusing UAW officials of corruption—the same federal government that lets big companies like GM make hundreds of billions of dollars and pay no taxes at all. You want to talk about corruption? That’s corruption!

The government has never “cleaned up” unions in the interest of the members. Remember what the Feds did to the Teamsters’ union? They removed Jimmy Hoffa as International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) president in the 1960s, only to hand the union over to real mobsters. Some of those mobsters almost beat Pete Camarata, a Teamster oppositionist, to death at the IBT convention in Las Vegas in 1976. After a reform movement took over the IBT in 1991, it led several strikes, including the important strike at UPS in 1997. The Feds immediately pounced on Ron Carey, the man who led that strike. For the last 20 years, the Feds have run the union, during which time the Teamsters’ multi-employer pension fund was completely drained. That’s corruption!

The Feds did not clean up the IBT for Teamster members. They will not “clean up” the UAW for UAW members. None of this will help any workers—with or without a union.

The Feds have other agendas. These charges were originally floated just before the strike—what a coincidence! And they are being renewed now that workers are taking stock of what they did.

The charges are being used by anti-union forces to push the lie that GM workers were tricked into striking. They claim the strike wasn’t worth anything. It’s the same old lie workers always hear when they fight: when you go out on strike, you supposedly lose more than you win.

It’s not true. When you fight, you hardly ever win everything you want. But you don’t keep going backwards. When you don’t fight for years and even decades, you lose, and continue to lose, and go on losing.

For decades the unions have been going backwards, giving up without ever making a fight. Leaders openly proclaimed that unions were in a partnership with the companies. They argued to their members that workers must sacrifice to build up company profit—it was supposed to save jobs. But jobs were lost, and wages too.

The GM strike broke through this. Why did UAW leaders call on workers to strike this time? It doesn’t matter. They did—after years of going along with the companies.

It was obvious from the picket lines that GM workers were eager to be there. It was equally obvious that workers from other companies wanted to join them—that’s why they showed up in solidarity, why they contributed to help GM workers make it through a long strike.

Those workers weren’t tricked. They had every reason to join a fight: years of sacrifices, while the companies ran off with billions in profit.

They have every reason to be proud today, regardless of what Jones may have done. Their strike was a beacon to every worker who has wanted to fight. Their strike could be what sets off a long sustained wave of strikes by many workers—the only thing that will move us all forward.