The Spark

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

UAW Members Are Voting, Real Change Will Require a Fight

Oct 24, 2022

United Auto Workers (UAW) union members are receiving mail-in ballots to cast their votes for the union president and the other top leaders of the International union. This is the first time that UAW members, active and retired, will be directly voting for the top leadership. Up until now, this leadership had been elected by delegates at a UAW Convention.

The UAW was organized during a time period when militant strikes by autoworkers pushed back the corporations. There was a period when the militant workers who led these strikes and had the confidence of their fellow workers were elected as delegates to a UAW Convention. When these delegates from around the country came together at conventions they debated and decided upon the direction of the union and elected the top leadership. Certainly this was a time when there was real democracy in the union. The change to direct elections today does not make the UAW more democratic. It makes it less so.

The change to direct elections by the union members came about due to the intervention of the federal government. The government came into the UAW, allegedly to investigate some top leaders who had used their positions to financially benefit from union dues and company-union joint funds. The government indicted and jailed those leaders. But the government also imposed a consent decree upon the UAW, where a federal monitor now has some control over the functioning of the union. This monitor even has veto power over who can run for the top leadership positions.

As part of the consent decree, the UAW was also required to have a referendum where the members voted on whether to continue to elect top leadership at conventions or by a direct vote of the members. Participation in the referendum was very low (14%) and the majority of those who voted decided for the direct voting method.

Those UAW members who vote in this current election will be deciding between the candidates of the Administrative Caucus, who currently run the union, or opposition candidates, including one slate and other individual candidates. Those opposition candidates say that the current leadership is responsible for the concessions imposed upon autoworkers. These concessions include two-tier wages and benefits. Autoworkers hired since 2007 have no retiree pensions. Current retirees get their health care from a VEBA, which is not guaranteed. All autoworkers lost yearly raises and cost-of-living raises.

These concessions were not imposed easily. Some autoworkers organized and many voted against the concessions, including big “No” votes at Ford and Chrysler/Stellantis. Finally, however, the majority of workers accepted sacrifices for themselves, and especially, to impose a severe 2-tier system on new hires.

Today, some UAW members hope that by voting directly for the leadership and perhaps electing a different leadership, workers can gain back what has been lost.

But that is going to take more than voting, more than electing a different leadership. The working class can only defend its interests when it makes a fight. That is what it takes. The corporations are not going to give workers what they owe them, unless and until workers are ready to fight. The history of the working class shows that. The history of the UAW shows that.

The current UAW leadership only proposes to continue their same policy, which has been a policy of “partnership” with the corporations, a policy that led to concessions. There are opposition candidates who say they want to reverse the concessions.

But whoever gets elected as the top UAW leadership today, it will not change the fact that it is going to take a fight by the workers to change their situation. In the past, when the workers engaged in a fight, they were able to bring forth a leadership that was ready and able to lead that fight. That kind of leadership is what workers today will need to find when they begin their own fights.