CLEVELAND, NC (AEP) — UAW President Ron Gettelfinger yesterday assured a group of grade-school students that, “No union backs its rank-and-file like the UAW.”
Gettelfinger was speaking to a group of kids at the Elizabeth Hanford-Dole Elementary School. He had been invited to speak by the district superintendent in a show of solidarity with area employer Cleveland Freightliner, a truck manufacturer at which the UAW has a local (#3520).
“When push comes to shove, we always back our members. Our inestimable track record conclusively proves it.” Gettelfinger told the children.
Gettelfinger was compelled to defend the UAW in response to questioning from a first-grader. Six-year-old Amber Leigh Castle asked Gettelfinger why the UAW International office had not stepped in to defend the “Cleveland Five.”
The Cleveland Five1 are a group of five members of the 11-member Local 3520 Bargaining Committee. The Bargaining Committee called a strike on 3 April 2007, authorized by the local’s rank-and-file on 17 March. The workers’ contract with Cleveland Freightliner expired on 1 April, and negotiations over a new deal were not going well.
The International UAW, however, did not sanction the strike (though a strike action was legal since the contract had expired). Instead, the International UAW began putting pressure on the workers as soon as 1 April to accept a partially completed deal. The local Bargaining Committee refused, feeling the fragmentary deal too favorable to the company, and believing an entire deal should be hammered out before submitting it to members for a vote.
The president of Local 3520 (himself a worker at Cleveland Freightliner) was not a member of the Bargaining Committee, as union rules prohibit this. But at about quarter to midnight before the planned strike, he sent a phone tree message to workers telling them to report to work, killing the strike. He also notified Cleveland Freightliner management as well as UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel.
The International UAW backed the strike killing, fired all 11 workers on the Bargaining Committee, forced through a deal, and rehired six of the 11 Bargaining Committee members who apologized for their actions.
The Cleveland Five are the five remaining members of the Bargaining Committee.
“Mr. Gettelfinger,” Castle asked, “those five workers were defending workers’ rights, the company fired them, and you applauded. Why?”
“That’s not true, little girl,” Gettelfinger responded. “We would never do such a thing. Remember that guy who cut his own arm off with a pocket knife in order to save his own life?2 The UAW is just like that guy. Only we’re tougher than he is, because we didn’t need hemostats to stop the bleeding.”
“But Mr. Gettelfinger, the UAW has been selling out its members right and left, cutting deals with U.S. automobile manufacturers that Detroit just loves. If the UAW is so committed to workers’ rights, why do your members think they need to organize themselves within their own union?”3
“Such efforts are misguided,” Gettelfinger said. “The workers know we represent them exceedingly well. And any suggestion that top union brass are just members of the coordinator class4 like corporate management is just poppycock.”
Castle then asked, “But why did one of the Five say the structure of the UAW needed to change or else the working class will basically be obliterated?5 That sounds to me like a call for a revolution — replacing existing institutions with new ones that foster humane values instead of trampling them. Shouldn’t the UAW be calling for revolution instead of merely acceding to the corporate dictates of market-based capitalism?”
Upon asking this question, Castle was tazed6 and sent to Guantanamo Bay.
- See the Cleveland Five’s website. [↩]
- See, for example. [↩]
- See Soldiers of Solidarity. [↩]
- For a brief explanation of the term “coordinator class.” [↩]
- Ronald Whiteside didn’t use the word “obliterated,” but he did say the structure of the UAW has to change. [↩]
- See, for example, You tube. [↩]