The Spark

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

Former UAW President Steve Yokich dies

Aug 26, 2002

Thousands of union officials, retirees and ordinary workers went to pay their respects to former UAW President Steve Yokich, who died on August 9, only a few months after he retired.

Yokich devoted his whole life to the union, from the time he was a young worker at a small tool and die shop, up through the years that he occupied positions at the head of the union. He came up through the ranks.And he was of that generation of UAW officials who had taken part in strikes. Many workers respected him exactly for these reasons.

Nonetheless, Yokich, like UAW presidents before him, carried out a policy that in the long run has worked against the interest of the workers. Like other presidents before him, he made trade-offs with the big auto companies that led us to today's situation. The economic gains made in the contracts were more than offset by what was given up to the companies: a much faster pace of work for those on the line and very big job cuts.

In the years since the concessions began, the auto companies have cut their work force in half. Many jobs have been shipped to companies paying lower pay. And many more jobs have been lost to the vicious speed-up, as work rules were modified to let the company get more work out of every worker. The assumption all during this time has been that the workers can benefit only if the company benefits, and UAW leaders have done what they could to help reinforce the profitability of the companies.

Yokich alone was not responsible for this policy – which in fact sees the union in a partnership with the companies. But Yokich did not challenge this policy either. In fact, he was able to help impose it, precisely because he had a certain militant reputation.