The United Auto Workers and the Big Three Automakers: A Tale of Corruption

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1889 ... September 8, 2019

The United Auto Workers and the Big Three Automakers: A Tale of Corruption

Thomas Adams

What follows is a somewhat complex tale of what happens when a labor union, structured to be unaccountable to the rank-and-file membership, embraces a system of labor-management cooperation rather than a class-conscious understanding that workers and their employers are adversaries with fundamentally opposed goals and desires. Unfortunately, what is true of the United Auto Workers (UAW) is true for many US labor unions. That the UAW, an iconic union, born of heroic class struggle, could sink into corruption, with a bloated and dictatorial bureaucracy, only shows in microcosm what ails much of organized labor in the United States. And just how difficult it will be to rebuild a labor movement worthy of the name.

"Ideals get tarnished quickly under the corrosion of material prosperity." — Walter Reuther

The UAW and the Big Three automakers, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, have established a series of joint programs (described below), serving a variety of interests, all purportedly aimed at benefiting union members.... The funds that support these programs amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, funded in various ways but never overseen in a transparent and public way. One program is aimed at training workers. However, the enormous sums involved were enticing to those who saw opportunities to pocket the money. Here is an example.

The lack of public oversight of joint training funds produced a "culture of corruption" among the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center (NTC) directors that led to bribery, theft, influence peddling, and a cover-up of criminal activity. The case filed in US District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division charged that Fiat Chrysler Vice President Alphons Iacobelli and UAW Vice President of the Chrysler department General Holiefield violated the Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA). One provision of the LMRA sought to prevent corruption of the collective bargaining process that occurs when an employer gives something of value to the union representative, presumably to influence the representative to ignore his or her duty to promote the interests of union members.

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