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Workplace Struggle

Concerted action in the workplace is an essential feature of rank-and-file unionism. We do not see the union as an insurance agency to which members pay a fee in exchange for the services of high paid business union staff who say they'll “take care of it for you” through legalism, lobbying, and backroom deals. A union is a workers’ organization, built by members who improve their conditions through collective action.

In contract negotiations, this means involvement of the members in developing their demands, and tactics that show support for the bargaining committee and keep pressure on management. Too many union leaders believe the best way to negotiate a contract is to keep their members in the dark and keep them quiet. Our approach is to give the members as much information as possible to engage in action to support their proposals, and develop strategies and tactics to maximize membership participation.

The same is true in dealing with violations of workers’ rights that occur between contract negotiations. Stewards often find the chance of resolving a grievance is greater when members collectively express their discontent to management. Many locals have effectively used such tactics as “mass grievances” signed by every worker in the shop or department, or even delivered to the boss by a mass delegation. Locals find creative ways, while a grievance is going through the formal steps of the grievance procedure, to remind management of rank-and-file support for the union's position. Our reluctance to take our grievances to arbitration grows from our unwillingness to place our fate in the hands of a third party. In some contracts – notably the GE national agreement – our members retain the legal right to strike over a grievance after receiving the company's final answer. The existence of this right, even if infrequently exercised, adds a strong incentive for management to settle.

The UE approach to political action – collective action for political change, rather than attempts to buy influence with politicians through campaign contributions or via paid lobbyists – is closely related to our concept of workplace struggle. For the growing number of our members in the public sector, the two areas of struggle are inseparable. 

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 75th UE CONVENTION:

  1. Directs the union at all levels to educate our members about the necessity, effectiveness, and most useful strategies of workplace struggle, including the purchase and use of books such as the Troublemaker’s Handbook, published by Labor Notes; 
  2. Calls on locals to ensure that proper democratic practices are in place to involve members in workplace struggle, including, when appropriate, stewards’ meetings and trainings;
  3. Urges greater publicity for gains achieved by our members through workplace struggle in the UE Steward, UE News, local union newsletters, and other union communications;
  4. Commits to transparency in all forms of negotiations with the employer.