Statement on the UAW 2865 Contract Settlement

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Written by Worker’s Voice East Bay

We are La Voz de los Trabajadores/Workers Voice, a revolutionary socialist organization seeking to build a mass movement of the working class that is militant and democratic, in order to win material gains and expand political and civil rights. Many of our members have been activists in UAW 2865 and were part of the founding of AWDU. In leadership and rank-and-file roles, we’ve been part of the fight for this union to become and remain a militant and democratic organ of working class struggle.

We believe the spirit and some of the major democratic reforms and militant strategy implemented by the AWDU caucus since 2011 are in great danger. The conservative turn of the present UAW 2865 leadership is now undeniable. The way the last contract negotiation was conducted and the hesitation around issuing a statement on the massacre in Gaza in May 2018 are indicators of it. For these reasons we have resigned from our leadership positions in the union and gone to do work again among the rank and file, to re-build a militant union from below.

In order to propose a way forward in 2865, it’s extremely important to analyze the factors leading up to the settlement of an inadequate contract with the UC. We offer this analysis to allies who are interested in a critical socialist perspective on the contract campaign.

Although the conservative leadership of 2865 has thrown away the biggest opportunity to mobilize and become strong through the fight for a fair contract, we see there are still many opportunities to build our strength. We fundamentally disagree that the right move is to leave the union, and are vehemently against attempts to destroy our union, as this move would seriously setback the partial gains we’ve made through hard struggle for union recognition in the past, and return all worker’s to the status of “at-will”, with little to no workplace protections or even the enforced right to organize. We disagree with the current leadership and the bureaucratic way the contract was settled, but that doesn’t mean we should jump ship into the ocean of sharks. We must take the ship back, and we believe there needs to be a strong third current in the union that is advocating to build a base for reform, one that opposes the conservative leaders and believes in fighting for the union, not destroying it as some have shortsightedly advocated.

How to Combat the Janus Offensive

Since early 2017, many in the leadership of the union, including members of our organization, advocated an organizing plan that utilized full-time paid staff to build membership as well as the establishment of organizing committees to increase the militancy and active capacity of the membership. This was done explicitly in preparation for the impending Janus v AFSCME Supreme Court case ruling. Union leaders had the analysis that the only way to survive a federal “right-to-work” law would be not to weaken the union’s militancy, but to strengthen it by building the membership to a majority (at the launch of the organizing program, statewide membership was approximately 36%). A union majority is an important goal for any militant, democratic union and for a mass movement for socialism. A union majority reflects the fact that most workers in a worksite have heard about their union and receive important communications from their union. A union majority means most workers in a worksite can vote and run in union elections. However, we must also, at the same time, ask ourselves what we are motivating this majority for; what are we motivating this majority to do?

By way of answering these questions, many elected leaders and rank-and-file activists also considered conducting a political strike that would make clear to workers that they need unions now more than ever. Here is a key political difference that was not fully drawn out when it emerged – some in leadership did not see any strike other than a supermajority strike at each of the UC campuses as a successful strike.

We wanted to show that our union is not the weak ‘bureaucratic business’ union that instead of fighting for workers’ needs waits under the wings of the national UAW collecting paychecks. Through this plan, functional organizing committees were established on almost all campuses, and the membership increased more than 20%in 9 months. The intention of the contract campaign was to expand the power and material gains achieved by the Academic Workers for a Democratic Union reform efforts of 2014. With the contract set to expire on June 30th of 2018, our Union would be poised to take our 55% membership and prepare for a militant strike. In May, members of AFSCME 3299, UAW 2865, and UPTE-CWA 9119, all posed to strike during the fall quarter together, convened at a Strike Forum to discuss the need and possibility of a synchronized strike.

What Happened During the Contract Negotiation: A Top-Down and Concessionary Strategy

Amazingly, only two weeks later a push was made from the exact same leaders to settle a contract in the summer if the UC were to make an offer “we couldn’t refuse”, though the material nature of this offer was not disclosed. At an Organizing Committee meeting on June 27, the leading staff field organizer Michael McCown argued to the member leaders that they should begin preparations for settling a contract, because the UC was going to make “an offer we couldn’t refuse”, that we were too weak to build for a real fight. Rather than consulting the rank-and-file through forums, meetings, or mass actions, the leadership chose to consult the talking heads of labor struggle and conservative staff of the UAW International (who were actively against the AWDU reform caucus, and employs the same business union model at the national level). At the following bargaining session in July, an artificial crisis was created within the Bargaining Team, in which this same small sector of leadership pressured the team to immediately settle for a contract that did not offer a wage increase, affordable housing, and made concessions on virtually every anti-oppression demand, such as defenses from harassment and police. Fortunately, the activists of our party, alongside many insurgents of the rank-and-file who immediately came to the same conclusion, swiftly composed and circulated a petition against settling in this moment. Through this organizing, the team was forced not to settle, and because of this, we won an extension of the contract to August 20, thus retaining our ability to grieve contract violations to arbitration for another 2 months.

During the period between this extension and the new expiration time, the concessionary sector of leadership began to propagate their idea of settling for a concessionary contract through blogging, personal attacks on social media, and even official resources such as staff and union channels. At the bargaining at UC Riverside at the start of August, the UC made their magnanimous “final offer”: a 4 year contract with a 3% wage increase each year; no language around affordable housing (ostensibly the strongest economic demand for workers living in a deep housing crisis), no language around ICE protections for undocumented workers or de-militarization of campus police, despite that 80% of members ranked “demilitarization” as a highest priority demand in our bargaining survey. Considering that the inflation rate in CA is currently 3.9%[1], this so-called offer is actually a wage cut.

We have clear evidence that the road to the concessionary contract was undemocratic. First of all, there was a push to settle the contract from a sector of the leadership when the vast majority of the membership had not even been present on the campuses for three months, making it impossible for most rank-and-file to have a thorough understanding of the bargaining situation. After the July bargaining, the bargaining team agreed to field a Straw Poll, which was supposedly to survey membership on whether they were ready to ratify the contract. First, the straw poll was riddled with technical issues, and rushed through a 3-day voting period in order to logistically accommodate the timeline that the bureaucratic section of leadership had already decided through a side-bar with management; to move to a ratification vote. Dozens of members reported never having received the straw poll vote. The language confused rank-and-file members as to what they were voting for, and was written by leaders of the pro-settlement sector in order to bias members toward voting for ratification.

The pro-settlement sector of the leadership was just warming up with these shady tactics for the following week when the ratification vote would take place. The language of the ratification vote encouraged members to vote Yes to ratify the contract, stating plain and clear that the “majority of the bargaining team recommends a Yes vote” and that to vote No “would risk all the gains that the bargaining team had won up until this point”. Official union resources, including social media channels and even the field staff, were used to promote the Yes Vote and to demean and slander the No Vote. In addition to official union resources, the pro-settlement sector heavily utilized blogs and social media to make disgusting personal attacks on anyone who was against the weak contract. The pro-settlement campaign not only manipulated the vote to favor their perspective, but they completely lied about the deep divisions within the leadership and the consequences of voting No. As the straw poll and bargaining team members can attest, the union’s leaders and membership were deeply divided on whether to settle for the weak contract, and those against the settlement were not a small minority, but half of the team. Additionally, it’s a total fabrication that the so-called “gains” made at the bargaining table would be risked; California labor law protects bargaining workers from “regressive bargaining”, or in other words, the UC’s final offer would still stand, and workers would have had more to gain by entering into impasse.

In an email chain in which one field staff expressed they were deeply disturbed by the rigging of the Yes vote, a leader of the settlement campaign (who is incidentally the field staff supervisor), documents making a personal phone call to the staffer to ensure that they understood no wrongdoing had been committed by the pro-settlement campaign. Later in the thread, another bargaining team member admitted that their misuse of union resources could be a legal liability, and that they were indeed presenting a biased vote to members. Given the overtly undemocratic nature of the ratification vote and the evidence of misuse of official union resources to promote the Yes Vote, we reiterate the call for a formal investigation by an independent accountability committee of rank-and-file members into this matter.

These undemocratic maneuvers, conservative misinformation, personal attacks, and demobilizing strategy from a section of leaders in the UAW 2865 are the exact dynamics that the AWDU reform caucus had to combat in the 2014 contract campaign. Though throughout the contract campaign, multiple sectors of the union’s leadership made claims to the Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) legacy, it’s not difficult to see who is acting in the role of the conservative Admin caucus. Having reached impasse in 2014 with a 45% membership, against a red-baiting propaganda campaign from the UAW International claiming that a strike would be a  disaster for the union, the AWDU caucus showed the masses of rank-and-file that the most effective way to make real gains against management was to confront them through a strike. Between the UC management’s so-called final offer and the strike in 2014, it was management who conceded to us an additional 9% increase in salary because we exercised the power of the strike.

Our Tasks Ahead

For us as socialists, we understand the union as a class organization to fight for increasing our material gains and democratic rights, but it is a muscle that’s only as strong as its exercised. When the defeatist arguments are used to bias the members toward accepting a weak contract, our members not only lost wages and accessing affordable housing, we more broadly lost the opportunity to strengthen ourselves through the democratic fight for a better contract. We lost the  members who can be signed up during a strike, we lost the organizational capacity that comes from building strike committees, strike forums, pickets, and solidarity actions with other unions. We see this concessionary contract as a major setback both materially and organizationally, as well as a setback from the democratic reforms made by the AWDU caucus since 2011. Additionally, we see the misuse of staff to push for the settlement campaign as an abuse of the current leadership’s power that must be deeply investigated by the membership.

In the era of Janus, our unions should not be giving in to conservative tendencies that abandon our most basic needs when management snaps its fingers, that weaken our union’s power through demobilization and defeatism. We need unions that fight, we need democratic leadership that does not lie and utilize personal attacks against their enemies. Most of all, we need strong rank-and-file activists that will forward our demands as workers through our union, in spite of the leadership which has left us in a worse position to organize than before. We believe that we should continue to build a militant, democratic base for reforming our union in the Organizing Committees and other OC-like bodies that  spring up, and that we should focus on the spaces which were marginalized during the recent contract campaign: the People of Color Caucuses, the campaign for affordable housing, and campaigns to build solidarity with the other striking unions on campus, namely AFSCME 3299, who will strike again during the Fall.

The current contract does nothing to address access to affordable housing for UC workers, demilitarization of campus police and the expulsion of ICE from our campuses, nor does it address divestment of UC funds from prisons and fossil fuel companies, nor privatization of campus resources, issues that are only worsening in the broader national climate. The way forward is to keep building our strength through these campaigns with a clear political program that centers rank-and-file militancy, fights for the leadership of the union, and utilizes true democratic power, not shady and illicit manipulations, to win gains for ourselves.

Onward to a militant, democratic UAW 2865!

Written by La Voz de los Trabajadores/Worker’s Voice East Bay

[1] https://www.ocregister.com/2018/04/11/housing-gasoline-push-southern-california-inflation-to-fastest-rate-since-2008/amp/

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