the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist
“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx
Aug 1, 2022
In the closing week of July, the UAW (United Auto Workers) held its 38th Constitutional Convention in Detroit, Michigan. This convention was attended by almost 900 voting delegates, split between 8 regions across the United States, organized and directed by the International Union, the UAW. Staff and guests comprised an additional 600 to 800 people.
This convention took place following a long period of government interference. In a consent decree imposed by the federal government following a series of charges of corruption, the International Union agreed to be supervised in two major respects. One, in the election of International Executive Board officers, including the President of the International Union. Secondly, in the administration of the union’s affairs. The Convention itself was supervised with a federal monitor in the background.
This convention appeared to be significantly different than the four previous UAW conventions. While there was no fundamental shift in the policies of the union, there was much more discussion and open dissent from more of the delegates. For the most part, the Convention was run in a seemingly democratic fashion, at least for the first three days.
The shakeup and prosecution of the top leadership of the union, accompanied by the imposition of a government monitor, appear to have encouraged a less controlled functioning. More resolutions were considered on the convention floor. In addition to the mandatory subjects for discussion and decision, like a vote on the process to be used for electing the next President and Executive Board, the delegates discussed more freely on a wider range of issues than before. While resolutions continued to be controlled by the leadership through its Resolutions Committee, delegates voted in large enough numbers to bring out and debate other issues that they wanted to discuss. Their energy around the issue resulted in an attitude that reflected the delegates’ desire to have more say-so in decisions taken.
A marked change for delegates was the lack of intimidating behavior that the International Union leadership has historically organized to cut off discussion, debate and voting on any issue they have not planned to take action on. Shouting, hissing, and booing were, for the most part, not allowed.
The most interesting activity of the convention was centered around the question of strike pay. In anticipation of the energy around this issue, the leaders of the International Union had recently made a decision to raise the amount of strike pay from $275 to $400 per week per striker. During the convention, delegates voted to increase strike pay to $500 per week. They were clearly ready to fight on this issue, challenging the International not only on the level of weekly pay, but also on getting the pay earlier in the strike. As well, delegates challenged the diversion of interest payments from the strike fund to other organizational funds and insisted that any interest generated by the fund would be plowed back into the fund. Although the leadership managed to defeat most of these initiatives, delegates were successful in getting strike funds paid out starting day one of any strike, instead of starting strike pay on the second week of a strike.
On the last day of the convention, the International Union leadership called for a reconsideration and reversal of the decision made by delegates to pay $500 per week to those on strike. This imposition of the leadership’s will to reverse that vote had a real impact on the attending delegates that will echo into the workplace upon their return.
While delegates were not successful in their attempts to increase strike pay, the actions of the International Union executive board put a brake on illusions that the International leadership had become democratic under the federal monitor. More importantly, it will no doubt serve to encourage discussion and debate around the issue of strike fights in the current period.
Delegates at the convention were clearly considering the necessity of a strike fight on the horizon. The delegates had empathy for the striker from CNH (Case New Holland) a workplace currently on strike and supported the call for increased pay in strike situations.
It appeared that, in addition, delegates may be anticipating a fight around auto contracts terminating in 2023. No doubt, the current turbulent environment and threat of recession, with Covid still widespread, with disruptions to the normal work environment and with rampant inflation, combined with the internal problems of the union, have workers, including delegates, considering what they need to do to fight back.
No doubt, UAW workers and delegates are right to look for ways to assert their control over their union’s strike fund. This money from the workers should be theirs to dispense with. But the actions of the International leadership to block further expenditure show clearly that those who control the money today, in its bank accounts and investments, under the watchful eyes of the federal government, have no intention of allowing workers to access this money in an “unsupervised” way.
The UAW organization, through the policies of its current leadership, shows that it is part and parcel of a system of capitalist exploitation—that is, it accepts to continue the super-exploitation of auto workers with lowered wages and benefits and to distribute the lion’s share of profits to its bourgeois stockholders, while workers get a no-longer “living wage.”
Yes, auto workers have every right to lay hold of their money to launch an all-out war against this exploitation. But what is needed, what has to happen, to defend even the sorry level of wages and rewards auto workers have been forced to accept, is a real fight. That is, an all-out, alley scrap that takes the fight to the street.
The money in the strike fund, even if workers can get it, isn’t enough. The corporations have many, many times more money than unions have in their strike funds. But money is not the main issue. The workers will have to make a bigger kind of fight—a fight that forces the bosses to let go of their riches, their bank accounts, and give it back to those who produced it: the workers.
Beyond money in their strike fund, the auto workers have a much more valuable asset. They are part of a huge, powerful, working class with friends and allies in every corner. They are part of the class that produces what is necessary to make “every wheel turn,” a class that can stop production as well, and force the Wall Street thieves to give it up.