The Multinational Monitor



New Directions for the UAW

An Interview with Jerry Tucker

Jerry Tucker is the founder and National Organizing Coordinator of the New Directions Movement, a newly formed opposition caucus in the United Automobile Workers union. He ran for director of UAW Region 5 in 1986 and lost. In 1988, a federal court determined that the 1986 election was illegal and ordered the UAW to hold a new election, which Tucker won. He lost his 1989 reelection bid, but that election is now under review by the Labor Department.

Internally, there was little or no way to effectively challenge the direction of the union... MULTINATIONAL MONITOR: What is the New Directions Movement?

JERRY TUCKER: The New Directions Movement is an outgrowth of the failure of the International UAW to respond to needs of our union membership. It has grown dramatically as a result of what many people perceive as a lack of internal democracy and accountability to the membership and a straying away from the principle of solidarity as a mechanism for union behavior....

MM: When did it start?

TUCKER: New Directions surfaced as a movement around my candidacy for [UAW] regional director in 1986. It had an electoral thrust at that time, but it really was a successor to things that were going on prior to then: during the early '80s there were efforts to resist the concessionary plunge that had begun as a result of the severe recession which hit the auto industry pretty hard. A lot of local union leaders had come together in one form or another, such as Locals Opposed to Concessions, and tried to resist this direction. But their efforts did not seem to have the effect of changing the way the International leadership approached the problem.

MM: What led you to start New Directions?

TUCKER: It was clear at that time, and it had been for a number of years, that the union was governed by a one-party apparatus. Internally, there was little or no way to effectively challenge the direction of the union, since that apparatus was not accountable to the rank and file.

The corporations have not in any way honored the so-called partnership with the membership. The claims made in the last three rounds of collective bargaining that the agreements have created unprecedented job security for UAW members have been absolutely false: the companies continue to make investment decisions which send work to low wage countries; they continue to "rationalize" plants and workforces; they desert communities where they've traditionally been supported; they've continued to extort taxpayers, take public monies to do their private business and then walk away from communities.

MM: What happened in your first election in 1986?

TUCKER: Leading up to 1986, I was the assistant director of [UAW] Region 5. A number of people had for a long time expressed certain anxiety about the International leadership and particularly in our region there was a mood of optimism or hope that there would be a transfer of leadership from the incumbent, Ken Worley, to me....

The leadership of many locals in the region ... held a meeting.... In effect, they created a regional caucus of 125 leaders and rank and file activists.

They unanimously approved [a] set of resolutions, the basic thrust of which was that they wanted democracy, accountability and the principle of solidarity to be at the center of what we did as a union. They defined the corporate agenda as a different agenda from the agenda of working people. Those basic principles became the cornerstone of what ultimately was called the "New Directions Movement."

[People at] that meeting asked me to run, and I agreed to. I called Owen Bieber and I told him the majority of the delegates who had already been elected in Region 5 were prepared to support me over the incumbent. I had a significant lead, almost 50 votes going into the convention. He simply told me that I couldn't run. He made it very clear that I had no right to run, even though the constitution of the union and federal law both contradict that assertion. After talking to him and giving it another couple days thought, I announced that I would run. He promptly fired me.

That matter is still before [a] federal court as are a number of others that came out of that whole election period in 1986.

We went to the convention with the votes. It was very obvious to a lot of people that the International was going to almost any extreme to deny me the office. What happened, in fact, was that people were paid to come as sergeants-of-arms, given credentials even though they had not been elected as delegates and voted in the election for Region 5 director.There was illegal use of funds throughout the campaign by the incumbent who used the union's treasury and his office for his campaign. My firing itself had an illegal chilling effect on a fair and honest election. Ultimately, the final count had me losing by less than 2/10 of one vote out of 650 votes. You get fractions because of the weighted, proportional voting of our elected delegates. So less than one vote determined the outcome.

What ultimately the Department of Labor found, and I alleged it immediately based on the people that I knew [who] were not properly elected delegates, was that 28 votes had been illegally cast for my opponent....

Workers [from Brownsville, Texas] supported our allegations that the two so-called delegates from that facility had not been elected, that elections had not been held. What had happened was that the International had brought [the Brownsville workers] to Anaheim and given them credentials to vote. Those votes alone would have set the election aside and made me director at that time. We presented the evidence to Owen Bieber's staff prior to the final session of the convention. And I was told by a member of his staff, "You don't understand, Tucker. It doesn't make any difference what you have; the object is to get you out of this convention." Following that, I said, "Look, the evidence is very clear." He said, "No, the program is to starve you out and erode your base of support." Subsequently, Bieber told the convention that I had no further recourse within the union and that I could --and this a quote from the proceedings--"take the matter outside."

The only place to go was the Labor Department, which I did very quickly, with the help of Chip Yablonski, former Mineworkers general counsel.

The Department of Labor filed three separate lawsuits on my behalf...

A lot of people from around the country began to pay attention to what was happening in our region.... There was a general widening of the impact not only of the election but the ideological questions that were being raised here about the role of the union and the principles of internal democracy and accountability.

Ultimately--over two years later--we prevailed. The federal courts ordered a new election. I won a majority of the delegates. Despite massive and intense efforts by the International at that time, those delegates remained unshaken. They just simply wouldn't yield, even to threats and attempts to bribe them with [UAW] staff jobs.

There were even instances of violence that occurred during that time. One night at a St. Louis CAP meeting--our community action program--a group of [UAW] administration loyalists came to that meeting with bags full of raw eggs and attacked my supporters. They called them Tucker suckers and not only threw the eggs but physically attacked them. One fellow had cracked ribs, another fellow had a broken nose, another had a concussion. There was a racial overtone to it. It was principally white males--which tends to be the core of the International's support--who went after my supporters, a number of whom were women, black and minority....

During the period of time that I served, which was nine short months of the balance of that term, I was constantly frustrated in my attempt to carry out my constitutionally mandated functions.... At every turn, Bieber and the vice presidents threw up roadblocks. During that period, it was made very clear at board meetings, it was made clear publicly by Owen Bieber and others, that they were going to get rid of me, that the wishes of the rank and file and the delegate membership of Region 5 really didn't count. What they were saying was that this is a one-party political state and it is going to stay that way....

In the meantime, the growth of what in effect was becoming a movement of New Directions continued. We continued to hold good solid meetings in our region. In January of '89, a group of activists in Detroit organized a meeting. It brought about 800 people to Warren, Michigan on a Sunday afternoon. I was invited to speak, Victor Reuther was invited to speak, Don Douglas was invited, Pete Kelly was there. That meeting showed that there was a much wider concern for the movement for new directions.... From that meeting, ultimately Don Douglas made the decision to run for the directorship of Region 1...

[But] the International made a decision that they had had on the drawing board all along: to win at all costs. They had already "assessed" the staff of the International union--the 800 staff members--$500 apiece to underwrite the campaigns against Don Douglas and me. While I don't know that every staff member contributed, certainly the coercive pressures that were applied made it likely that most did. There were staff members, I am told, who were advised if they didn't contribute then they would be moved. Campaigning was done in some cases on union property and in regional offices; that is basically illegal and is part of what the Department of Labor is currently investigating....

The International's tactics were repugnant to say the least, especially against Douglas in the Detroit area. He was falsely accused of racism and black workers were told all types of vile and false lies about him.

The union administration did one thing that was particularly disturbing. They went to the retired workers--UAW retirees have a right to vote for convention delegates and local officers. The International used its office and quite often money from the union treasury--which we have alleged was illegal--and gathered retirees together in captive meetings. These meetings were not open and available to my supporters or me, and the same was true for Douglas. In these meetings, large numbers of retirees were told that Tucker or Douglas was out to disenfranchise them. The International suggested to them that if I stayed in office or Douglas got elected, they might lose their pensions.

The use of captive meetings was a desperate tactic and one that unfortunately will probably create long-term divisions between retired workers and active workers. We don't need that kind of division; no union does.

If the retirees had not been perversely organized in that way, which we again allege was done illegally--that is part of what the Department of Labor is looking at--in my region, I would have won the election. It is indisputable that the majority of the active member vote in the plants supported delegates who would support me. But the impact of inordinately large numbers of retirees being imported into the election through these captive meeting devices and illegal phone banks changed the outcome....

MM: What is the current state of New Directions as a movement?

TUCKER: We had a founding national conference for New Directions in St. Louis on Oct. 20-22, [1989]. We enacted a constitution and a set of bylaws. We enacted a small series of resolutions which speak to policies and programs. I have been retained as the national organizer and asked to commit my time, at least in part, to organizing and reaching out to more and more members inside the union, as well as to represent our interests within the labor movement generally.

We have a national organizing committee which acts as a steering group for the New Directions Movement. It was elected. In our founding document we discussed the problems of racism and sexism in our union and in society. While it still could be improved, and we expect to in the future, we were able, by setting certain standards, to have a national organizing committee that has 6 women, and minority involvement of 9 out of 22. All of the organizing committee members are rank and file members or local union officers. This contrasts starkly with the International union, which is significantly a white male leadership and is not organized with a constitution or bylaws which promotes internal democracy.

MM: What has been the impact of the New Directions Movement?

TUCKER: We now print and distribute 15,000 newsletters inside the UAW. It is not quite a monthly, but we ultimately intend for it to be a monthly newsletter. The organization is in fact penetrating and receiving support from more and more local unions. There are probably a little bit over 1800 active local unions in the UAW, at least that used to be the working figure, and I would say that between 600 and 700 of those locals have a New Directions presence. In some cases the whole local feels disposed toward us, in other cases it might just be one or two individuals who take on the responsibility of discussing things with their fellow workers and distributing literature. It is clear that we are a growing presence inside the UAW and we are having an effect....

People are supporting New Directions because we are articulating support for autonomy and independence from the corporate agenda. We oppose the team concept, which we think is a managerial device designed to divide workers and create for management the opportunity to speed up assembly lines and do things that really worsen working conditions for workers in favor of the corporations' agenda for increased productivity.

By taking a very clear position on these matters, we have caused the membership to see the failure and the bankruptcy of the strategy of the International leadership today. That has caused people like [UAW vice president] Steven Yokich to start saying out loud and publicly that the union might have to stand up to General Motors. Now we have gone through three rounds of negotiations where we were not standing up to General Motors at all.... And now, rhetorically at least, it is being stated that we might have to stand up to them. There is certainly a problem with that, because as a result of these last three rounds of negotiations and basically through the last decade, what we have in fact done with regard [to] General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and some others as well, is concede to them major physical properties within the union. There is now a large number of patronage-associated individuals, who, while they are appointed by the union, they are paid by the corporation to do the things that enhance productivity and are part of the corporations' overall managerial agenda.

In most General Motors' plants today, there are anywhere from 150 to 300 such individuals, who have been appointed by the union in a glut of patronage type appointments to hold off-line positions, in many cases they are called clipboarders, people who carry clipboards around. Their basic role is to assist the corporation in gaining greater productivity. These individuals assist therefore in running the workplace--and they are not elected by the membership and they are not accountable to the rank-and-file membership, even though they are members of the union. They help the corporation dominate the workplace.

They also have a second effect. Since they are union members, they clearly are the praetorian guard for stamping out dissent at the monthly union meetings and [elsewhere]. So this group can be depended on to show up at union meetings; their very positions depend on it. It is sort of like Manuel Noriega's Dignity Patrols and other such .. . devices that one-party, totalitarian entities have. I think [this] has been a result of the International leadership's insecurity and fear that if they really had to listen to the rank and file, they would have to take steps and advocate policies which would be contradictory to the direction which they have eased off into today.... In order to maintain the agenda of "jointness and cooperation" between labor and capital, this army, which the corporation has been all too generous in supporting, seems necessary.

Before we can make substantial progress in redeveloping our own union agenda on behalf of our membership, that army has to be dismantled.

Similarly, we have to disengage from the current "jointness" agenda. That doesn't mean we have to throw out all safety and health programs or programs [through] which the corporation and the union work to help workers.... But certainly those programs where the union has submerged itself purely and simply in helping the corporation gain productivity at the expense of the rank and file membership, those programs have to be set aside. We have to disengage and resume the proper role of the union standing between the workers and the aggression of the employer.

MM: Why do you think it is that the UAW Administration Caucus has opposed New Directions as treasonous?

TUCKER: If [the UAW] were to allow pluralism and a real democratic process to occur, then they wouldn't be able to continue pursuing their current agenda or continue their current relationship with corporate America.

Time and again now, when the corporation wants the membership to jump off into another productivity-enhancing device such as the team concept or something like that, the International is expected to--and in fact does--pound the membership....

And you have the basic denial of grievances in the workplace. Now I know that Owen Bieber acts like a scalded cat when people suggest [to] him, as I have on numerous occasions, that out in the workplace today the whole idea of a member raising a grievance is frowned on. It is frowned on by the corporation, but that has always been true. Now, in many instances, it is frowned on by the union as an institution. Workers who feel that they have legitimate problems will take those problems to the local steward or committeeman and in all too many instances be told, "Hey look, our relationship with the company has changed, we don't grieve that any more." This occurs whether the grievance is over speedup or even in some cases safety conditions.

Well, I have argued that the grievance procedure, one that works, is the most effective instalment in industrial democracy. If you take away workers' right to make grievances, to seek proper redress for their grievances, you lessen the amount of democratic input that they can have....

MM: What are the most important issues facing the UAW?

TUCKER: In order to serve the membership, the union has to have a degree of autonomy as an institution.... We have had this experiment in jointness and it has not worked to serve the needs and protect the income security, the job security and improve the working conditions of our membership.

In the last three rounds of negotiations, the leadership has really ballyhooed how much job security they have negotiated. Well, they have not negotiated job security. What they have, in fact, done is expanded the welfare system for those who are going to lose their jobs. We clearly have sidestepped the larger questions out of which at least a certain degree of job security could be devised, such as shorter work time. There is not an industrial nation in the world which is not moving to shorter work time in industry in general....

[W]e should be working to determine in the interest of the workers the safety and health effects of the new technologies-- I'm talking now about toxics vs. nontoxics and things like that are being used in the workplace....

[W]e have to deal with the question of overtime. It has become altogether too profitable for the corporation to avoid hiring workers, or avoid bringing back laid off workers in favor of working some workers a great deal of overtime.... The amount of premium pay is today a joke because time and a half allows the companies to save the money they would otherwise have to put into a benefit package that a recalled worker would then have to be supplied with. So the time and a half penalty is no penalty at all. In fact, I question whether even double time is a sufficient penalty on the corporations.

[And] we have to come out very clearly with a very concrete demand on the question of whether plants can be shut down the way the corporations today shut them down. They made an absolute mockery, GM especially and Chrysler seems to be moving in this direction, of the last collective bargaining agreement, which was advertised as having a strict moratorium built in on plant shutdowns. And in fact, before the ink was fully dry before contracts were printed and in the hands of the workers, General Motors had already shut down two plants, one of which was the Leeds, Kansas City plant. Subsequent to that, the Framingham [Mass.] assembly plant, and now the Lakewood [Ga.] plant. The corporation simply redefined those closings; in classic doublespeak, they said, "Well that is not a shutdown, we just idled that plant."

In April of 1988 the Leeds shutdown was called idling. Early in 1990, the company held a meeting with the workers, 3000 of them, and redefined the shutdown to be an actual shutdown. There was never any question, it was a shutdown in the first place. They gutted the plant, took equipment and machinery and so forth out of there. They left a small group of paid managers and a couple dozen paid union officials around to maintain the facade that maybe, maybe the plant would be reopened with a different product...

Well, General Motors understood then, and told me, that there was no realistic possibility of reopening that plant. The facade that the plant might be reopened was very helpful for the International union, because the local union had previously supported my candidacy in 1986. With that device, and with the win-at-all-costs theory at work, the International convinced the workforce that if they rocked the political boat by continuing to support me that there would be no chance of reopening the plant....

In Framingham, a coalition of workers in the plant tried to raise the question and were told by the local union leaders, "Hush, don't talk about it. They won't reopen it if you talk about it." That's crazy. Everybody understands GM has overcapacity and is trying to jettison some workers and some plants and some communities....

MM: What are the sort of concrete things you have in mind to deal with shutdowns?

TUCKER: I have felt all along and advocated in the period prior to the 1984 negotiations that we shouldn't be telling workers that we are going to give them job security when what we mean is we are going to provide a kind of assistance package when you lose your job. If we are going to take that approach, a kind of industrial welfare program, then we should take it in a very well-defined way. I argued for four years indemnification. If a corporation doesn't need workers, they should continue to pay the workers, provide educational opportunities and provide service employment opportunities that might exist. The indemnification should come out of the general revenues of the corporation. That principle would have both a deterrent effect and cause the company to have to manage more effectively to utilize its human resources ....

And ... I [also] argued for ... what I called a community responsibility and reparation provision. You could not negotiate the entire concept across the bargaining table. If a corporation wanted to close a plant, it would first have to approach the union--this would go far beyond the 60-day notice now in law-- and say, "Look, we have problems, we want to shut the facility down." At that point, the corporation would be obligated to place in the hands of an independent research organization all the economic data necessary to complete an objective evaluation of the gross community product that would be effected over a given period of time, maybe ten years, maybe longer. The gross community product that would be affected by the shutdown would include not only the taxes, but the general flow of revenue through that community. Upon deriving a figure, that's the point at which the corporation has to make a decision: is it worth that amount for the corporation to leave the community?

MM: What should the UAW's organizing strategy involve?

TUCKER: If we are to make a difference to the workers we currently represent, we can't sit by and see our continued failure to appeal to and attract support from workers in the transplanted [Japanese-owned] auto facilities in this country. We have to find the combination that will make workers in Nissan and Toyota and other places see the value of union representation. We really have to work a lot harder at communicating the importance of unions to them, not only in the workplace, but also in the broader sense, dealing with the total industry.... The [corporate] abuses are [now] much more institutional and not individual and direct against specific workers, in most cases.

In small southern and southwestern communities where there is a cluster of industrial, non-union facilities, just sending an organizer in to operate out of the trunk of his car is not likely to get much done. We ought to take some of our union capital and become a part of that community. Build a facility, build a union hall, build one that can provide a social outlet and social activity. Replace the local VFW as the place where the kids go to hold their proms....

MM: Do you think the UAW should be doing anything special to attract workers outside of its main constituency?

TUCKER: The UAW is trying to organize across a wide range of industries and so forth and I am not suggesting that we shouldn't be monkeying around in a lot of places, if the workers want to do that, but we can't really walk away from our central obligation and that is to people in the auto and aerospace and agricultural implement industry. That is where our strength is derived....

We must confront the problem that whole industries are balkanized, or split up among different unions, all of which claim to be industrial unions. Industrial unionism should bring these unions together, and not just through some kind of ineffectual or superficial coordinated bargaining.

I really think the labor movement needs to be reorganized, perhaps not as drastically, but I would hold out something at least as a model like the wheel of fortune as it was called of the early IWW days.... [The IWW] allowed that sectors of corporate activity and work activity would be handled together such as manufacturing, mining, the public sector and service sectors and so forth. I favor that type of restructuring of the labor movement.

We must at the same time recognize that big is not always beautiful. At the very same time as the restructuring would create perhaps a larger union institution, we would have to make it more democratic and more accountable than its component parts are today.... I am for electing the national leadership by referenda of the reorganized movement. For that matter, the UAW leadership today should be elected by a one member, one vote concept.... [R]ank and file members ought to have the vote; national conventions ought to be much broader decision-making devices; and some initiatives and directions of the union ought to be put to referenda....

I think the International Association of Machinists' idea of approaching the UAW for a merger between the two unions was a very sound idea. They did it: [former IAM President William] Winpisinger approached [former UAW President] Doug Fraser. And it should have been carried out; look at the overlap in the aerospace industry alone. It was not because there were members of the UAW leadership - I don't know about the Machinists' leadership--who could not find their own role in the projected merger. There may have been reasons the merger should have been looked at very carefully. But the question of who wouldn't be able to retain what specific positions was not one of those reasons.

MM: What to you think the UAW's role in politics should be, and how does that compare with what it is currently doing?

TUCKER: Well, again we have to reflect on the fact that if our partners have become the corporations ... then of course it is going to be reflected in our political program. While we still have some tacit advocacy of social programs, I don't see significant resources being expended in that direction.

Take health care as an example. The UAW has supported a national health care system for a long time. When I was working in Washington in the 70s, we had a little apparatus set up, a one or two person staff, called the Committee for National Health Insurance. Like organizing of course, we didn't put very many resources into it, not the kind that the issue deserves.

I proposed that we create a field operation for the health care issue. Each Congressional district ought to have a core of people organized around that issue, Health Care Action Committees and so forth. Those ideas were put before Doug Fraser and the Executive Board and were dismissed.

We should have had that issue in the forefront of national discussion, for selfish reasons among other things. We should have battled the corporations at the bargaining table over their support for national health care.... The entire labor movement is guilty of paying issues like this more lip service than anything else. You have to take these to the streets sometimes. And organize the general population around questions of this type....

We should be a much harder core activist force on issues like peace questions and foreign affairs questions, Central American questions, environmental questions, and we should be on what is considered the progressive side of all those questions.... l think we pull our punches on some of these issues. We don't clearly define which side we are on.

What [the UAW was] saying was that this is a one-party political state and it is going to stay that way.
We have to disengage and resume the proper role of the union standing between the workers and the aggression of the the employer.
They made an absolute mockery, GM especially and and Chrysler seems to be moving in this direction, of the last collective bargaining agreement...
If our partners have become the corporations... then of course it is going to be reflected in our political program.
We should be a much harder core activist force on issues like peace questions and... environmental questions... We don't clearly define which side we are on.

The UAW has its say

Multinational Monitor hoped to run an interview with Owen Bieber, president of the UAW, to accompany the interview with Jerry Tucker. We originally requested an interview with Bieber in September. After some delay, Bieber agreed to do the interview on Friday, December 14.

Early in the week of the fourteenth, Peter Laarman, the head of the UAW's public relations department, called our interviewer to check on the questions he planned to ask Bieber. After hearing a couple of the questions, Laarman demanded to know if the interview was a "set-up job He threatened to cancel the interview, saying he would contact the Monitor within the next couple days if Bider decided to refuse the interview.

On Thursday of that week, our interviewer was contacted by the UAW, which notified him that Bieber had been held up in Washington, DC, by a plane delay. His schedule had been thrown off, the UAW said, and he would not be available for the interview the next day.

In early January of 1990, the Monitor resumed contact with the UAW's relations department. Laarman said he would try to set up another interview date after being assured that the interview would not be devoted solely or primarily to internal union politics and would be edited only for length. Repeated follow-up calls over the next several weeks elicited only statements from Laarman's office that he had not yet had a chance to raise the issue with Bieber.

Subsequently, the Monitor began calling local and regional UAW offices, as well as Solidarity House (the UAW's headquarters), for comments for our story of the union's harassment of Victor Reuther. This sparked a prompt response from the UAW. Within a few days, Laarman called the Monitor office twice, once from an airport in Florida- He indicated that Bieber would not be willing to be interviewed by a publication that was accusing him of "criminal" activities.

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