UAW convention

Michael Eisenscher meisenscher at
Fri Jul 10 09:35:45 PDT 1998

At 08:32 AM 7/10/98 -0700, Tom Lehman wrote:
>Dear Mr. Eisenscher,
>Are you planning on starting a movement to repeal the 17th Amendment to the
>United States Constitution?

Brother Lehman,

I hadn't thought about junking the 17th Amendment, but now that you mention it, maybe I should give it another look.

I am not opposed to direct election of officers, and am fully aware of all the many defects of indirect delegated elections. But it would be myopic to believe that a delegated election could not be democratic or that changing to direct elections is in and of itself going to provide more democracy. Consider what it means to run a national campaign -- the kind of money required and where that would be raised? Consider the advantages of incumbency and the power of bureaucratic appointments to create a national campaign apparatus for the incumbent and what it would take to defeat that. Consider that most union members who perceive their unions as a "fee-for-service" Contract-R-Us vending machine don't even both to cast a ballot. The vibrancy of democracy in unions is not determined by structural characteristics, but rather by the class consciousness of the members, their connection to the organization as a vehicle of power in their lives, and their investment in it a something more than consumers of its services.

For 12 years I worked for the UE, which prides itself on its traditions as a "rank & file-run" union. It holds conventions every year. National officers are elected by delegates to those conventions. No union staff member is allowed to attend the convention unless they are elected a delegate by their local, or pay their own way and attend without voice or vote. While it is not a perfect system, I have not heard much grumbling among UE members that their democratic rights are compromised by this system.

By contrast, I know lots of locals in other unions where officers are directly elected in which members feel totally alienated from the organizations, feel they are in the hands of a small clique, or that they have little effect on what the leadership does. Recall that even under the old regime, most Teamster locals elected their own leadership by direct member vote. That certainly did not prevent them from becoming corrupted. It took the active organization and intervention of reform movements like TDU to contest for power within those locals. The structural arrangement did not guarantee democracy in life, even if it appeared on paper to be present.

I contend that unless there is an active struggle to overcome business unionism, any structure can be corrupted.

In solidarity, Michael E.

P.S.: My father is "Mr." Eisenscher.

>It's not what you say, its what you do,
>Michael Eisenscher wrote:
>> At 11:24 AM 7/9/98 -0400, Doug Henwood wrote:
>> >How much difference does direct election of union leadership make?
>> >
>> >Doug
>> Structural reforms rarely provide long-term solutions to what are at root
>> ideological problems. Its like the debate between at-large and district
>> election of city councils.
>> Michael E.

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