Bankole: Condemn hypocrisy in UAW ranks

Bankole Thompson

In the midst of a federal corruption probe that has lead to multiple convictions, UAW leadership casts its nationwide strike against General Motors as a way of seeking economic justice for its members.

“We stood up for General Motors when they needed us most. Now we are standing together in unity and solidarity for our members, their families and the communities where we work and live,” said UAW Vice President Terry Dittes.

UAW Vice President Terry Dittes

That narrative would stand if you believed in the self-righteousness of a leadership facing scrutiny over its financial integrity and allegations that it used membership dues for personal gain.

It is difficult to accept the demonstration against GM as a righteous quest to secure the financial interests of its workers. It has already idled some plants and could prove costly for UAW members.

Dennis Johnson pickets outside the General Motors Plant in Arlington, Texas, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. More than 49,000 members of the United Auto Workers walked off General Motors factory floors or set up picket lines as contract talks with the company deteriorated into a strike.

If UAW leadership was really that concerned about protecting benefits for its rank and file, there would have been no indictments, no convictions.

Standing in solidarity with the members of the UAW during their strike means condemning the lavish lifestyles of the greedy leadership.

The UAW has long castigated corporate America for exploiting workers and accused CEOs of extravagant living at the expense of those who make the products their companies sell. But the federal probe reveals that the union’s own leadership lived the same way as the corporate fat cats they call out during their bullhorn protests.

Exploitation of workers for little or no benefit anywhere should be condemned in the strongest terms. But when the actions of those who are demanding equity and fairness in the workplace are no different than the business elites they routinely accuse of being insensitive to the needs of workers, we need to call out their hypocrisy and contradictions.

What is remarkable is that the UAW leadership received little attention from Democratic powerbrokers in the state during the string of indictments and convictions that played out in federal court. Hardly any prominent Democrat went on the record to denounce the corruption tales that read like Shakespearean drama.

But those same powerbrokers were quick to endorse the strike. It makes political sense to do so, but failure to register public disapproval of union leaders' poor financial stewardship is not in the long-term interest of labor. 

Labor has often gone off the rails, especially the UAW.

Harry Belafonte, the legendary entertainer and activist, who was a confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., sought to drive home that point during a 2006 National Black People’s Unity Convention I attended in Gary, Indiana.

Belafonte bemoaned the state of the working poor, and scolded labor for being complacent and how it has forgotten its mission to protect its members before conference attendees, who were returning to Gary after the first 1972 gathering designed to map out a national strategy for black political empowerment and increase black elected leadership.

Detroit is referred to as the home of organized labor because of the unique role that unions have played in this town and during the Civil Rights Movement.

But that does not inoculate the UAW from criticism when it reaches the point of being “too big to fail,” while its members wallow in economic misery. Their noble history should not deter us from demanding accountability of its leadership as corruption reports show their members are being taken advantage of.

With thousands of workers on strike this week, the UAW cannot preach populism on the streets while endorsing graft and patronage inside the corridors of power at UAW Solidarity House.

After all, the arrogance of power breeds corruption.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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