UAW’s Bargaining Convention revives its fighting tradition
The Special Bargaining Convention of the United Auto Workers met March 27-29 in Detroit. These conventions are held quadrennially, typically in the same year that the union’s contracts with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) expire. Delegates from every UAW local discuss and vote on an “omnibus” resolution that covers a wide range of bargaining topics.
To call this convention historic would be an understatement. Newly elected President Shawn Fain opened the first session with a militant call to action. Vice President Rich Boyer motivated a fight-back campaign to stop Stellantis from closing its Belvidere, Illinois, assembly plant. Margaret Mock, the first African American woman to hold the position of International Secretary-Treasurer, hailed “the first ever vote by every UAW member.”
First International Executive Board elected directly by rank and file
This UAW International Executive Board is the first to be democratically elected by the direct vote of the rank and file. In the past, delegates to a tightly controlled Constitutional Convention, held prior to the Bargaining Convention, elected the IEB. Candidates were handpicked by the Administration Caucus, which dominated the UAW for over seven decades. Delegates and their locals faced retaliation if they didn’t sign pledge cards supporting the AC slate.
The delegate system hurt the membership by keeping an anti-democratic, class-collaborationist leadership in power. In 2021 a court-ordered referendum vote was held to determine whether the UAW would maintain the delegate system or switch to direct elections. The rank and file chose “one member, one vote” by a two-to-one margin.
Having won the right to directly elect their leadership, the membership voted for change. Five of the seven members of the multinational Members United slate — Secretary-Treasurer Mock, Vice Presidents Rich Boyer and Mike Booth, Region 1 Director Lashawn English and Region 9A Director Brandon Mancilla — were elected in November along with one independent reform candidate. President Fain and Region 9 Director Dan Vicente won in a run-off election this year.
The Administration Caucus retained six seats on the IEB.
The rank-and-file caucus Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD) ran a grassroots campaign to win direct elections and then to elect militant, progressive candidates to the IEB. The Members United victory follows the election of militant leaders in the Teamsters union, who defeated every candidate allied with former President James Hoffa Jr. It coincides with a general rise in union activism, evidenced by the successful union drives at some 300 Starbucks stores and the Amazon JFK8 facility.
The fight for a stronger program
The resolutions committee, chosen in advance of the convention and before Fain was declared president, prepared a 50-page resolution for delegates to discuss. Although many locals passed militantly worded resolutions opposing tiered pay, calling for restoring past gains, supporting a shorter work week, addressing the transition to electric vehicles and other issues, the committee’s resolution was very moderate in its tone and held to the premise that corporations need to be “competitive” and “profitable.”
UAWD-allied delegates, whose locals passed a number of strong resolutions, were able to bring a number of those resolutions “out of committee” and onto the floor for debate. During the first two days of the convention, Administration Caucus-allied delegates, who had a voting majority, worked to defeat those resolutions. This included voting down a call to fight for restoring the cost-of-living allowance and a resolution for strike preparation and building a contract campaign.
On day three, however, the leadership helped put the convention on a united footing. Vice President Chuck Browning, who was part of the Curry Solidarity Team supporting outgoing President Ray Curry, said, “There’s one agenda. No person owns the agenda. No caucus owns the agenda. It’s the membership’s agenda.”
In his closing remarks Fain said, “I’ve heard some talk about what we can’t do, about what the law says, or about this or that subject of bargaining and the law has its place. But the UAW wasn’t founded by asking for permission. The founders of this union didn’t wait for the law. They didn’t worry about the law. They wanted their dignity, and they wanted their fair share, and they did what they had to do to get it. The companies we deal with do not feel bound by the law. Ask a Starbucks worker who’s been fired for organizing.”
This was a truly historic convention. One important thing going forward is for the UAW’s vision of militant solidarity to encompass the whole global working class.
Martha Grevatt is a UAW Stellantis retiree who represented UAW Local 869 as a delegate to the 2019 Special Bargaining Convention.