Efforts by reformers in the United Auto Workers to force the union to call a special convention next month to consider changes to the union constitution, including requiring direct election of top union officers, have failed.
The push began last fall on the heels of the UAW’s 40-day strike against General Motors and amid the growing scandal that forced the resignation of then-UAW President Gary Jones and led to federal charges criminal charges being filed against a dozen union officers and staffers, sending one UAW vice president of prison with others awaiting sentencing.
Scott Houldieson is an auto worker and member of UAW Local 551 in Chicago, and an outspoken activist who helped organize Unite All Workers for Democracy. He said in a recent post on social media that the effort fell short, but efforts will continue with the aim of forcing the union to call a special convention in the spring of 2021.
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“The good news is that locals representing more than 60,000 Auto Workers (UAW) members have passed the Article 8 resolution calling for a special convention to amend our union constitution and mandate the direct election of top officers. It’s pretty astonishing to see just how quickly momentum built for this effort,” Houldieson said in his post.
“UAW Local 774 was the first local to pass the resolution, on November 22. Over the next four months, 25 more locals passed it, taking a bold step together to demand union democracy.
“The bad news is that we fell short of the requirement to reach 80,000 covered members by the February 21 deadline. Not because it could not be done, but because we needed more time. If we only had two more months, it would have happened,” he added.
Houldieson said the goal now is to start fresh, learn from the first attempt, and get it done on the second. The objective now for UAWD, as the organization calls itself, is to hold a special constitutional convention late in May 2021.
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Union activists have campaigned for the direct election of union officers on the basis of “one-man-one vote” since the “New Directions” movement of the late 1980s. New Directions succeeded and captured on seat on the executive board and came close to getting a second but ultimately the UAW’s Administration Caucus rallied behind then-UAW President Owen Bieber and ultimately routed the activists.
After the New Directions leader Jerry Tucker left the union board, the Administration Caucus, originally founded by the Walter Reuther in the late 1940s, tightened its grip on the union.
Bieber, who died this week, was a transitional figure during his 12 years as UAW president, moving the union from the broad economic and social agenda of Reuther’s time to a more narrow focus on trade and job protection that ultimately was borrowed, with great effect, in 2016 by Donald Trump.
Bieber’s successor, Steve Yokich, made the union more insular and also enhanced the power of the administrative caucus staff appointments and nepotism and the use of money from the joint training funds the UAW operated with General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp.
The activists, however, have never given up on the idea of direct election of officers, raising from the floor at union conventions several times throughout the years. But the Administration Caucus, which despite the scandals elevated one of its members, Rory Gamble, to succeed Jones as president and earlier this month installed another caucus-approved candidate on executive board as the director UAW Region in 1C in Flint, Michigan, easily defeated any and all efforts to change the union constitution.
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Meanwhile, the scandal continues to take a heavy toll on the union. Earlier this month, one of Jones key aides, Vance Pearson, agreed to cooperate with federal authorities and another key union official from Flint, Michael Grimes, is scheduled to appear in front of a federal judge in Detroit for sentencing on his conviction for wire fraud, involving the misuse of money from the UAW-GM training fund.