The Spark

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

UAW Needs a Fighting Policy, However Its Leaders Are Elected

Jan 3, 2022

UAW members have voted to change the process by which the top union leadership is elected. In what was a low turnout, active and retired UAW members voted by 64% for the UAW International President and Executive Board to be elected by direct elections of union members.

It seemed as if the vote to change the election process reflected the anger by UAW members against the top union leaders—a leadership which has presided over many years of two-tier contracts and concessions. And workers were angry at the fact that some of those leaders were caught up in an investigation by the federal government of corruption in the union.

This referendum was imposed by the federal government, which claimed that direct elections were more democratic and a way for union members to control their union. But the government did not allow union members to vote on the details of how the direct election process will work. The federal monitor will impose those details. And this monitor will also decide who can and cannot run for top union office. That hardly sounds democratic!

But whatever the election process is, UAW members still face the issue of confronting the corporations’ drive for concessions and regaining all that they have lost.

The following letter addressing that was written by Gary Walkowicz, a long-time UAW militant.

John Deere workers show the way forward to change the UAW

UAW members have voted to change the way that our top officers will be elected. In a referendum vote of all active and retired union members, those who voted decided that, in the future, the UAW president and the International Executive Board will be elected by a Direct Vote (One Member, One Vote) of all union members.

This referendum was imposed by the federal government as part of the consent decree with the UAW. We were not able to vote on the details of how this Direct Vote would work. The federal monitor will decide those details. The federal monitor even has the right to decide who can run or not run for the top union offices. That is a problem.

But it is not a surprise that people voted to change the election process. I think this vote is a reflection of the fact that many UAW members are unhappy with the direction of the union, angry with the years of concessions and angry at the corruption among some union leaders. I think this vote showed people’s anger and they were voting for some kind of change.

But I don’t think that just changing the voting process is going to change the direction of the union. I think that change is going to come when the union members decide that we have to be done with the policy of “partnership” with the corporations that our leadership has followed for years. I believe change will come when we decide that we have to take on the corporations and make a fight to overturn years of concessions and 2-tier contracts.

The workers at John Deere showed the way forward for us. UAW members at John Deere, like most of us, were working under a 2-tier contract. They made a decision to go on strike and made a decision to stay on strike until they got something from the company.

The John Deere workers were on strike for 5 weeks and they ended up getting much more than what the company first offered. They got an immediate 10% raise and total raises of 20% over 6 years. They got back cost-of-living (COLA) raises and more money for retirees. The John Deere workers also stopped the company from starting a 3rd tier for new hires. The John Deere workers were determined. They were just one group of workers, fighting by themselves, and they took their fight as far as they could. Think about what would happen if all UAW members made a fight together.

As we go forward with this new voting process, we have to keep this in mind. It’s never easy to make a fight. But until we are ready to make that fight, it won’t matter how our leaders are elected. It is up to us to decide when we are ready.

Gary Walkowicz, Local 600 and Dearborn Truck plant retiree.

8-time elected union rep, former candidate for UAW International President.