UE engages in Independent Political Action as part of the union's aggressive struggle to win better conditions for our members and all workers. In fact, a history of political activism by UE's rank-and-file members has earned our union an enduring reputation as a respected, progressive voice in the American labor movement. Here are answers to some of the most often asked questions about UE political action.
What is Political Action?
Political Action is the organized effort of working people to make our voices heard by our elected public officials in order to win government policies and programs which benefit working-class Americans.
How Do We Do It?
Many of the same aggressive fightback methods we use to represent our members with the boss are used in our political action work. Rallies, marches, and petition campaigns are good examples. Other tactics include meetings with officeholders, writing letters and sending e-mail to Congress, holding news conferences, registering voters, and campaigning on behalf of UE-backed candidates at election time.
What Do We Mean by "Independent" Political Action?
"Independent" means independent of the two major political parties (Republicans and Democrats). UE maintains that both parties are too closely tied to the wealthy and big corporations to be dependable advocates for working people. UE political action is issue-oriented. We "independently" formulate our own political goals - not taking them from any political party or other group - then fight for them through political action.
Does UE's Approach Differ From That of Other Unions?
Yes. Because UE emphasizes rank-and-file involvement and grass-roots-style activism to a much greater extent than many other unions. UE, for example, doesn't have a national PAC (Political Action Committee) to contribute money to candidates, an approach that for many unions has become a substitute for mobilizing the membership. We organize people - not their wallets!
“There is a difference between political action and playing politics. When we fought the politicians and we won what legislation we did, UE didn't play politics; we engaged in political action. We didn't rub bellies with the politicians. There was plenty of air between us. You could see light. Today, try to find some air and light between the bellies of labor leaders and the bellies of politicians. No go. you won't find it. They are playing politics.”
— UE Leader James Matles at the 1975 UE National Convention.
Why Do We Get Involved in Political Action?
The victories we win at the bargaining table can be easily either taken away or reinforced by the action or inaction of our government (local, state and national). Consider how labor laws, tax laws or our nation's health care and social security systems affect our lives as workers. Even as we are engaging our employers in our workplaces, these same employers are attacking us on a second front, using their financial resources to buy thousands of lobbyists and make millions in political contributions. Their goals are laws and policies which boost their profits, usually at our expense. We have to fight on this second front, too, but we'll never match the corporations dollar-for-dollar in politics. Our best hope is mobilizing the people - that's something we have a lot more of and the real source of our strength.
Does UE "Go It Alone" In Political Action?
No, UE political action stresses unity. Because our real strength is in numbers, not dollars, working together with other groups to organize behind common goals is critically important. UE seeks to build coalitions with other unions and many other types of organizations. In fact, UE considers the joint work done to show solidarity with strikes or other community struggles to be an important part of political action.
Is UE a "Special Interest Group"?
No! We view ourselves as part of a larger movement for jobs, peace and justice in our society. Our goals and political issue positions are not narrowly drawn in the interests of labor unions only, but aim instead to improve the lives of all working-class people.
Who Decides UE's Positions on the Issues?
The members do! UE policy and issue positions are debated and voted on by rank-and-file delegates at annual UE national conventions. All locals and districts are encouraged to submit policy resolutions at the convention. If no local or district submits a resolution on an important issue, the General Executive Board of the union may ask the delegates for permission to submit a resolution to the convention on the subject.
Who Decides Which Candidates UE Supports?
The members do! In fact, most endorsements are made at the local union level using the political program adopted at UE national conventions as a yardstick. UE locals endorse candidates who have shown by their records, not by their rhetoric, that they will represent the interests of working people. UE also promotes the recruitment of candidates from the ranks of labor to serve in public office.
What National Union Materials Are Available to UE Locals?
UE policy is published annually in a booklet made available to all locals. Between conventions, the UE News reports regularly on issues of concern to members. Periodic Legislative Alerts and Local Political Action Bulletins provide local unions with more detailed information on key issues. UE also maintains a legislative and political office in the nation's capital. The Washington Office can assist locals with information and advice to support their political work. Also, don't forget to check our main political action web page!