The Spark

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

How Union Auto Workers Got Cut Out of Decision-Making

Sep 14, 2015

The UAW was born out of the strike struggle of 1937. But even before the ink was dry on the first contracts, workers discovered that the new contracts carried controls limiting what they could legally do. One union – the UAW – was recognized and given the right to speak for the workers. And it agreed to limit strikes.

Controls over the workers were made more and more solid in contracts that followed in all three auto companies and soon spread even further. Any worker who engaged in a sit-in, slow-down or any form of strike action faced the threat of discharge. Then came “Management rights” clauses which restricted the workers’ rights to only a few items in the contract book.

The companies offered to physically separate union representatives from the workers they represented – they no longer had to work on the line. They also no longer had to collect the dues, insulating them from the workers’ displeasure.

The International Union was a willing partner in the process of separating union officials from the workers they represented. Of course, there were, and still are, union representatives who are willing to fight and lead fights. But they organize and fight in opposition to the International Union’s policy.

Today, most auto workers have become accustomed to the cycles of three or four year contracts. The goal was to keep an orderly production schedule running uninterrupted by any workers’ strike actions.

The result was to dilute the workers’ power. But without the power of the workers united for a fight, union bureaucrats continued for decades to deliver less and call it more.

When the sleeping giant that is the real union – the mass of auto workers – when it wakes up, we will see the ball start rolling in the opposite direction. Workers will tear up the contract provisions and straitjackets of scheduling and secrecy that today confine them to being spectators in their own game.