UE was born in struggle — and the union’s past and present prove that the great freedom fighter Frederick Douglass was correct when he said, "Without struggle there is no progress."
For the last UE convention of the 20th century, Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley recounted tales of organizing from the union’s history, starting with UE’s first great organizing struggle — a strike for recognition from RCA involving 10,000 workers in the summer of 1936.
Today, he said, "the bosses have gone global, and we must, too." In UE’s ongoing struggle to win a first contract with Glastic Plastics in Jefferson, Ohio, the union confronts a company owned by the giant Japanese-owned Kobe Steel. UE has formed an alliance of U.S. unions that deal with Kobe, and called on the support of allies abroad.
With 48 hours notice, the Japanese labor federation Zenroren organized a protest outside the Kobe stockholders’ meeting at UE’s request. "That’s real international solidarity," declared Kingsley. Delegates agreed, jumping to their feet to give the guests from Zenroren a standing ovation.
"From RCA to Kobe Steel ours is a union forged in struggle," Kingsley said. "Our principles and policies are forged in struggle: Bottom-up unionism, rank-and-file democracy, financial honesty and integrity, leaders who live like the members, political independence, real international solidarity."
UE has been no stranger to struggle in the past year, the union officer continued, calling attention to strikes, plant-closing battles, tough collective-bargaining struggles and political action — and organizing.
For the seventh consecutive year, UE organized more than 1,000 workers since the last convention, Kingsley announced. UE’s organizing victories spanned six states and four districts. The union reached eight first contracts and has 10 new campaigns underway, the organizing director said.
Rank-and-file participation has been important to all of those organizing victories, Kingsley observed, asking the volunteer organizers present to stand and be recognized.
UE has made strides in the first three years of the five-year plan, the national officer said: 26 new locals, 38 first contracts and more than 3,000 organized under the UE banner.
But these gains aren’t enough to give UE the larger membership base needed, Kingsley said. Without steps to organize a larger volume of new members "there is the potential for trouble early in the next century," he said.
Kingsley reviewed the key elements contained in the organizing plan: Stepping-up UE’s work to affiliate independent unions and intensifying organizing concentrations in selected UE base areas, identifying long-range strategic targets and exploration of non-traditional approaches to organizing.
Kingsley urged delegates to take on the challenge of building the union. Picking up the chant, "Build this Union!" delegates rose to their feet applauding.
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