Feds vs. UAW – Workers’ control, not government control!

The United Auto Workers, which led a successful, militant strike against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (a global auto company that includes Chrysler) last year, is facing an attack by the federal government. 

UAW strike hits Stellantis, Sept. 19, 2023

Neil Barofsky, the monitor, appointed by a federal judge in 2021 to oversee the union, is investigating UAW President Shawn Fain. The monitorship was created after a government investigation uncovered multiple corruption scandals in the UAW involving theft of member dues, taking kickbacks from vendors, and accepting bribes from Chrysler bosses in exchange for inferior union contracts.

Workers might jump to the conclusion that this investigation, prompted by allegations that Fain is retaliating against other members of the International Executive Board (IEB), is being conducted with UAW members’ best interests in mind. On the surface that might appear to be the case, after the federal investigation led to corrupt union officials and staff being barred from UAW membership and sentenced to prison in 2021.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The real retaliation that concerns UAW members is coming from the capitalist state, directed against the revival of class struggle unionism under Fain’s leadership. 

Besides the big strike last fall, the UAW has conducted many smaller strikes in a range of industries and won union recognition at Volkswagen, making the Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant the first unionized U.S. auto plant outside of the Big Three. 

Graduate students at a number of colleges and universities have unionized with the UAW. A strike threat, combined with pre-strike rallies and “practice pickets,” forced Daimler Truck to agree to major contract improvements.

Moreover, the UAW was one of the first major U.S. unions to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. It’s true that Fain’s position on Palestine is inadequate and contradictory — he has given President Joe Biden, “Genocide Joe,” a glowing endorsement and did not vote for a resolution in the IEB for the union to fully divest its funds from Israel Bonds. Nevertheless, it’s a step in the right direction and enough to earn the ire of the imperialist ruling class.

The danger of state ‘oversight’

The corruption scandals were an obscene and embarrassing chapter in the history of the UAW, a union associated with the heroic sit-down strikes of the 1930s. They led to the 2021 consent decree between the U.S. government and the union that created the monitor position and mandated a referendum vote by UAW members on how to elect IEB members in the future. 

Thanks to a massive, grass roots campaign by the rank-and-file caucus, United All Workers for Democracy, the membership voted for direct IEB elections — “one member, one vote.” This ended the corrupt practice of choosing IEB members through a controlled convention delegate system. 

Eight candidates ran in opposition to the class collaborationist Administration Caucus, which has dominated the UAW for decades, and all of them won positions on the board.

However, the binding consent decree gave the monitor significant control over the functioning of the union. He can attend and speak at all meetings of the IEB and has access to all, with a few exceptions, UAW internal documents. Barofsky can initiate disciplinary procedures, a right not normally granted to outside parties, and can issue subpoenas mandating witness testimony.

The monitor has “the right and authority of the UAW International President and IEB to bring charges seeking to discipline, remove, suspend, expel, fine or forfeit the benefits … of any UAW International officer, representative, agent, member, employee or person holding a position of trust in the UAW, its constituent entities, or any employee benefit plan, labor management cooperation committee or voluntary employee beneficiary association in which such person acts on behalf of the UAW or its constituent entities, as well as officers of local unions who are also members of the UAW” when they allegedly violate the law or terms of the consent decree. He can block the union from hiring people he believes are guilty of the above.

The UAW must pay the costs associated with the monitor, as well as the “adjudications officer,” who has broad disciplinary powers and whose decisions are binding. The terms of the two officers do not end until 2027.

An example of how government oversight has been used to weaken the labor movement is the case of former Teamsters union President Ron Carey. In 1997, Carey led a powerful strike against UPS, making gains in a period where setbacks and concession bargaining were the norm. 

Carey was permanently removed from office after being accused of laundering money to fund his reelection campaign. He was subsequently acquitted of all charges but could no longer be a leader of the union.

Karl Marx wrote in 1848, in “The Communist Manifesto,” that, for unions, “The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers.” It is this unity that the capitalist class still finds threatening. That’s why the capitalist state goes after unions, taking advantage of genuine corruption to further its anti-worker agenda.

No good can come from this government investigation of President Fain. UAW members have processes, spelled out in the union constitution, to deal with problems they have with their leadership. 

The union movement must oppose all attempts by the capitalist state to weaken the UAW or force a change in the new, militant direction it has taken. 

U.S. government: Hands off our unions!

Martha Grevatt is a retired member of UAW Local 869, which represents Stellantis’s Warren Stamping Plant.

Martha Grevatt

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Martha Grevatt

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