Delegates to the 63rd UE Convention in Pittsburgh Aug. 23-27
chanted, cheered, deliberated, debated, listened, thought, voted and occasionally partied,
when not otherwise engaged in conducting the business of their union.
After all, they had cause for celebration another year of growth, a
strike victory and collective bargaining gains, good news from the unions
international solidarity work, development of the Labor Party and well-considered plans
for more of the same.
Unity and determination characterized the unions 63rd convention,
from the opening Sunday morning to the enthusiastic chorus of "Solidarity
Forever" on Thursday.
The nearly 200 delegates from coast-to-coast approved plans to build the
union, adopted a collective bargaining program and policy statements on key issues and
resolved to continue to build an alternative to the two scandal-ridden parties of big
Altogether, the convention adopted 31 resolutions. Delegates recommended
two in particular "Build the Labor Party" and "UE Retiree Committees
A Wealth of Experience and Activism" for special implementation by
locals and districts.
In many unions, the rank-and-file have no say over officers
salaries. In UE, salaries are written into the constitution and constitutional
amendments giving the officers a salary increase of 2.8 percent, including COLA have gone
to the locals for membership votes, after unanimous approval by the convention.
UE National Officers:
General President John Hovis (center), General Secretary-Treasurer Robert Clark (right)
and Director of Organization Robert Kingsley (left)
Delegates re-elected General President John Hovis, General
Secretary-Treasurer Robert Clark and Director of Organization Robert Kingsley.
Also elected were national union trustees Mary Larsen, Local 1111, Barry Rideout, Local
120, Brian McKim, Local 212 and alternates Patrick Rafferty, Local 506 and Virginia
Garrette, Local 767.
In his address to the convention, Pres. Hovis suggested that the merger
wave in the labor movement is "born out of frustration" and lack of leadership.
What gets lost in the merger mania, Hovis said, "is any thought of making unions more
democratic, or increasing the active involvement of rank-and-file members."
UE seeks to become bigger and stronger, too, but by organizing, he said.
A UNIQUE UNION
The union leader reminded delegates that UE is a special kind of union
because of its unique origin. Unlike many other unions in the United States, UE was built
from the bottom up; the union was established in March 1936 by a coalition of
self-organized local unions. They wrote a constitution that guarantees local autonomy and
spells out the basic principles of unity, rank-and-file control and aggressive struggle,
"A major policy that still sets UE apart is the belief that UE
leaders should live the life of the members they represent," the union president
pointed out. The salaries of UEs national officers, as set by annual conventions,
are in marked contrast to the six-figure salaries rubber-stamped by other unions
executive boards, Hovis said. UE may be the only union to conduct annual elections of its
national officers, he said. "You cant have true rank-and-file control when the
union elects its leaders only once every four or five years."
The true test of a unions effectiveness is the stewards
system, Hovis said. "No matter how well-intentioned an outside business agent might
be, no matter how good the unions staff or legal department is, theres no
substitution for an effective stewards system," he emphasized.
UE is a union with a commitment to unionize the unorganized, involving
members in working with the unions dedicated staff, Hovis declared. "Building
UE is critical to strengthening our political clout and bargaining power, both today and
in the future."
"UE offers an example of what a union can be," proclaimed Hovis.
In a frank discussion of union finances possibly unparalleled in the labor
movement, Sec.-Treas. Clark took delegates through a computerized slide presentation on
the state of the union and the five-year "Sustainable UE" plan. This is not an
austerity plan, Clark emphasized; rather, it is a plan put together to build the union and
maintain the unions high level of activity.
The unions top financial officer pointed out that the union has
sustained a succession of planned deficits to support increased organizing. Although staff
levels are being reduced, UE remains committed to organizing, Clark said. The present
five-year plan stresses cost-savings and growth in membership, he said.
"I am convinced, that with your help and support, we can build this
union," Clark concluded.
Guest speakers from the United States, Canada and Mexico addressed the
convention themes of independent political action, membership education and mobilization,
and international solidarity.
Members had much to say, too, in convention debates on resolutions, in the
meetings of the committees on organizing, resolutions, publicity and education and policy
action, and in the wide range of workshops that took much of Tuesday, Aug. 25.
A succession of new members who went to the podium during the organizing
report provided the convention with a dramatic high point.
There was another kind of drama, too. A 12-foot-tall puppet of the
legendary labor hero Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (1830-1930) appeared at the
opening session, and received loud applause from delegates for her pledge to help fight
the bosses. She was at a rally during the convention week and at the closing session, too,
to help sing labors anthem, "Solidarity Forever."
The report on organizing began with a skit which saw a millionaire and
politician harangue the convention until chased from the hall by the Junkyard Dog. (Both
bigger-than-life puppets were created and operated by performing artist Tavia LaFollette.)
As part of a rally in support of a living wage for all workers, another
skit (a "Peoples Court") satirized the big business agenda and linked
together various issues to demonstrate the need for a local living-wage law and the Labor
Party. The rally heard from a worker on strike at a low-wage assisted living center since
May 11, a low-wage social service worker, and a worker from a Nabisco plant here slated
Delegates enthusiastically embraced the communitys call to
"Boycott Nabisco!" The co-conveners of the Policy Action Committee, Judy
Atkins (District Two) and Bob Rudek (District 11), led a delegation that asked
the hotels convenience store to remove all RJR Nabisco products.
Delegates also took care of their own, going to their wallets to raise
$1,020 for members of Local 611 at Newell Porcelain. The local successfully concluded its
strike in early August, but the call-back was not completed until September 8.
The elected official who extended an official welcome to western
Pennsylvania had a few choice words about Nabisco. "If Pittsburghs not good
enough for Nabisco, then Nabiscos not good enough for the state of
Pennsylvania," roared State Rep. Don Walko. No stranger to UE, Walkos
father had been a UE convention delegate in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and served as a
national trustee as well as Local 625 officer.
Rabbi Alvin Berkun of the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh
offered an invocation. Megan Elk, daughter of Intl. Rep. Gene Elk, sang the
National Anthem. District Six Sec. David Adams called the convention to order and
administered the oath of office to the national officers and trustees.