Sunday, June 11, 2006

Union Dissidents

This Detroit News article lays out the struggle within the United Auto Workers as they battle Delphi for the wages and benefits of 50,000 workers. The piece lays out the voices of folks who see the UAW as corporate unionists, freeloaders off the members dues who put their own relationships with management ahead of key member concerns.

My own feeling on this group within the UAW (and groups like Teamsters for a Democratic Union) is that their fight is a necessary one. This kind of pressure does more to keep unions honest than any legislative oversight ever could. Warts and all, unions are susceptible to internal pressure from organized constituencies. I've seen it myself within my own union.

Now, whether the UAW could really do anything about the decline of its membership--that I don't know. Car companies are using bankruptcy and trade agreements to stuff it down union members' throats, and it's ugly. But would national strikes solve the problem? At the end of the day Ford and General Motors are still horribly-run companies. Not because of their labor pacts, but despite them. They continue to make horrible long-term choices and will face challenges that are due to circumstances beyond Ron Gettelfinger's control.

Finally, I'll say this. As a union representative I've seen both sides of this coin. I've seen members struggle with leadership who doesn't want to, or doesn't know how to represent its folks. They often have asked me what to do about it, but as a staffer, I can only tell them about what they're entitled to, and what the consequences of any of their actions might be. I can't tell them to overthrow their leadership. That could get me fired, on the spot.

The other side of the coin is that you have people with a little knowledge, who think that the leadership is selling them down the drain, when in fact the leadership is fighting like hell to push the group in a more positive direction, one that will put them in a stronger place in the long run.

The difference between the two? Just my opinion, based on my experiences. So take these dissident battles with a grain of salt. Union politics are nastier than anything I've ever seen. People who have worked with each other for twenty or more years know all the reasons why they hate each other. It can be quite unpleasant. That said, these groups can do more than any other force to keep unions honest.

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