United Auto Workers 30th Constitutional Convention

By Guzda, Henry P. | Monthly Labor Review, September 1992 | Go to article overview

United Auto Workers 30th Constitutional Convention


Guzda, Henry P., Monthly Labor Review


Henry P. Guzda

The problems members and leaders of the United Auto Workers (UAW) are confronting are numerous, but these vexing issues may have served to bolster a sense of labor solidarity at the union's 30th constitutional convention.

The news greeting the delegates at the June 14-20 gathering in San Diego, CA, was hardly good: The UAW'S membership has declined 43 percent since 1979, dropping to a total of about 861,000; the traditional source of membership strength, the big three domestic auto producers, lost approximately $8 billion in 1991; General Motors has announced that it will close 21 plants by 1995, idling 74,000 workers; and, once again, Chrysler Corp. has experienced serious financial difficulties. Not stoprising, divorce rates, alcoholism and drug abuse, suicides, and other unemployment-related factors have increased dramatically the number of industry/uAw Employee Assistance Programs.

Basic labor relations policies in the union also have come under scrutiny. Some experts within and outside the labor movement have criticized the 6month strike against Caterpillar Corp. because of its failure to produce a signed contract. In addition, as the union adapts to economic transformations in international and domestic markets, dissidents in its ranks fight new forms of workplace organization and nontraditional forms of the industrial relations process. Even convention planners were confounded as Local 30 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union, charging unfair labor practices, picketed hotels the CAW selected for guests and delegates. Local union leaders resolved the issue before the start of the convention.

By the conclusion of the triennial event, many other issues had been addressed, if not resolved. The UAW Public Review Board, the only union review board established to ensure internal legal and democratic guarantees, adjudicated all grievances brought before it, many of which resulted in decisions contrary to what UAW leaders wanted, according to board Chairman Msgr. George Higgins.

The main topic of the convention was identified clearly by UAW President Owen Bieber in his keynote address: "We gather at a time of unease in our country as great as any I have ever known. But let us not forget that our union was born in a time like this." Bieber criticized Federal policies for displaying what he characterized as an intense anti-labor animus, and outlined legislative goals that the delegates approved: striker replacement legislation (S. 55 and H.R. 5), a government commitment to social programs in education and training, efforts to curb unemployment and urban unrest, and a slowdown in the so-called "fast track" language of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

International issues

International issues drew concentrated attention from the delegates. Several videos focused on UAW activities to promote and assist democratic and labor oriented movements in Poland, South Africa, and El Salvador. Teruhito Tokumoto, president of the Confederation of Japanese Auto Workers, told the gathering that his members support UAW efforts to organize transplanted factories and set global union standards of work rules. Counteracting recent claims by Japanese businessmen that American workers turn out inferior products, Tokumoto said, "I know very well that American workers are hard working and excellent." Problems with U.S. work processes "rest with management for being ignorant of this and the U.S. government for not giving serious consideration to the U.S. auto industry,"he added.

Delegates also adopted a resolution calling for organization of the "greenfield" auto plant to be built in South Carolina by German automaker BMW Corp. Focusing on the challenges facing organizers in a "right-to-work" State, Bieber emphasized that the union overcame similar problems in its successful organizing drive at Mack Trucks in Winsboro, sc. …

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