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UAW meets in Las Vegas

A delegate gives an account and commentary
by Rob Wilson |
September 19, 2006
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Las Vegas, NV - The United Auto Workers International convention was held here, June 12 - 15. This was the first convention I have ever attended. It was an honor and a privilege to be elected by the membership (active and retired) to represent them at the convention. The convention was a thorough learning experience in regards to the issues that exist not only throughout our Local and International Union but our society as a whole. I was given a lot of information on what to expect so I was not stunned by what I observed. Nauseated, maybe - surprised, no.

When reviewing and voting on the rules we observed our first glimpse of the theme that was to punctuate every event of the week. Mike Parker, a convention delegate from Local 1700 Chrysler, made a motion to amend the rules allowing resolutions to be submitted from the floor of the convention and debated for adoption. Although Mr. Gettlefinger and others extolled the need for change in the UAW, delegate after delegate stood to proclaim their opposition to any change in the rules stating, “We have done it this way for 33 consecutive conventions; the rules are fair and democratic; don’t change them.” I attempted to speak in support of the motion waving a sign in an exaggerated manner. Even while I was waving the sign the chair President Gettlefinger asked if anyone was in support in region 4. The chair did not recognize me at any time throughout the entire week. The motion was defeated, with the exception of possibly a dozen delegates dissenting

Mike Parker also stated that due to the unprecedented attack on Auto Workers at Delphi, GM and Ford Motor Company we should have a more open discussion of the issues and democratic debate. The chair, Mr. Gettlefinger, stated that this was the Constitutional Convention and these were issues for the Bargaining Convention that will possibly, allegedly, maybe take place in 2007. This was a startling statement considering we were voting on resolution after resolution that had nothing to do with the Constitution.

Day two saw another blow to democracy. Gary Walkowitz brought to the attention of the delegate body a proposed submitted resolution that would have allowed retirees the right to vote on those contracts that diminish their retirement pension, health care or other benefits. It required 207 delegate votes simply to get it on the floor to debate it. When the chair called a vote to call the submitted proposal up for debate only nine delegates voted in favor of allowing a debate. While on break I asked a delegate wearing a Ford hat what he thought of the proposal and he said, “I thought we should at least discuss it.” When I asked him if he raised his hand in favor of bringing it on the floor he said, “Oh no way.” “Why not?” I asked. “Because they are watching me,” he replied.

Wednesday brought a farce called an election, the preordained replacement for retiring Vice Presidents and Regional Directors. On Tuesday afternoon an invitation was passed around inviting people to a Sunshine breakfast provided by the Administrative Caucus. I am not a member of the Administrative Caucus so I did not attend. When arriving at the Convention Wednesday morning it was adorned with thousands of balloons and on every table was poised Administrative Caucus election material. Virtually everyone was wearing a nauseating sticker that proclaimed, “I am on Ron’s Team.” I was asked why I didn’t come help decorate. My reply was, “Because I was not invited to decorate. I was invited to an Administrative Caucus breakfast.”

Thursday brought more regurgitation of the same rhetoric of the previous part of the week. John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO, spoke and there were more resolutions to stamp. Sunday when we arrived I browsed through the resolution book and when I saw the resolutions on Veterans Protection and National Security I decided I would put a speech together. Being a veteran I thought I am entitled to speak to these issues I earned it through ten years of service. Again I was denied access to the floor and was not recognized by the chair.

The last resolution to come up was one for protecting the 40-hour week. I was stunned when I realized there was not one word in the resolution about protecting the eight-hour day. I began to realize that the other delegates might be unaware that at Caterpillar Inc. they have started Alternative Work Schedules (AWS) and Irregular Work Schedules (IWS) that are three thirteen-hour, twenty-minute days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) over the weekend. The Alternative Work Schedule might also be three twelve’s (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and four hours on Monday. I was planning to oppose this resolution from the floor, merely to point out the fact that in some places the eight-hour day is being violated. The plan was cut short when someone made a motion to bind the remaining resolutions together and vote on them. The motion passed with one person speaking in favor and one opposed then someone called for the question and the motion passed unanimously with myself abstaining.

To summarize: I along with the other four delegates from Members for CHANGE represented our active and retired membership as promised. We hand-delivered a letter with the issues we ran on to the International Executive Board; additionally we mailed the letter to the president’s office and to the media. We voted in favor of debating the retirees’ right to vote on contracts that took any benefits away from them. We met and networked with other delegates.

There is not an enormous difference between the strategy set forth by the UAW International and that of the recently split off Change to Win Coalition that left the AFL-CIO last year. They give lip service to ‘organizing the unorganized,’ while ignoring the needs of the already organized. The UAW allegedly will diversify their portfolio, leaving current active members at Delphi, Ford, GM and other major industrial manufacturing employers such as Caterpillar wondering whose survival are they worried about.

The UAW convention demonstrated that that the labor movement needs real change. We needed a labor movement that bases itself on the principals of democracy, solidarity and the recognition that an injury to one is an injury to all. There is no seniority date for dignity and justice.

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