Has the UAW Been Duped?

By Dave Stratman
December 16, 2005


Gregg Shotwell’s speech (Shotwell 2005 Speech From Flint) at the Dec. 11 rank and file auto worker meeting in Flint resonates with the best traditions of working class solidarity. Yet the speech also promotes some false ideas with potentially disastrous effects on the new workers movement in which Shotwell plays a leading role. It is important that these ideas be examined and corrected.

The best parts of the speech call for worker solidarity and focus on the real power of workers. Shotwell declares, "We cannot let Delphi workers get cut from the herd and led to the slaughterhouse." He calls on workers to echo the defiant words of Walter Reuther to GM, "If you close one plant, we will close all the plants." Shotwell points out that auto workers have been "indoctrinated in helplessness" through joint programs and the language of "teamwork." They have been told that real power lies in the hands of politicians and International reps. But they are not helpless. The auto workers who engaged in the historic Flint Sit-Down Strike "won by taking power with their own hands. The sit-downers won because they seized control of the shop floor." "We have the power," Shotwell declares. "We do control production. We can bring GM to its knees. We must shut down GM" if we are to win.

These are stirring words and true. But Shotwell frames the struggle of Delphi and GM workers in terms which turn the history of the UAW for the past 25 years on its head and proposes for the workers’ movement a goal which could well mean the end of the movement.

After pointing out the destructive effects of more than two decades of joint programs and "teamwork" on auto workers, Shotwell declares that "Teamwork was a trick and our union fell for it." Apparently the years of UAW strikebreaking and forcing concessionary contracts down members’ throats and attacking shop-floor solidarity with appointees and pitting workers against each other from local to local were just a mistake. The UAW was "tricked" into it by the corporation and didn’t know it (though none of the UAW officials renounced the fat pensions and easy jobs and Las Vegas junkets that came with the joint programs).

The idea that the UAW was tricked into two decades of attacking its own members is nonsense. Bill Hanline, a long-time GM worker and researcher into the doings of the UAW, explained at the Kokomo rank and file meeting that 1/3 of UAW income comes directly from GM in the form of "joint funds," 1/3 comes from the UAW’s corporate investments, and only 1/3 comes from membership dues. Says Hanline, "GM and the other automakers...now own a big piece of the international union." The result is that the UAW is "driven not by the interests of its members but by the needs of the corporation." The purpose of the UAW now, says Hanline, is enshrined in the language of the incorporation papers of the joint programs: "To make the companies competitive in the global marketplace."

The UAW has literally been bought by the corporations. The result, said former UAW Region 2 Director Warren Davis, is that the UAW has built a "culture of collaboration" with the corporations. Davis said, "The recent concessions [by the UAW] are a disgrace and are not going to stop there." Furthermore, the damage done by the UAW is not limited to American workers. Davis declared, "Our union is responsible for attacks on workers all over the world."

The idea that the UAW was tricked into collaborating with GM is dangerous nonsense–dangerous because it misinforms workers over the crucial question of who are their friends and who are their enemies. If the UAW was merely the victim of a corporate trick in all these past years when it was selling out workers and betraying its founding principles, then workers should be ready to forgive and forget. Even though the UAW has been acting like our enemy, in fact it is our friend. This is an invitation to workers to come back to the waiting arms of the UAW--a recipe for the collapse and defeat of the growing workers movement.

This nonsense also leads Shotwell to propose a preposterous goal for the new workers movement: to defend the UAW! "It is our generation’s turn to defend the union," Shotwell declares. So the goal of this new and hopeful movement swelling up from the ranks of Delphi and GM workers is not to unite with other working people to stop the corporate attack on the working class and it is not to overthrow an economic system that depends on pitting working people against each other. No, its goal is to defend an institution on which workers have placed their hopes and trust for decades, only to see those hopes betrayed, while that institution has grown fat in the process.

The idea that the UAW has been tricked for all these years or doesn’t really know what it’s doing is consistent with Shotwell’s long-held position as a member of the New Directions Movement, a reform caucus within the UAW that campaigns for union elected positions in the belief that what the UAW needs is new leaders. Shotwell wrote recently in Live Bait and Ammo #56 (11/1/05) that "Union bureaucrats have operated under the partnership/competitive model for so long, they don't have a clue how to respond. They’ve lost the ability to mobilize members and fight to win." Bill Hanline responded in a widely-circulated email, "Gregg...Fact is, GM and the other automakers...now own a big piece of the international union."

Gregg Shotwell, working with other outstanding rank and file leaders like Todd Jordan, has helped inspire and lead a much-needed movement whose greatest strength is that it is taking shape outside the UAW structure and outside its control. The potential of this new movement, both to counter attacks on auto workers and to rally the US working class to new life and new hope in its battle with capital, is virtually unlimited. I deeply hope that he will not lead it back into the deadly embrace of the UAW.

Dave Stratman is a founding member of Solidarity Now and the author of We CAN Change the World: The Real Meaning of Everyday Life. Contact him at newdem@aol.com. NewDemocracyWorld.org.

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