On UAW's Gettlefinger: It doesn't get any more surreal

As the United Against Work United Auto Workers (UAW) holds its 35th constitutional convention in Detroit this week, one protester has already been handcuffed (actually he is a UAW retiree and convention delegate) and the UAW’s new king (Bob King, that is) is being challenged by a dissident member.

Meanwhile, the UAW’s retiring boss, Ron Gettlefinger (the man who helped bring you Government Motors), in an interview with reporters, offered his rather surrealistic views on worker rights.

United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger gave a preview Sunday of part of his Monday farewell speech at the union’s constitutional convention, telling reporters that he would vigorously defend the right of workers to organize.

Okay.  So far, so good.  But here’s where he goes all screwy:

Gettelfinger questioned why it is all right for groups like the National Association of Manufacturers to have members, but businesses try to trample the rights of individual employees to form unions and collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions.

What Gettlefinger is doing in this one statement is deploying at least two distinct propaganda techniques, namely transfer and The Big Lie.

For decades, unions have used (as an argument for unionization) the transfer meme that there’s really no difference between businesses belonging to business associations like the National Association of Manufacturers or Chambers of Commerce versus workers belonging to labor unions.

Unfortunately, there are many differences between business associations and unions. Here are just a few:

  • Businesses can quit their associations whenever they want, union workers cannot.  In fact, trying to get a union out of the workplace is extremely difficult for workers.
  • Businesses can stop paying money to their associations any time they like and the worst that would happen to them is they get kicked out.  If a unionized worker quits paying a union, in 28 states, the union can have him fired.
  • Businesses who break an association’s rules can get kicked out, but a union worker who breaks a union’s rules can be placed on trial by the union and fined money.
  • Business associations cannot cause their members to go out on strike, unions can.
  • Business associations cannot cause their members to lose their jobs, unions can.
  • Business associations cannot cause their member companies to outsource jobs, unions can.
  • Business associations cannot cause the government to nationalize companies, unions have the UAW has.

The second propaganda technique Gettlefinger uses is the Big Lie.  In fact, not only does he use it once in his statement but twice.

  • First, Gettlefinger alleges that businesses try “to trample the rights of individual employees…”  Despite that this is an overly broad generality (there are over four million employers in the U.S.), the fact of the matter is, unions win roughly 68% of all NLRB elections.  This means that, if Gettlefinger’s statement was true, employers are doing a pretty poor job at trampling the rights of workers.
  • The second point Gettlefinger makes in the same sentence is another union myth:  “…individual employees to form unions and collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions.”  Unions like the UAW are no longer “formed” by workers, they are legal entities already established and, more importantly, when workers belong to a third-party union like the UAW, the union is the members’ sole and exclusive bargaining representative for the purpose of collective bargaining.  In other words, the workers don’t do the bargaining, the union does.  Moreover, according to the UAW’s own union constitution, in order for any UAW contract to be approved, the UAW must approve it (and the union has veto power as well).

What is even more hypocritical of Gettlefinger’s portrayal of unions is the fact that his successor, Bob King, who was chosen by the UAW leaders last year, is not even going to be voted on by UAW members but will be installed this week by the convention delegates.

For more than 60 years, the UAW’s top leadership has blocked attempts to permit union members to vote directly for the union presidency. Rather, as the UAW’s new designated nominee, King has the support of the union executive board, which has picked the UAW presidents since the late 1940s through series of closed caucuses.

It’s a good thing Ron Gettlefinger is retiring because the truth just can’t be stretched any more than it has.

Goodbye, Ron.  It’s been surreal.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776


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