UE’s style of unionism brings with it certain challenges. But honest union leaders have never had it easy, said John Hovis. In his opening address, the UE national president traced the differing visions of unionism in the nation’s past to describe the uniqueness of the union he has headed since 1987.
Over the past century, employers’ "billy clubs may have changed to briefcases but their objective remains the same," Hovis said.
One hundred years ago no laws protected workers’ rights to organize, he reminded delegates. "Heroic efforts to form broad-based unions were crushed by the united forces of government and big business," he noted.
The only survivors were the more conservative (and narrowly based) craft unions. The craft unions were undemocratic, opposed independent political action and frowned on such "radical" ideas as unemployment insurance, Hovis said. The idea that everyone in a workplace should belong to the same union didn’t gain acceptance until the 1930s, when UE was born.
'THE TEST OF TIME'
UE and the other CIO unions were based on organizing all workers regardless of sex, race, creed or political belief — and UE remains true to those principles today, the union president said. "UE was born of struggle — and our policy of aggressive struggle has stood the test of time," Hovis declared. "UE is a leader on the issues of workplace democracy, independent political action, organizing the unorganized and international solidarity," he said, adding that local unions reap benefits by using UE’s aggressive, confrontational approach to collective bargaining.
Hovis asserted, "No other U.S. union resembles UE — not in the way UE was organized, not in the way the union is structured and not in the way it operates. No other U.S. union practices UE’s democratic principles."
Hovis reviewed UE’s historic accomplishments — and highlighted difficult times in the union’s past when UE struggled for its very survival. The UE president predicted tough times ahead for all U.S. workers, with further plant closings and sales, consolidation, subcontracting and privatization.
UE’s future depends on the will and courage of members to adapt UE’s core principles of militant struggle and rank-and-file democracy to today’s real-life situations, Hovis said. UE’s future depends on a strategy of organizing more workers faster, and on strong, well-functioning local unions.
"Rank-and-file unionism requires membership involvement at every level of the union. It requires a well-informed, well-educated, active membership," Hovis declared. "Rank-and-file unionism requires dedicated leaders who understand they are much more than just the designated person to call the staff every time a member has a grievance, or who act as some kind of power broker with the company."
Hovis expressed confidence in today’s members’ ability to guarantee that UE continues to serve as example to other unions and to unorganized workers into the next century.
Home • About UE • Organize! • Independent Unions
• Search • Site Guide • What's New • Contact UE