UAW Ready to Pick Target in Bid to Organize Non-Union “Transplants”

by on Mar.24, 2011

Workers celebrate during the dedication of the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, in 2003. But will they embrace the UAW if given the chance?

The United Auto Workers Union is close to picking the automaker that will serve as the target of what it vows will become the largest consumer boycott in the history of the global economy — all part of its effort to organize workers at non-union plants in the Southeastern corner of the United States,

However, UAW president Bob King suggested there may be a way around the threatened confrontation.  The union is having discussions with a number of transnational makers operating non-union plants in the Southeast to see if it can coax them into abiding by a set of principles that would open the door to organizing drives on company property. The principles would insure the campaigns would be free of the corporate intimidation that has marked past UAW drives, King said.

“This is the UAW of the twenty-first century. We can help them improve their quality and efficiency,” he insisted. “We can help them compete successfully in the global economy just as we have at Ford,” he said.

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The union is prepared to back up its push with a substantial global campaign to punish automakers which don’t want to accept the union’s offer, said Dennis Williams, UAW Secretary Treasurer, who is attending this week’s national union convention.

So far none of the seven transnational automakers, which include Daimler AG, BMW, Volkswagen AG, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai and Kia, have agreed to the set of principles outlined by the UAW back in January.

Should the manufacturers fail to go along, the union hopes to make life difficult, though it won’t turn to the strikes that occasionally became violent during the union’s birth, three quarters of a century ago.

“This will be the biggest campaign ever undertaken. It will involve hundreds of dealerships,” said Williams, adding the union will ask help from its retirees, community groups and other unions to help with the campaign.

“We will do whatever it takes,” said Williams, who said the effort could put pickets in front of dealerships for 20 hours per week during peak traffic hours. It will also feature campaigns aimed at disrupting the targeted maker in key markets around the world — and will incorporate the aggressive use of social media to attack the company for violating human rights.

The union will also target the selected company at global auto shows in Europe, Japan and emerging markets . It is also planning to organize demonstrations at different events, such as golf tournaments, sponsored by the targeted automaker, Wiilliams said.

The union is asking a group of “transnational” companies, to accept a set of principles that would make it easier for the UAW to recruit members at plants in the Southeastern United States.

“The National Labor Relations Board process is undemocratic,” Williams said. “The election process is undemocratic,” said Williams, noting employers routinely use intimidation and fear to block organizing drives.

“You can’t have a middle class here in the U.S. or around the world without organized labor,” said Williams, adding the UAW has “enhanced” its relationships with unions in Germany, Japan and South Korea to help with the upcoming campaign.

The UAW has hired Richard Bensinger, the former head of the AFL-CIO’s organizing institute and a respected union tactician with more than 35 years experience in labor-management battles in the private sector, to help coordinate the campaign against the union’s ultimate target.

“It will be the type of mobilization we’ve never done before,” Bensinger told the UAW bargaining convention in Detroit. “We’re not going to make the mistake of just having a campaign in California and Texas,” he said.

Bensinger said the campaign, which is reminiscent of the successful U.S. grape boycott in the late 1960s that led to the organization of the farm workers union, noted there has been a lot of skepticism about whether the UAW’s $60 million campaign could actually work.

That’s all the more serious a question considering the strong strain of anti-unionism that has arisen in the U.S. – underscored by the Republican Party’s efforts to strike against organized labor in places like Wisconsin.

However, the transnational autoworkers will have to gamble with their international reputations in fast-growing markets such as Brazil, where the UAW is working at having the country’s former – and still very popular — President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva endorse the boycott, union officials noted privately.

In many countries, such as Brazil, Germany, South Korea and China, unions are much more integrated into the fabric of everyday life than they are in the United States. It’s a given that workers can belong to a union.

The UAW is also recruiting help from abroad by providing internships to students from major car markets around the world to help with what the union describes as its ‘global campaign for human rights” to help organize the campaign in other markets.

Grabriela Trentin Zandona, a 23-year-old law student from Agua Boa, Brazil and one of the union’s current class of interns, said she was eager to help the UAW’s once she returns to Brazil. “I am passionate about social justice,” she said.

The UAW also has started door-to-door campaigns near non-union auto plants in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee in a bid to reach out to non-union automakers. Jing Li, a 22-year-old law student from Beijing and another UAW intern, said that, having studied the U.S. Constitution, she was surprised at how fearful workers were about even discussing joining a union. “The right to joining a union should be a fundamental right,” she said.

In addition, the UAW has hired the internet company that handled Barack Obama’s on-line fundraising effort in 2008 to prepare a social media blitz aimed at undermining the value of the targeted company’s brand. It’s also prepared to hire social media companies in places such as China to help with the campaign.

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7 Responses to “UAW Ready to Pick Target in Bid to Organize Non-Union “Transplants””

  1. Tatersalad says:

    Boycotting a foreign carmaker will only backfire on the UAW. It will hurt the Big Three in car sales. Watch out for what you want because what you already have just might be the best you can get!

    The “wants & needs” of a Union.

    Union myths:

  2. Tatersalad says:

    Why is Detroit a corpse?

  3. r123t says:

    I’m UAW and I applaud the effort, but realize that the odds of pulling this off in the U.S. are long. My basic hope is that it will strengthen ties with unions abroad, which are stronger than in the U.S. And even if the endeavor fails in fact, perhaps in principle it will remind workers everywhere that corporations are sitting on $2 trillion in their corporate coffers now, and contrary to those of Reaganesque beliefs, that money is not trickling down in the form of more jobs and a better life for what remains of the middle class. Perhaps also it will remind the foreign automakers that those of us in the U.S. object to being used as a third-world, low wage country, and that even if the UAW is not allowed to serve as a union-in-fact, their very presence on the doorsteps of these companies will serve the purpose of a quasi-union, allowing the non-unionized force to have better wages and benefits than they would have had the threat of unionization not been present. Toyota has operated this way for years, making sure that their workers were paid just well enough that the UAW was not the choice for the workers. Further, after what the Midwestern governors did, acting in force to try to nuke collective bargaining and unions of all stripes, I’m willing to bet that a lot of folks that still have deep reservations about unions are going to be taking a good look at the way corporations and conservative governing are stifling improvements in worker pay, benefits and safety.

  4. Tatersalad says:

    The UAW will not be able to Unionize non-union targets because they align thmeselves with ‘Poverty Pimps” such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton which turns America off to the Union. These types of people are NOT needed to Unionize, yet the UAW invites these loosers to events. Not a right thing to do. How do I know? I am a retired UAW member and resent these pimps at our events. Here is yet another reason:

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