What We’re Against:
Four Self-Defeating Tendencies Preventing Our Union from Winning a UC for ALL
UAW 2865 was one of many unions unprepared for the right wing’s Janus offensive. From April 2010 to April 2017, our membership declined from 59% to 37%.
Officer positions went vacant, and shop-floor stewards were almost non-existent. In practice, if not by policy, union participation was officers-only. In September 2016, for example, UCLA administrators inadvertently cut hundreds of workers off their health insurance. The union's hastily-organized protest involved only about 15 people. Most workers probably did not know that they had a union, and very few understood what having a union meant.
Our lack of participation stemmed from a lack of rank-and-file organization. Over the past year, OSWP leaders have re-built an organizing committee open to rank-and-file members and begun a sustainable program of building membership and worker participation (bringing our union to majority membership for the first time in 7 years). This has allowed our union to identify organic leaders in our departments and enforce the contract. Our goal is to continue building collective power. With that in mind, we lay out below four self-defeating tendencies that we have observed in the past and that stand counter to our commitment to win a UC for All.
Four Self-Defeating Tendencies in UAW 2865 Leadership
“Horizontalism”: Some UAW 2865 leaders claim they are committed to a so-called “horizontalist” approach to organizational practices and structures. While these leaders are ostensibly committed to eliminating bureaucratic, top-down structures in our union (a goal that our caucus shares), in practice “horizontalism” has led to a decline in both democracy and bottom-up organizing. For example, “horizontalism” in practice has led to the loss of institutional memory once leaders graduated, leaving no program to train new worker leaders in organizing, grievance handling, and direct action techniques. This led to massive declines in union membership, worker participation, and effective contract enforcement. Aversion to any form of delegated decision-making on the part of “horizontalists” has also prevented our union from spending the necessary time debating meaningful decisions in Joint Council meetings and membership meetings, instead focusing on administrative details (e.g. meetings about meetings, votes on how to vote, etc.). Paradoxically (or perhaps predictably), this has led to a decline in democracy and demoralization among leaders. This tyranny of structurelessness has undermined member democracy.
Performative Politics (Symbolism Over Substance): Several UAW 2865 leaders engage in divisive rumor-mongering and baseless trash talk (especially on social media), which has repelled potential new leaders from engaging in union spaces and led to many leaders resigning their positions. Performances of radicalism and moral absolutism have undermined attempts at grounded, strategic debate and excluded members who can’t perform the activist-speak of other union leaders. These leaders placed greater faith in their own political opinions than in their coworkers’ ability to discuss, debate, and plan. When confronted by disagreement, some leaders resort to parliamentary delay tactics, divisive attacks, and even anti-union actions, such as rescinding union membership. OSWP is committed to a pluralist, big-tent approach that works to build solidarity across difference and disagreement and prioritizes taking action to build worker power over rhetorical gestures.
Relegating Anti-Oppression Work to Committees: OSWP believes in building a UAW 2865 elected leadership that reflects the diverse membership we represent. We want a union with active participation of individuals from marginalized backgrounds – particularly people of color and international students. Previous union leaders took an approach to racial and gender justice that cycled between paternalism and denunciation. They cast our union as an “ally” organization, rather than a vehicle for all members to fight the root causes of their oppression. The solution is not to farm out anti-oppression work to separate committees. Neither is it to denounce the idea of supermajority membership as being white supremacist, as some leaders have claimed. Instead, we think that racial, gender, immigrant, disability, and parenting justice are the job of the entire union.
Top-Down Leadership: Despite espousing a commitment to “horizontalism”, many UAW 2865 leaders practice a form of top-down leadership premised on paternalism. For several years, the most common way of mobilizing members for actions has been to put out a statement or a call for action, assuming that members will fall in line with the ideological leadership of the Joint Council. This approach ignores the need to approach members as co-workers, hear their issues, and rally them into collective action around those issues. The pitfalls of this approach came into sharp relief during discussions around striking during our most recent contract campaign. Several union leaders believed the most important factor in pulling off an effective strike was elected leaders having the moral courage to call the strike in the first place – ignoring that it was not whether leaders were personally willing to strike but whether the majority of rank-and-file workers were ready and willing to strike (unfortunately, our assessments showed that at most 10-15% of workers statewide were likely to strike, meaning that we had not adequately organized our co-workers). OSWP is against top-down leadership that is not connected to the lived experiences of rank-and-file workers.
What about the new contract and the ratification vote? Read our statement here.