President Bob King of the
United Auto Workers union is
proving again that he's one of our most astute labor leaders, a worthy occupant
of the position once held by the legendary Walter Reuther.
column in Solidarity, the UAW's official magazine, certainly proves that.King
writes about the severe weakening
of the union rights that are supposedly guaranteed all working people – the
right to organize. King calls that"the first amendment for workers."
That basic and essential
right was granted U.S. workers by
the National Labor Relations Act – the NLRA – that was enacted in 1935 as part
of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal measures that were designed in
part to pull the country out of the Great Depression.
But now, says UAW President
King, the NLRA's basic process
for determining whether workers want to organize – having them vote for or
against unionization – is"fatally flawed." King says the National Labor Relations Board
– the NLRB – which is charged with enforcing the NLRA, does not do that
– "does not protect workers' right to organize."
Workers' lack of adequate
legal protection is not a new
development, as King notes. It's been a serious problem for several decades.
Since the 1970s, employers have been allowed to hire anti-union consultants
"to design sophisticated ways to intimidate workers trying to
Boy, have they. Supervisors
are trained to put pressure on
individual workers to vote against unionizing. Workers are forced to attend
meetings where they are warned of the dire consequences they'll face if they
vote for unionizing. Employers threaten to close down if their employees vote
for a union.Union supporters are commonly
disciplined, sometimes fired. And employer lawyers "find thousands of
excuses for delaying elections. "
King needn't look beyond
his own union for examples of the
NLRB's ineffectiveness against the dictatorial actions of employers against
unions. He could cite hundreds of cases involving the UAW.
For instance, last August,
six years after the UAW lost a
union election by just three votes at a facility in North Carolina, the NLRB
finally ordered a new election "because the employer violated the law in
more than a dozen ways." The violations included threatening to do away
with the jobs held by union supporters, spying on workers' meetings and
interrogating workers about union activity.
By now, however, all 25 members
of the union's organizing
committee have left for other jobs, most union supporters have been fired, laid
off or quit. And the new election still hasn't been scheduled.
involves a California facility. Seventy percent of the workers there signed
union membership cards, but were so intimidated by management that only 19
workers out of 161 dared vote for UAW representation.
King says the union is "returning
to its roots of
direct action on behalf of workers rights." Which is no small matter,
given the UAW's influential position within the labor movement.
The union is
demanding that "all corporations, whether American or foreign-owned, allow
their workers to freely decide whether to organize."
King calls that "the battle
of our generation," as
it surely is.He says "the
battle for the First Amendment right to organize will determine the survival of
the labor movement. It is the mission of our generation of trade unionists to
secure these rights for future generations. We must win this fight for our
children and grandchildren."
King and other UAW officers
are going to "call upon
each and every member to give some time – perhaps two hours a week – to
participate in public demonstrations for the First Amendment."
The union also will be seeking
the support of workers and
their unions in other countries, since the UAW is dealing with companies whose
owners are in Japan, Korea and Germany and whose products are sold
worldwide.The UAW will in turn
support the struggles of foreign workers for union rights in their countries, as
part of "the global fight to force corporations to respect workers' right
It's important to remember
the UAW's crucial role in helping
establish a true middle class in this country through its organizing of the
auto industry. That led workers in other industries to also demand – and get –
decent wages, benefits and working conditions.
UAW President King thinks
his union can lead the way again,
this time to reforms that will protect and expand the union rights that the
autoworkers and others won seven decades ago. Those are the rights that had so
much to do with the rise of a true middle class, whose standing is now
endangered by the anti-union onslaughts of employers and their government