The United Auto Workers union is holding its big convention in Detroit this week. Like America’s two major political parties, the UAW has a convention once every four years.
The union’s convention resembles national political conventions in another way, too. Everything is mostly decided ahead of time.
Once, conventions were the place where party and union members waged titanic battles to determine their next leaders.
Now, presidential nominees are determined long before the first and only ballot, and the same is true in the UAW. Dennis Williams, the union’s current secretary-treasurer, will be overwhelmingly elected to a four-year term as union president tomorrow.
That will follow what seems certain to be their first dues increase in many years, though it isn’t clear whether rank and file members would agree if they had a vote.
Union “democracy” tries to avoid dissension, on the theory that the workers are best served by solidarity at all levels.
Yet there is a major difference between the UAW and the political parties. What isn’t clear is whether the union can survive, or more to the point, remain relevant.
The UAW is now far less important than it once was. They are trying to put a good face on it, but outgoing union president Bob King’s four years in office were pretty much a failure.
King wanted to be the next Walter Reuther, and lead the union to a new era of greatness. The key to that was going to be organizing “transplants,” foreign automakers manufacturing cars in America, mostly in the south.