Disgruntled Autoworker # 31 August 06'
34th UAW Con Con Report
Our amalgamated local is typical of most UAW locals, we have a Good Ole Boy (Gob) administration that, as a result of twenty-years of Joint Partnerships with the Corporations, has conditioned the membership to be apathetic to the point they no longer attend union meetings. The Gobs, in collusion with Mgt, have amassed an army of union appointees who assist them with maintaining the local’s one party caucus by controlling rumors, harassing dissenters, and with undermining membership solidarity.
During the course of the last five years, dissenters in our local managed to shake up several Executive Board positions. We were on the road to reforming our Gob administration when our recording secretary rolled over, then our president, followed by our VP. All our efforts were in vain because of interference by International Reps and Mgt. Today we’re back at square one. The Gobs control the hall, the shop floor, and more importantly, our elections, which is why I didn’t run for delegate to the convention. I decided to save my money and use it to fly to Las Vegas as a visitor to the 34th UAW Constitutional Convention that was from June 12th to the 15th. Below is my report of the four day event.
Monday; UAW President Gettelfinger opened the 34th Con Con the same way he closed the 33rd. He gave a speech reminiscent of his previous convention speech with moments of boredom that slowly and predictably erupted into a fire and brimstone speech preachers use to convert non believers. It soon became obvious that his speech was cut and pasted from his previous speech and four years of Solidarity Magazine articles. He addressed issues ripped from dissident websites, national magazines, and newspaper articles.
One issue I’d like to address is that Gettelfinger said, “One of the things we have not done is tap into the $75 million emergency fund our delegates created four years ago. In fact, that fund has grown to $89 million. This fund was not intended to let us avoid tough choices but to maintain the essential operations of our union and allow us to service our membership in the event of a crisis.”
If it wasn’t for dissident members making such a fuss of the $75 million diversion, and posting their opinions on their websites, I believe that money would have been used for questionable purposes or spent frivolously. This is why any future diversions of money from our strike fund, for whatever reason, should also be brought to everyone’s attention via our websites.
Gettelfinger had the nerve to end his hour long banter with, “Solidarity, Solidarity, Solidarity.” There may be solidarity among those up on stage and for the majority of those on the convention floor, but there is next to none on the shop floor. USA Today described this convention as a love fest, which was evident by all the ego stroking, and by watching the Gobs fluidly greeting each other with a hand shake, chest bump, and pat on the back. It was a disgusting display of solidarity and giddiness that lasted four days.
After Gettelfinger’s sermon, the Credentials Committee read its report, which was accepted by the delegates saying, “Yeah,” there were no, “Nays.” Then the Appeals Committee reported on several appeals that were submitted and ruled on. All of which were denied for whatever reasons. That may explain why it’s been eleven months without a response on my appeal, but yet we have only thirty days. This report was accepted too. Then the Rules Committee (RC) read its report that a couple delegates challenged.
Delegate Mike Parker of Chrysler local 1700 wanted to amend the Rules Committee Report to include the following, “At the Tuesday morning session, the convention business will be to accept resolutions and amendments from the floor and from the resolution committee addressing the UAW response to the corporate and court assault on our contracts through phony bankruptcies, threats against individual locals, and pitting locals against each other.”
The way the current system works is locals submit resolutions and amendments to the International Executive Board six weeks prior to the convention. The IEB then screens the resolutions and amendments and accepts or rejects them based on a criteria set by them. For example, a resolution for one member/one vote would be rejected because it puts the power to control International elections/appointments in the hands of the membership, which would undermine the IEB’s long established practice of appointing their own successors. Brother Parker’s motion to amend the RC report is a common sense amendment that would benefit the membership as a whole while challenging the status quo of the seventy year, one party slate.
Gettelfinger chaired the amendment. He asked if there were any delegates who wished to speak for, or against it. The following excerpts are from a speech by Delegate Wendy Thompson, retired president of American Axel local 235. She said, “I rise in support of the amendment. I think it is important to have the input of the delegates. I think past conventions were for just listening to someone reading words, and have not really allowed for the democratic process; therefore, I recommend that we make the change, this time in particular, because of the seriousness of the situation.”
At the previous convention, delegates were selected at random, and the question was called almost instantly, avoiding debate. This time however, the Chair, Gettelfinger, asked each of the eleven regions if any delegates wish to speak for, or against the amendment. Eight delegates opposed it. The majority of them, reading from notes, repeated what the first two said, “I rise against this amendment. The Rules are fair and democratic and protect the rights of the minority and the majority.” And, “The rules have been in place for thirty years; therefore, I propose that they remain the same.” If they all really felt that way, then why didn’t they just say so in their own words?
Then delegate Gregg Shotwell of Delphi local 2151 said, “To paraphrase president Gettelfinger’s speech that quotes Walter Reuther, “We can’t solve the challenges of today, with the tools of Yesterday.” The attacks against us are unprecedented. Our contracts have been opened in the middle of contracts. The employers are not waiting until next spring to attack us. They’re breaking contracts now. The only solution is more democracy. We need to hear from all of the delegates from the floor on this motion.”
That’s two in favor, eight against, and one speech aimed at the delegates. Four more spoke against it. The first says, “I rise in support of the RC report. This amendment should be brought up at the bargaining convention.” The second said, “Locals have had plenty of time to submit resolutions and amendments to the RC, it’s worked to make the union democratic for many years.” The third echoes the bargaining convention speech, the fourth echoes the second delegate’s speech, and another called the question. The amendment was rejected and democracy is denied.
The Bargaining Convention is not the place for this amendment, this convention is. The amendment, if passed, would’ve set the rules for both conventions, and thereby allowed for a more democratic union. Also, regardless of how much time locals have to submit resolutions and amendments, with the rules staying the same, the ultimate decision as to which ones make it into the Brown Book of Proposed Resolutions, or to the convention floor, still rest solely in the hands of the IEB.
Gettelfinger called on the Resolution Committee to begin presenting resolutions from the Brown Book. The first one was National Health Care and Retirement Security. Delegate Shotwell was told he was out of order for making a speech about mental health parity. Gettelfinger stopped Delegate Jeff James of local 1216 from proposing an amendment to the resolution. Failure to amend the RC report applied here. Eight spoke in favor, two opposed, and it was adopted. Then Gettelfinger told Brother Shotwell that mental health is addressed in the resolution.
Retiring VP Shoemaker chaired a resolution for Medicare, Prescription Drugs and Medicaid. After reading the resolution from the Brown Book, a member of the committee said, “I move that it be adopted,” after a fifteen minute video, ‘The Donut Hole’ narrated by Walter Cronkite. A resolution to Strengthen Social Security was read after the video without a vote on the previous resolution. This fact was noted by a delegate who said, “I move for the adoption of these resolutions,” which was repeated by other delegates. A delegate opposed one, but it wasn’t clear which one. In the end, both were adopted.
Shoemaker chaired a resolution on Protecting Our Pensions. After reading it from the Brown Book, a committee member moved for its adoption, after a speech by Barak Obama, via satellite. Then Gettelfinger relieved Shoemaker and called on his appointed successor, Cal Rapson, to Chair the resolution’s debate.
The count was four in favor and none against when Justin West, a delegate from Mitsubishi local 2488, gave the following speech, “I rise in support of defined benefit plans, but oppose this resolution because it ignores a problem that we need to focus on from within. Not only are we witnessing and experiencing the wholesale export of good paying manufacturing jobs, the threads of stability are being torn from the fabric of our communities. The rich are getting richer while the working classes who built this country are being cheated of wages and pensions they’ve been promised in exchange for their labors. As unions negotiate second and third tier wages and benefits schedules as a strategy to stem this tide, the very fabric of our union, the thread that ties all workers, of all races, of all genders, and across all ages, solidarity comes under attack.
Article 2 Section 1 of the UAW Constitution states, “The objective of the UAW is to improve working conditions, create a uniform system of shorter hours, higher wages, health care, and pensions to maintain and protect the interest of workers.” As multi tiered wage benefit scales affect workers on the shop floor, it is the younger generation of workers who are typical recipients of the lower wage scale, who often have poor or no health care, and usually, most come with no defined pensions or health benefits in retirement.
I should know, I’m a laid off worker from Mitsubishi Motor’s plant and I have been seeking work throughout the UAW in one of its facilities. And I’m always forewarned during the hiring process that the wages are roughly 2/3rds the scale and the benefits are nowhere close to the long established workers, and they never will be, at least that is the intent.
The long held UAW standard of equal pay for equal work has been shattered. If we allow this to continue as corporations force us to race to the bottom, only animosity towards the older workers and towards the union commence. And I don’t want to see this fine institution of worker democracy be decimated and rendered ineffective. The UAW is an institutional cog in social and economic standards in America. America needs the UAW, and it is our responsibility to lead the fight from within. Thank you.”
Brother West’s speech is a powerful testament to all that is wrong with a one party slate that has complete and total control over our union. His speech not only opposes the resolution, it is directed at the delegates and suggests they challenge the one party dictatorial rule that has us winning the race to the bottom. Will they rise to meet the challenge? We have three days to find out.
Brother Shotwell rose on a point of information. He explained that he was a Delphi employee who had lost his (twenty years) pension credits with GM after the 99 spin off. He asked, “If Delphi stops paying the pension after the GM Benefit Guarantee expires on October 18, 2007, how can we protect our pensions?” Shoemaker tag teamed Rapson for the response. He told Brother Shotwell he was out of order, but he was welcome to come up for a little one on one. Standing in the shadows, Shoemaker said, “It’s understood that the Benefit Guarantee is triggered.” Brother Shotwell said, “But it doesn’t say that.” Shoemaker said, “It’s understood.” Brother Bill Hanline summed up this tit for tat best in his Constitutional Death of the UAW # 12 article, “How can a person make a sound retirement decision based on assumptions, suppositions, hand shakes, and verbal understandings?” One can’t, and Shoemaker wouldn’t retire under these conditions either, which is why the IEB’s pension guarantees are written in stone.
The Protecting Our Pensions resolution was four in favor and one against when the question was called, in other words, let’s end the debate and vote on it. The resolution was adopted. The next one was for the Crisis in Manufacturing. The vote was two in favor, one against, and the question was called. It was adopted. A resolution for The Role of Government was next. The vote was three for and none against when the question was called. It was adopted.
The next one was Economic Democracy and Corporate Responsibility. The question was immediately called for. It’s almost four o’clock; the delegates are getting restless. The resolution was adopted. I don’t think Gettelfinger is too keen on the question being called so quickly, because he relieved Rapson to chair a resolution for Poverty and Inequality. He asked all the regions to vote for or against it. Eight spoke in favor, none against, then the question was called. The resolution was adopted.
Next was a resolution for Federal Budget Issues and Public Investments. It’s 4:42pm, the resolution breezed through to adoption. The convention was recessed until Tuesday morning at 9:00am. The night life of Las Vegas awaits; and the incessant, irritating din of the slot machines can’t be ignored any longer.
Nine resolutions were adopted, and one amendment defeated. Compared to the last convention, this one isn’t as scripted, but still scripted nonetheless. However, I believe inroads to democracy were made by Brother Parker’s amendment, Brother Shotwell’s speech, and by Brother West’s accurate account of conditions resulting from the IEB’s joint partnerships with the corporations. I think a few more delegates couldn’t help notice how anti democratic the system really is. Hopefully, when all is said and done, more of them will answer Brother West’s call to challenge the system from within.
Tuesday began with Gettelfinger reading a speech by former president Douglas Fraser, whose failing health caused him to miss this convention, his first in sixty five years. Gettelfinger then introduces Owen Beiber, another former president, and several retired IEB members, as well as seventeen union officials from around the world. Two Social Justice Awards were handed out, and an NAACP Award was presented to Julian Bond, who gave a rousing speech that’s available at uaw.org.
Then Gettelfinger called on the con con committee chairman to present amendments to Articles of the UAW’s Constitution, which is more of a formality, because like the resolutions in the Brown Book, they too are predestined for adoption. The first amendment was to Article 16, Section 11(b) and 14; Initiation Fees and Dues, which does not affect our monthly dues.
According to handouts, this amendment allows the IEB to divert $50 million from the International Strike Insurance Fund to the General Fund, the Organization, Education and Communication Fund, or to other purposes as the IEB shall determine to be in the best interest of the UAW. And, it gives the IEB the authority to divert, between conventions, another $60 million from the International Strike Insurance Fund to support specific purposes or projects such as major organizing drives or other initiatives intended to increase UAW membership, strengthen the UAW’s ability to bargain effectively and/or promote the interest of the membership and working people generally.
After reading the amendment, the con con committee member recommended its adoption. Several delegates approved of this shell game with our funds. One goes so far as to say, “The corporations move their money around, let us move our money around to show our strength.” In opposition, Brother West said, “I oppose this amendment, because it’s open to interpretation by the IEB. I am extremely uncomfortable with the undefined $60 million allocation.”
Gettelfinger chaired this amendment. Something strange and disturbing happened when he asked if anyone in region two opposed it, several delegates yelled, “No!” in unison. I don’t know if they were prodded into doing this, but it undermines the democratic process. The yelling of “No!” continued during its rounds through the regions; however, it didn’t stop another delegate from opposing it.
Brother Paul Baxter of local 659 said, “I oppose this amendment. My membership and corporate America understand the importance of the Strike Fund. I believe if we take a large sum of money out of that fund, we’re telling the membership that we’re not willing to use it. And I don’t know how to go back and tell my membership that I supported a proposal that’s going to weaken our Strike Fund.”
Gettelfinger countered, he said, “Let me just comment, in specifically on Delphi. If we were to have a strike at Delphi, the strike fund would be in good shape for 153 weeks.” As if he would call for a strike at Delphi. If anything, he should have taken action in October when Delphi filed for bankruptcy and asked the courts to void its contracts. He didn’t act then and it’s unlikely that he’ll act in the future. God forbid he steps on the toes of his corporate partners. The count was eleven for and three against when the question was called. The amendment to divert $110 million from the International Strike Fund was adopted.
The next amendment was to Article 26, Sections 1, 3, and 5; Civil Right Department, and Article 44; Local Union Committees. This one was to change the wording of both Articles from Civil Rights to Civil and Human Rights. One spoke in favor, then delegate Gary Walkowicz of local 600, asked for a point of information. He asked, “When is the proper time to bring forth a motion to call a resolution out of committee?” Gettelfinger said, “At the conclusion of the discussion that is before the body right now.”
The amendment to Articles 26 and 44 was fast tracked to adoption to allow Brother Walkowicz the opportunity to submit the following motion, “My membership passed a resolution to change the constitution to give the right to retirees to vote on any contract that would take away rights they have in retirement. I support calling out this resolution, because of circumstances that affect our retirees at Ford. I propose that this resolution be called out of committee for discussion by the body.”
In order for a resolution to be called out, 207 delegates must vote to approve it. Gettelfinger asked for a show of hands. Several retirees in the visitors section yelled to the delegates “Put your hands up! Put your hand up!” Only nine delegates put their hands up. Brother Walkowicz motion was defeated. Delegate Rob Wilson of local 974 told me later that a delegate had told him he didn’t put his hand up because, “They were watching me.” There are several non delegates on the floor whose purpose, near as I can tell, is to maintain a chatty atmosphere of distraction, and to intimidate rookie delegates into complacency simply by their presence. An issue I’ll address later.
Retiree’s right to vote is a bit askew to my active coworkers, and I imagine it’s an issue for members nationwide. The IEB and their supporters forbid giving retirees the right to vote on issues that affect them; however, they have the right to vote for local Executive Board members. It seems to us that this right should be reversed, because there were numerous occasions where we wanted to oust an EB member for treason, or elect non Gobs to the conventions; however, were it not for retirees, we would’ve succeeded. This right, as it stands, gives incumbents an unfair advantage that allows them to perpetuate their Gob regimes, and it explains why there are so many Gob delegates present.
Next was an amendment to Article 11, Sections 1, 2, 3 and 8; Salaries. This one’s a no brainer, and I’d have been surprised if it wasn’t brought before this convention. Retirees in GM and Ford are required to pay more out of pocket for health care, and active workers are asked to sacrifice a dollar an hour to help finance said health care take-a-ways, but yet, members of the IEB want raises. Where is their sacrifice?
Five delegated spoke in favor of the amendment to give the President a $13,231.21 raise, the ST a $12,709.02 raise, VP’s a $12,505.04 raise, IEB members an $11,982.84 raise, and International Reps a $10,978.71 raise. One delegate had the audacity to say, “Teamster’s officials make $300,000.00,” to justify giving these guys a raise. Again delegates yelled, “No!” when Gettelfinger asked if anyone wants to oppose the amendment. The next delegate called the question and the amendment was adopted. No surprise there.
Next was an amendment to Article 16, Section 14(1); Initiation Fees and Dues, and Article 29, Sections 1 and 3; Official Publications, which is for the engagement in communication programs (through print, electronic media, or otherwise.) This one was quick. One delegate spoke in favor, one opposed, and the third called the question. The amendment was adopted.
The next amendment was to Article 13, Section 11; Duties of International Officers, Article 16, Sections 2, 11 and 14; Initiation Fees and Dues, and Article 48, Section 6, Local Union Audits. This one is somewhat confusing. Wherever the words “Strike Insurance Fund” appears in the Articles, this amendment calls for changing the wording to “Strike Assistance Fund.” I can’t help wondering if this change in wording has an ulterior motive known only to IEB members.
Gettelfinger asked if anyone wanted to discuss the amendment. Again several delegates yelled, “No!” Why is this insolent practice being tolerated? Two delegates spoke in favor, a third called the question, and it was adopted. Next Minority Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi gave a 15 minute speech. Then Gettelfinger heaped praise and accolades on DC Lobbyist Alain Reuther.
Next was an a amendment to Article 38, Section 11; Local Union Officers, and Article 45, Section 5; Stewards and Committee Persons. This one affects the election appeals process. Considering the sorry state of elections, everyone should obtain a copy of this one just to scrutinize it. Gettelfinger asked if anyone wanted to discuss it. No one raised their hands, for or against. The amendment was adopted.
Gettelfinger dismissed the con con committee and called on the Resolutions Committee. He also called on VP King to temporarily Chair the reading and adoption of proposed resolutions. The first one was the Freedom to Join a Union. Three spoke in favor and the forth called the question; however, King said, “This is important and I want others to weigh in their opinions.” In other words he wanted to kill time.
At this point of the con con, I stopped keeping track of the count. It was so lopsided that I didn’t see the need. However, two disturbing trends emerged that cast a pall over the proceedings. The first was delegates yelling, “No!” whenever they were asked if anyone opposed a resolution or amendment. It was an on going distraction. The second was whenever a delegate rose to speak, they’d identify themselves and then proclaim that their Regional Director was the best in the UAW, and then wild cheering ensued by the delegates in that region. A sort of competition developed over who had the best director. It too was a distraction, and an unnecessary display of ego stroking.
During this resolution, delegate Jeff Washington of local 900 gave an opposition speech about the Unions joining forces and taking the fight to the streets of Washington DC. He also said, “We need to do some rethinking about what and who we are, and where we came from. And if it ain’t working today, we need to go back in the past, to what they (the framers of the union) did to make it all work. Some people died, some people lost their families, in order to make all this for us. Now, what are we doing for the younger people? I understand we need to come together as a union, but I think we should continue further than we have.”
It was a great speech, but as to the unions joining forces, I don’t see that happening. There is a cult of personalities controlling our unions, and has been since before the PATCO Strike, which is why they didn’t come together then, and they won’t now, because their egos get in the way. Cults still exists, note the recent split in the AFL-CIO, and the formation of the Change to Win organization; they’re not all that different. Their anti-democratic, pro-corporate policies are destroying the labor movement at the expense of retirees, active workers, the young, and working America. And that is what we, the membership, need to do some rethinking about, how to eliminate these cults of personalities and implement bottom up democracy.
This resolution killed over an hour before it was adopted, then King gave a twenty minute speech on organizing. The IEB had better do some organizing and soon, because GM, Ford, and Delphi are about to eliminate 100,000 members, and someone, a lot of someone’s, are going to have to help those of us left behind foot the bill for the IEB’s raises and perks.
After his speech, King announced that the next hour will be for a demonstration that is designed to get everyone off their feet for a little exercise. Placards with slogans like, ‘Don’t Agonize, Organize,’ ‘IPS workers say, Stop Outsourcing,’ and ‘Protecting Our Rights’ were handed out for delegates to carry during the demonstration around the convention center, lead by Gettelfinger. There were two placards that I found ironic. One said, ‘Protect Our Pensions,’ excuse me, but didn’t they just use the courts, in collusion with GM and Ford, to open the door on pension benefits? The other was, ‘Stop the Race to the Bottom,’ excuse me again, but what has the IEB done to stop the corporations from pitting locals against each other in the race to the bottom? Nothing, in fact, they’re providing bullets for the starter gun?
Several happy tunes were piped in during the demonstration that had Gettelfinger running around glad handing everyone and stopping occasionally to pose for pictures. He couldn’t contain his exuberance as he youthfully jumped over rows of chairs like Tom Cruse on speed. Oprah would have been proud.
The music was a mix of Rock, R & B, Hip Hop, Reggie, and Country. Like the placards, I had an issue with some of the songs. Especially Bruce Springsteen’s ‘No Surrender.’ A line in the song goes, ‘We made a promise we swore we’d always remember, no retreat no surrender.’ Excuse me yet again, but what about their promise to represent us? And haven’t they been in a surrender mode since forming joint partnerships with the corporations? Even Springsteen might appreciate the irony, or be offended.
After the demonstration, Bademar Vazques gave a fifteen minute speech. Then Gettelfinger called on VP Bantom to Chair a resolution on Trade Policy. No one spoke for or against, it was adopted. Then four resolutions were bundled together, Outsourcing and Offshoring, Immigration, Global Economic Justice, and International Labor Solidarity.
Brother Shotwell spoke in opposition to the resolution on Outsourcing and Offshoring. He said, “It’s not enough to talk the talk. We have to walk the walk. In 99 GM executed the largest outsourcing scheme in UAW history. They not only outsourced our work, they transferred our pensions from GM to Delphi. We didn’t fight. We chose to negotiate. We failed. Now they are coming to finish the job. For those of us at Delphi it feels like we are in the Alamo. We are surrounded and they are coming to finish us off.
Every so often we get a message. Some workers, some hostages, may be released. Many who leave are going under duress. They aren’t ready, or they are going out on the 50 and 10 [ Fifty years old and at least ten years pension credit] and it isn’t enough. I said to one brother, “It’s not enough. How are you going to make it?” “My wife has cancer,” he said. “I have to go.” The rest of us must stay and fight. Some of us have no choice. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, Delphi is a line in the sand. What happens at Delphi is the future of the UAW.
Delphi workers are in the Alamo, and we are listening for the Calvary. But we don’t hear the boots on the pavement. We need to hear boots on the pavement. We need a one day general strike for Delphi workers just like the immigrant workers. If immigrants could organize a national day of solidarity, why can’t the UAW? Delphi workers feel threatened. We feel isolated. I call on this convention to stand up for Delphi workers. I call on this convention to show their support and solidarity with Delphi workers.”
As usual Brother Shotwell was right on the mark. The IEB proposes a resolution on Outsourcing and Offshoring, yet they stood idly by for the last twenty years as the corporations did just that, and it’s highly unlikely they’ll do anything in the future. Delphi is the line in the sand, if the IEB doesn’t take action by crossing that line to defend Delphi’s workers, even if they have to shutdown the auto industry in the process, as sure as night follows day, if Delphi falls, the corporations will cross that line to finish the rest of us off.
The Hall was eerily silent for several seconds after Brother Shotwell’s speech. Bantom quickly breaks it by asking if anyone wants to speak in favor of it. Someone does, and then yells of “No!” can be heard when they’re asked if anyone wants to oppose it. The question was called, and all four were adopted.
Six amendments and six resolutions adopted, and one motion defeated. Unfortunately more delegates didn’t rise in opposition to the IEB’s scripted itinerary that puts more money in their pockets and plays a shell game with $110 million dollars of our money. Apparently, opposition delegates’ challenges are falling on deaf ears, because the delegates who rose in opposition Monday were the same ones rising Tuesday.
Wednesday; Normally the convention center is opened early so delegates, non delegates, and guest can enter and be seated; however, Wednesday is special, it’s Election Day, or to be more precise, Acclimation Day, or to the downtrodden membership, Coronation Day. The doors opened at exactly 9:00am. The powers that be, the IEB, wanted everyone to appreciate the splendor of the multi colored, festive décor at the same time.
When the doors opened, a gazillion colored balloons were floating from the backs of chairs, some with the UAW’s logo on them, while others proclaimed Ron’s Team, as in Gettelfinger of course. And there were thousands of blue campaign posters with ‘Elect the Gettelfinger Team,’ written in gold across the top, and below that were thumbnail pictures of Ron and the twenty members of his Team. There were also posters on the walls, tables and chairs, and in the visitor’s section too. However, there were no opposition posters or balloons anywhere, because opponents are laid to waste as soon as they become known.
The atmosphere was festive and jovial. Some delegates brought air horns, and whistles, and every now and then a siren could be heard. Amid all the celebration, accolades were heaped on retiring IEB members. There were tributes to retiring VP’s Nate Gooden and Dick Shoemaker. Some of the retirees in the visitor’s section thought Shoemaker was being booed when he was introduced. Unfortunately delegates were yelling, “Shooo,” short for Shoemaker, not, “Booo,” like many of us wanted to believe.
The Credentials Committee was called to give its final report. The delegates accepted the report and the committee was dismissed. The Rules Committee was called on. Gettelfinger says, “If anyone wants to nominate anyone for any position, they are to approach the stage to let their intentions know.” Then retired president Owen Beiber was called on to conduct nominations.
After nominations for each position, the Chair asked three times, “Are there any other nominations?” During the VP nominations, delegates yelled, “No!” I guess they haven’t lost their anti democratic fervor from Tuesday. As expected, there were no other nominations for any of the top ten positions. The eleven Regional Directors’ elections will be held separately. Also, as expected, they all ran unopposed.
At the conclusion of nominations for each of the uncontested top ten positions, the Chair asked, “Do you, So & So, accept the nomination?” Of course they all accepted by saying something ridiculously asinine like, “I humbly accept,” or “I humbly and solemnly accept,” or “I humbly and graciously accept.” They all knew over a year ago that they would be appointed to said positions, so why be humble? The irony is lost on delegates as they wildly cheered when the Chair repeatedly announced, “Let the record show that, So & So, was elected by acclimation.”
The IEB, all twenty one positions were elected by acclimation. It’s not that there isn’t anyone out there to challenge them. Several of the delegates who spoke up in opposition to the pre approved and scripted amendments and resolutions are more than qualified; however, it would be political and maybe even career suicide to challenge them. Not only would a potential candidate have to face the IEB’s wrath, which has a reputation for being maliciously vindictive towards challengers and dissidents, they’d also have to face the IEB’s corporate partners, who would rather deal with the devils they know, than the ones they don’t.
There are documented incidents throughout the corporations where challengers and dissidents have been collectively set up and disciplined or fired by Mgt and their union’s reps. The IEB and the majority of its local EB members are corporate reps first, member reps second; therefore, the UAW is a company union. So a more appropriate and fitting acceptance speech for Gettelfinger and every member of his Team should be, “I proudly accept this nomination on behalf of corporate America,” to which the delegates, who are also corporate reps, would wildly cheer.
A lot was spent on this four hour extravaganza the IEB calls an election. I have to wonder, where did the money come from? The MGM Grand convention center was rented and paid for with union funds, which is understandable, but who paid for the balloons, placards and all the UAW Convention memorabilia like Computer Bags, Jackets, and Trinkets that were given to delegates, non delegates, and special visitors? And what about the shirts with candidate’s names on them, who paid for those? This seems ridiculous since their all running unopposed. Should there be an opposition caucus or candidates, are they afforded matching funds? Questions I doubt I’ll ever get answers too.
Thursday began with Gettelfinger introducing what he called the first family, his wife, daughter, son, their spouses and children. Next is a video tribute to former VP Pat Greyhouse. Then, Gettelfinger called on Secretary Treasurer Bunn to announce IEB election results. The President, five VPs, three Trustees, eleven Regional Directors, and, of course, herself, were all elected by acclimation. As expected, the seventy-year-old corporate sponsored dynasty perpetuated its existence another four years. As a result, active and retired members can count on further reductions in wages and/or benefits, while new members can anticipate second and third tier wages and benefits. The status quo is perpetuated as well. Woe is us.
The names of new Appeals Committee appointees and alternates were announced. Then Gettelfinger called on retirees to rise for one last bow as delegates’ applauded to show their appreciation. Owen Beiber was called on to administer the oath of office to this acclimated band of brothers and a sister. The theme of this convention was “Honoring Our Past, Forging Our Future.” However, after having reread Articles 39 and 40, the Preamble, and Article 2 Section 1 of the UAW’s Constitution, the theme should have been “Irony and Hogwash.” I fail to understand why we have a constitution when those who have the authority to enforce and/or amend it, also blatantly violate and tread on all that it stands for.
Appointed VP Thurman was called on to introduce the appointed Chairman of the UAW’s Public Review Board. Then other appointees are named to the PRB. As with all appointees, their loyalty to the IEB is a prerequisite to their appointments, not their dedication to truth or justice. They were all acclimated. Gettelfinger’s given the United Way Award. Marci Kaptor, senior democrat of appropriations gave a 15 minute speech. Then the Resolutions Committee was called back.
The first resolution of the day was Supporting Our Troops and Honoring Our Veterans. After reading the resolution from the Brown Book, the Chair called for its adoption. Gettelfinger called on appointed VP Settles to Chair the debate, if you can call it that. As expected the practice of stroking regional director’s egos resumed with delegates cheering whenever their names were announced, and the anti democratic fervor of yelling, “No!” continued when their asked if anyone opposes the resolution. Again it is Brother Parker who rises in opposition. Excerpts of his five minute speech follow;
“We know that the problem is that this leadership does not care about these troops, and does not care about the people here when they come back. The problem with this resolution is that it needs strengthening. Unfortunately, while I support everything in it, there is no way, under the rules, to amend the resolution, except by speaking against it and asking the Resolution Committee to strengthen it.
Specifically, I want to say that the phrase in the resolution that says, “to withdraw our troops as quickly as possible,” means different things to different people. For George Bush it means keeping our troops there through the next election. We have to say, “No” to that. We have to say we want them brought home now! Not when he thinks it’s time to bring them home. Therefore, I move to put that in the resolution.”
In the first paragraph Brother Parker admits that, “Under the rules, there is no way to amend the resolution,” but it doesn’t stop him from trying. Hopefully other delegates will get the message. Brother Parker continues, “Now I want to say a positive thing. I think it is very unbecoming to have people yelling “No!” when we ask for opposition speakers. The fact of the matter is that the people who died believe they died protecting and defending democracy. I think we should end this practice now, and that everything we do in this union should be devoted to democracy. Thank you.”
As expected, whenever a powerful speech was given, the Chair cut off the momentum for applause by calling on the next region. Also as expected, the majority failed to grasp Brother Parker’s message as yells of “No!” are still heard when regions are asked if there are any opposition speakers, and ego stroking of the regional directors ensued as well. After several spoke in favor, the question was called, and it was adopted.
Gettelfinger rose to say the following, “A point was made a while ago about showing respect for those who disagree in the region where we ask if there is opposition, some will yell “No!” I would simply just suggest that where there’s a difference of opinion in our organization, we are a very democratic organization, obviously one side has to yield to the other. One of the great lessons of democracy to learn is for the majority to give the minority a full free opportunity to present their side of the case, and then for the minority, having failed to win a majority to their pews to gracefully submit and to recognize that the action of that, of the entire organization, and cheerfully to accept until they can secure its repeal.
So as we move forward. If you would please, we have been very open. We have allowed everyone to take the microphone that wanted it, so when the temporary Chair goes around through and ask if there is one in favor, and one oppose, please allow those who may be in opposition to have the opportunity, without fear of intimidation, to come to the microphone.”
It’s about time the Chair addressed this issue. Unfortunately they had to be prodded into it. As for the democracy comment, I’ve addressed the lack of democracy enough, so that falls under hogwash, and the pew remark, I’ll let that slide. However, it’s open season on “without fear of intimidation.”
There were dissident meetings every night to discuss the day’s events and to plan a strategy for the next. Several of the above speakers attended, as did a few alternate delegates and guest. It was during one of these meetings that Brother Wilson said he asked a delegate why he didn’t put his hand up in support of Brother Walkowicz’ motion to give retirees the right to vote on issues that affect them, the delegate replied, “Because they were watching me.” The ‘They’ he was referring to were the non delegate on the floor. For example, my less then a thousand member local sent three delegates and three alternates, and, three non delegates, two of which were retiree reps and our local’s president, and while the alternates weren’t allowed on the floor, unless they were replacing a delegate, non delegates were allowed on the floor.
While I can begrudgingly accept that a local president, non delegate, is allowed on the floor, I don’t understand why retiree reps are allowed, but yet their not allowed voting rights on issues affecting them. I guess this falls under irony. There were as many delegates on the floor from my local as non delegates. Also on the floor was our regional servicing rep, another non delegate, which makes me wonder how many non delegates are there on the floor, and for what purpose? Not as mentors I assure you, but to maintain a chatty atmosphere of distraction, intimidate delegates, and to work behind the scenes in an unscrupulous manor.
It was during a dissident meeting a delegate stated that he believes non delegates are using cell phones to tell people up on stage who to call on and who not to call on. For example, when the Chair asks if anyone wants to speak in opposition to a resolution, amendment, or motion, a delegate will put their hand up. Since the room is so cavernous, they’ll hold the Brown Book or a colored piece of paper up for better visibility.
A delegate explained that he would hold up two colored papers back to back so yellow was facing the Chair and blue was facing a non delegate behind him. The non delegate would then use a cell phone to tell someone up on stage, “Don’t choose the delegate holding the blue paper.” The Chair would then call on the one holding the yellow paper. This would also explain why Brother Wilson wasn’t chosen despite frantically waving whenever the Chair came around to his region.
Now I have a better understanding of why non delegate are allowed on the floor. The retirees from my local are Gobs, as is the president. So it stands to reason that other non delegates are Gobs too, and their here to lord over the delegates. I even observed our servicing rep standing in an authoritative manor with his arms crossed, glaring at delegates. They know who dissidents and outspoken delegates are, if they can’t be intimidated into compliance, they’ll resort to using cell phones to undermine their efforts.
This is not to say that this behavior was going on in every region, because some opposition delegates didn’t have a problem getting recognized. However, it does highlight the obstacles a few delegates had to overcome and their resourcefulness to get recognized. Also, according to a delegate, two other intimidating factors for all delegates were when they approach one of the many microphones; a camera crew will rush in with bright lights blaring so the speaker can be viewed on the huge monitors. Then there was the feed back from hearing your voice bounce back at you while speaking. So Gettelfinger’s comment, “without fear of intimidation” falls under hogwash.
The next resolution was for Homeland Security and a Strong National Defense. All delegates spoke in favor, none opposed, and every speaker stroked their regional director’s ego as delegates wildly cheered; however, the yells of “No!” finally stopped. The resolution was adopted.
Next the temporary Chair calls back Gettelfinger who then introduces AFL-CIO President Sweeney who gave a twenty minute speech, after which Gettelfinger says of Sweeney, “He’s always willing to listen, always willing to help.” If that’s true, then why don’t they join forces and shut this country down to protest the Steve Millers of the word who are using the courts to dump pensions while stuffing their pockets with cash as they move operations overseas? More irony, hogwash, and ego stroking.
Next was a resolution for Political Action. Four delegates spoke in favor, then Sister Thompson spoke in opposition. She began by thanking Gettelfinger for stopping the yells of “No!” Excerpts of her speech follow; “My local submitted resolutions that are not on the floor, and that means there was something in those resolutions that is not meant to be on the floor.” Like a one member/one vote resolution, or a resolution to make appointed positions, elected positions. “The only thing I can do is vote against it, because I can’t even amend it.” And there’s the rub, why ask the membership to submit resolutions when the majority of them are reject because of their pro democracy content, or if the ones the IEB proposes can’t even be amended?
Sister Thompson goes on to say, “I also would like the Chair to address the fact that, no disrespect to my regional director, but, I didn’t mention him because I think cheering for directors sets the wrong tone at this convention. The media and guest are here, do we want to come across as a union that embellishes personalities? I would like the Chair to address the cheering issue. We are not on a football field. I don’t think competition between regions addresses the seriousness that we need here.” Kudos, Sister.
Sister Thompson touched on a few subjects before being interrupted by the Chair. She went on to say, “We can not wait to get politicians to say what we want them to say. We need to mobilize and say that “Partnerships are not the way forward.” The corporations have people, what do they say to us as a union? They say, “Hey, it’s (globalization) out of our control, or, competition!” What do we as a union say when it comes to that? We have to say that, “The union does not believe in competition,” just when you think no one’s listening, grumbling begins to erupt from the floor as the Sister hits a sensitive subject. She presses on, “that the union believes in rising above competition. It believes that we must…” The Chair says, “Wrap it up.” The Sister continues, “…we must join together and rise above the competition.” Like so many times before, the momentum for applause is interrupted when the Chair called on the next region.
Although there was applause for Sister Thompson’s speech, there was more grumbling, which is proof positive that the majority are Gobs who foolishly favor the IEB’s joint corporate partnerships. The next delegate called the question and the resolution was adopted. You have to give opposition delegates credit for trying to reach out to delegates despite overwhelming odds.
Next was a resolution for International UAW Unity. I have to wonder where they come up with names for some of these resolutions. Like this one, I thought there was Unity already, not among the membership, we don’t count, but among the majority of those here at the convention, which was evident from observing them give each other the fluid Gob hug they never seemed to tire of. As soon as the Chair finished reading the resolution, someone called the question and it was adopted.
Next was a resolution for Defending the 40-Hour Week. A delegate stroked his regional director’s ego, ignoring Sister Thompson’s request, delegates in the region reciprocate by cheering wildly, and then he calls the question. The resolution was adopted. According to Brother Wilson, yesterday, some delegates talked about making a motion to accept all of the resolutions in the Brown Book just to get this dog and pony show over with. That’s what happened next. A delegate stood to say, “Because some of us have planes to catch, I move we accept all of the resolutions in the Book of Resolutions.” Retirees were yelling, “Then go catch your plane!” The Chair takes a vote and the remaining twenty eight resolutions (see below) in the Brown Book were adopted. The IEB anticipated this motion too, because the busses were still outside.
Gettelfinger dismissed the Resolution committee and called back the Convention Committee for its final report. A con con committee member reads an Amendment to Article 10, Sections 1 and 17; Officers and Elections. This one gives the IEB the authority to eliminate a VP position in the event of a death, removal, or resignation of any of the five VPs. The Chair moved to adopt, two spoke in favor, a third called the question and it was adopted. The Chair motioned to accept the con con report, motion accepted and passed. At 12:42pm the committee was dismissed amid a round of applause for a job well done.
Twenty resolutions and seven amendments were Chaired and adopted during the twenty three hours that this convention was in session. A lot of money could have been saved if the IEB skipped the pomp and circumstance and had a delegate rise Monday morning and motion to accept all the resolutions in the Brown Book, then fast track the amendments to adoption, acclimate all twenty one IEB positions, and still call it a day before lunch. This way the UAW wouldn’t have had to foot the bill for four nights accommodations for seventeen hundred or so delegates and non delegates, just one, and round trip airfares to Sin City.
Hell, delegates have no authority anyway, so why even have a constitutional convention? The IEB should treat the Constitution and National Agreement like our local’s Living Agreements and make changes at will. Isn’t that what they did when they colluded with the corporations, and the courts, to open contracts to screw retirees and rob us of a dollar an hour? Everything that happened here over the last twenty three hours could have been done in Sold our Dignity House over coffee and bagels. Then again, it’s all about the dog and pony show, irony and hogwash, and a four day party that rewards everybody for a job well done.
Gettelfinger gave a closing speech that ebbed and flowed in octave like he did during the opening ceremony. By the time he finished, everyone was on their feet, screaming to be saved. Then he asked them to sing Solidarity Forever. Holding hands high above their heads, they sang with enthusiasm as they swayed back and forth like they were at a religious revival. The only thing missing was the cool aid.
As I came away from the 33rd Convention in 2002, I had hoped the membership would realize the quickening pace of the death spiral our union was in, and wake up, but like the Bush administration, no matter how much the IEB lies, cheats, and steals to promote its agenda, even though the majority are aware of what’s going on, apathy prevails. My opinion of this, the 34th Convention is that we are in for more of the same, and apathy will prevail if the membership doesn’t wake up and pull their heads out of the sand.
The corporations, their government and unions have been promoting irony and hogwash for so long that we’ve bought into the fact that there isn’t anything we can do about it. They’ve conditioned us to believe that they have the power and wherewithal to undermine our efforts to dissent. While this may be somewhat true of the corporations and their government, the unions are more susceptible to reform.
At the 02 convention, dissidents passed out flyers prior to entering the convention center. The flyers focus was the IEB’s anti democratic policies and agenda. Dissidents were trying to get more support and increase their ranks; however, the majority of the flyers ended up on the floor. That didn’t happen at this convention. Delegates were reading and keeping them, which is a good indicator that the majority know our union is caught in a death spiral, and while their committed to the IEB’s status quo, their also looking for answers for how to stop it.
There are those on dissident email lists who advocate forming another union. They claim the UAW can’t be reformed. Be that as it may, but why start from scratch and let the IEB walk away with the farm and our money? The UAW belongs to the membership, and they need to pull their heads out of the sand and join a dissident movement. While some of these movements are fragmented and plagued with ego problems that are causing dissention among the dissenters, they are growing in popularity because members are looking for an alternative to the status quo.
The cults of personalities permeating the various dissident movements need to put their egos in check and stop criticizing members for whatever reasons. If they can not come to grips with the fact that there are going to be differences among us, then we will continue to have problems growing our ranks. The UAW is ripe for a revolutionary movement. If we can put those differences aside and focus on everyone’s concerns, not just those of a select few, we just might be able to grow our ranks and formulate a plan to send the IEB down that death spiral instead, hopefully before they acclimate the next band of traitors.
In Solidarity, Doug Hanscom
I’d like to thank Pat Meyer, founder of UAW Concerns, and Director of www.lawsinc.org; and Cora Davis, UAW Local 488, retired. Both ladies were extremely helpful and resourceful in supplying me with the necessary materials that contributed to this report.
Remaining 28 Resolutions in the Brown Book of Resolutions are;
Thailand FTA, National Health Care, Minimum Wage and Living Wage, Health and Safety in the Work Place, Privatization, A Workers’ Rights Agenda, Unemployment Insurance and Dislocated Workers, Workers’ Compensation, Family and Workplace Issues, Technology in the Workplace, Civil and Human Rights, Improving Public Education, The Environment, Farm Policy and the Needs of Rural Communities, An Urban Agenda, Housing, Domestic Violence and Violence Against Children, Consumer Protection, Recreation and Cultural Activities, Civil Liberties, Campaign Finance and Education Reform, Federal Judiciary and Other Presidential Appointments, Organizing, Education, Communicating the Union’s Message, and Making a Difference in Our Communities.