The Spark

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

Ford contract vote:
It’s up to workers to control their own union

Jan 2, 2006

UAW leaders reported that the Ford healthcare concessions passed by 51 to 49%. Workers immediately responded, many saying the vote was stolen, the count rigged. A UAW spokesman said union leaders had expected a close vote because workers were unhappy because they had to give up concessions in the middle of the contract, but that it was a fair vote.

Yes, workers were “unhappy” about giving up concessions. But many are enraged because the lack of accountability in the way the contract vote was reported created real distrust toward the officers of their own union.

There are very strict rules in the UAW constitution for the election of officers, but, as workers in some locals can attest, there sometimes is cheating.

But, in the case of contract ratifications and strike votes, there are no rules. And this time, the voting was so loosely done as to be uncheckable afterwards. In one Ford Local 600 plant, for example, some voting was done with officials standing over workers while they voted, collecting the ballots in an open plastic jug or pail. No procedure to ensure that someone voted only once. No procedure to make sure that if a member was absent or didn’t vote, no one else voted “for” them! Some of these ballots were kept overnight in the hands of officials who were not overseen in any way. Ballots could have been thrown out – or added!

How can any vote represent the workers’ wishes unless the workers themselves control the process, every step of the way? This one wasn’t supervised by the workers. There was no rank and file inspection of balloting. There was no rank and file verification of ballot counting.

That’s one reason workers don’t trust this vote. The other reason is that they know – in their own plants – just how many workers opposed this contract. And what was true in one plant was true in many plants across the country. In fact, even officials admitted that at least 16 plants voted down the contract, some by as much as 90%.

This tainted vote doesn’t have to stand. It all depends on what all those workers who voted against the contract do. There are more than enough of them to overturn fraudulent results.

This spring, there will be elections for delegates to the UAW’s 2006 Constitutional Convention. Why not elect delegates to go to the convention who pledge themselves to establish rank and file control over all votes and to demand a new vote under rank and file supervision? Workers can also show up at the convention to show that these delegates have real support!

Retirees may not have been allowed to vote on the concessions, but they are able to vote for convention delegates – and, why not, even to run for delegate slots. And they are certainly able to gather at the convention, gather by the thousands, to call the old officers to account and to demand that the workers’ broken retirement contract be restored.

The contract can be re-opened at any time. This has always been true, but now it is glaringly obvious. The companies have demonstrated that expiration dates are nothing but words on a piece of paper. If the contract can be torn up at the company’s convenience, then it can be torn up by the workers as well.