The federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that our nation is celebrating today honors the struggle for civil rights led by Dr. King during his lifetime. Less well-known is that its existence as a federal holiday, and as a holiday in many UE union contracts, was itself a product of struggle, one that began shortly after Dr. King was assassinated while supporting striking municipal workers in Memphis.
UE NEWS Features
When UE members elect their local officers, there is a pretty simple system: each local member gets one vote, and the candidate who receives the most votes wins. Most nations that elect a single chief executive such as a president use a similar system, albeit on a much larger scale. “One person, one vote” and majority rule are basic to the practice of democracy.
UE Local 150 members across the UNC system have been fighting to protect the health, safety, and jobs of campus workers since the campus reopening was announced in May — collecting and delivering petitions, holding rallies and marches, building coalitions with faculty and students, speaking to the press, and joining a class-action lawsuit.
As racial justice protests swept the country following the murder of George Floyd in late May, UE’s officers issued a statement calling on working people to “stand in solidarity with our Black brothers, sisters and siblings, and to redouble our efforts to fight for racial justice.” UE locals across the country responded to the moment in a variety of ways, from joining demonstrations, taking actions at the workplace, opening their union office to protesters, and perhaps most importantly, initiating discussions among union members about why it is important to fight racism in order to build and maintain working-class unity.
The novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly changed almost all aspects of life, including the workplace. Virtually every UE local has been affected by the health and economic impacts of this unprecedented public health crisis.
In a new book, The Long Deep Grudge, historian Toni Gilpin recounts the history of the Farm Equipment Workers union (FE). Like UE and the ILWU, the FE practiced a militant and democratic form of unionism that contested the boss’s power on the shop floor as much as in contract negotiations. Throughout the book, Gilpin makes a compelling case that the aggressive shop-floor struggle conducted by rank-and-file FE members, and the majority-white FE’s deep commitment to racial equality, was inextricably connected to the left-wing views of the union's leadership.
From November 24th to December 4th, 2019, United States Labor Against the War (USLAW) and the Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ) led a joint labor delegation to Colombia. Participants included union members and staff from UE, National Nurses United, UNITE HERE, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, the United Steelworkers, and the National Writers Union. The delegation also included a member of About Face: Veterans Against the War and Latin America solidarity activists.
Under the slogan, “UE: The Union for Everyone,” delegates from UE locals across the country met in Pittsburgh from August 25-29 for UE’s 76th National Convention. UE members made several historic decisions: unanimously endorsing Bernie Sanders for President, becoming the first union with significant manufacturing membership to endorse the “Green New Deal,” and reaffirming UE’s long-held support for single-payer healthcare, now commonly referred to as “Medicare for All.”
UE General President Peter Knowlton has announced that he plans to retire when his term ends on October 31, and he will not seek reelection at this year’s convention.
He will be retiring with over three decades of service to UE as a field organizer, district and then regional president, and national officer, though as Knowlton is quick to remind anyone he's around these days, this is not the end of his contributions to the union — he plans to stay active as a retiree.
July 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of UE's first contract in Vermont, with the Jones and Lamson Machine Company in Springfield. Chartered in October 1943 to organize Springfield's machine tool industry, Local 218 won its first NLRB elections, at Vermont Foundries and Jones and Lamson, early in 1944, concluding first contracts with both companies in July.
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