Bankole: UAW corruption a reality check this Labor Day
Labor Day ought to be a reality check for those who have long branded themselves as the vanguards of the working class. The leaders of America’s labor movement claim to champion fair wages and benefits that are important to the well being of the men and women who proudly refer to themselves as union members.
In essence, guaranteeing economic security for workers has been the major talking point of unions for decades, and the hallmark of their political campaigns to tilt the balance of power in their favor in Washington D.C., state houses and local municipalities around the country.
But the contradictions of this message could not be more glaring now in light of what has happened to the United Auto Workers. Its claim to be a legitimate labor group that truly cares for its workers has now been revealed to be a charade, especially in the eyes of unsuspecting members of the UAW who thought the bosses at Solidarity House went to work on their behalf.
The great fall of the United Auto Workers due to a massive federal corruption probe that has netted pleas and convictions of some top UAW leaders shows that even the biggest and most influential unions are not immune from self-implosion.
The latest charge against Dennis Williams, a former president of the UAW, represented yet another major blow to an organization that once wielded not only a moral platform that chastised the excesses of corporate America, but also dictated who gets elected as a Democrat in Michigan.
In fact, it was only three years ago that Williams was seeking to distance himself from the corruption allegations that were unraveling at the UAW. He perhaps didn’t think the long arm of the law would one day reach to him.
“To be clear, these allegedly misallocated or misused NTC funds were not UAW dues nor were they union funds. These were monies funded by Chrysler pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement. As your president, I am appalled by the conduct alleged in the indictment, which constitutes a betrayal of trust by a former member of our union,” Williams said back then.
Apparently, Williams wasn’t the squeaky-clean leader he projected back in 2017.
What the feds uncovered in their years-long probe of embezzlement of union funds and bribery by officials is nothing but a cold-hearted and brazen gangster party taking place inside one of the nation’s most storied union powerhouses. The top brass of the UAW lived in shocking extravagance: from bottles of Cristal champagne, expensive cigars, to golfing and steak dinners. Meanwhile, they preached the need to end income inequality to the rest of the world.
There is no doubt that the UAW has lost its moral power, and that is something that will be hard to regain. Which is why I was surprised the organization is still endorsing political candidates instead of focusing exclusively on cleaning house. It doesn’t make any sense for the UAW, knee-deep in corruption, to be blessing candidates for elected office right now. It is dealing with so many of the same issues candidates are vowing to address, such as lack of trust and transparency.
The UAW is facing the real possibility of government takeover. Labor Day should be an opportunity for its leaders to reflect on how they have betrayed the sacred trust of their workers that now leaves the organization at the mercy of the federal government.
The story of the UAW shows the great paradox of the labor movement. It also provides a piercing example of how power and the myth of invincibility can lead to corruption. Another great irony is that the UAW's first Black president, Rory Gamble, took over during its most difficult time in modern history. He currently appears to be the cleanup man tasked with the union mess created by its white liberal bosses who are now heading to jail.
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