“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Aug 30, 2021
In a few months, UAW members will be voting whether to change the process by which we elect our top leadership. The UAW Constitution has always called for the President and the International Executive Board to be chosen at the UAW Constitutional Convention, elected by the delegates from each local union. As part of the consent decree mandated by the federal government, the UAW will conduct a referendum on whether to continue this process or to change to a “one member, one vote” process, where UAW members vote directly for the top leadership.
Why does the UAW have delegates elect the top leadership? If we look back at the early days of the UAW, we see a union that was organized by workers who built it to be a fighting organization. Making a fight meant bringing together auto workers who were spread across the country. The workers who started the UAW decided that the best way to organize a fight would be to have members in every Local elect delegates and then bring them together at a UAW Convention. These delegates would speak for what the members wanted. At the Conventions, the delegates discussed, debated and decided on a direction for the union. When the delegates elected the top leadership, that leadership reflected what the members wanted. That was when the UAW was at its most democratic and most militant.
I know UAW members have opinions about our top leadership today. Many members are angry at those top union leaders who recently pled guilty to putting money in their own pockets or using union dues to take privileges for themselves. We should be angry. These leaders betrayed our trust. We should not tolerate any corruption in our union. But the biggest problem I see in our union leadership is not the corruption of some individuals. The biggest problem is the policies of the whole top leadership.
During my years in the UAW, I always fought for a change in the direction of our union. I ran for International UAW President 3 times because I opposed our top leadership’s policy of “partnership” with the corporations, a policy that led to many concession contracts. I believe the only way workers can defend our standard of living is to organize a fight against the corporations. That is the reason why workers organized themselves in unions in the first place. A fight is never easy, but if we are not ready to fight, I believe that we will continue to be pushed backward.
Whatever UAW members decide in this referendum does not change that reality. Whether we continue to elect delegates or vote directly for our top leadership, the problem does not change. We need a union that is ready to fight.
I hope UAW members use this referendum as a chance to discuss and decide, not just how our top leadership is elected, but, more importantly, what kind of direction we want for our union. We can’t just think that voting for a union president is enough. A change in direction for the UAW has to come from the membership. If we want a union that is ready to make a fight, it is up to us to make it happen.