Jun 9, 2014
Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman from Ford and one of the leaders of the movement to reject all demands for concessions, was nominated for the presidency of the UAW at its convention held in Detroit. This is the second convention in a row that Walkowicz has challenged the entrenched leadership of the UAW over its concessions policies.
In one sense, it was a replay of the 2010 convention. In both conventions, Walkowicz made the union’s acceptance of concessions his chief issue. He pointed out that not only does the acceptance of concessions not save jobs, it costs jobs. The proof was stark: in the eight years since the last wave of concessions began, the UAW has lost 200,000 members – and this despite the fact that GM, Ford and Chrysler are all putting out cars today at a near record pace.
He also denounced the readiness of the UAW leadership to split the membership by agreeing to a “two-tier” wage policy for new hires – a wage rate little more than half of what is paid to established workers – and by letting the corporations junk the promises they had made to their retirees.
But what was different about this convention was the fact that the leadership, facing that steep membership loss, could propose nothing other than a dues increase – something strongly opposed in the plants. It was obviously not so much the amount of money – it amounts to one-half of one hour’s wages a month, about $16 an hour for the older workers, $7 to $8 for second-tier workers. It was the thought that this leadership, which has done nothing to organize any kind of resistance to the attacks on the workers’ standard of living, would itself put its hands in the workers’ pockets.
Many rank-and-file workers oppose this increase; and many delegates were elected to the convention based on that opposition. At the convention, during a debate that went on for two hours, they stood and argued against it. Ultimately, around one fourth of the delegates voted against the increase, an opposition not seen for several decades. This shows the possibility of a rank-and-file movement to take back control of the union.
Before Walkowicz’s two candidacies, there had been only two other challenges for the top spot of the union in 64 years.
It was obvious, given the permanent and monolithic hold over the union by the apparatus, that Walkowicz would not get many votes. And he did not, getting 49 to 3215 for Dennis Williams, the new president.
The issue was never whether he could win. Just like four years ago, it was whether anyone would stand up in the convention and say what so many workers and even many of the delegates were thinking. It’s obvious that if no one does, things just continue on as before, with the appearance that everyone agrees.
Now, it is clear that many don’t agree.