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UE Convention: Historic Organizing Gains Highlight of Monday Session

From UE News | Photo Courtesy of | UE News Reuse Policy

PITTSBURGH—“We have had an incredible two years of organizing in this union,” declared Director of Organization Mark Meinster as he began his report to the UE 78th convention this afternoon. “Young workers are leading a resurgence of unionism in this country.”

He reminded delegates that “This is the generation that grew up with economic crisis, war, the ongoing scourge of racism, the intensification of climate change, crushing student debt, the decimation of our public schools, and the failures of our political system, with Black and Brown youth hit the hardest by these issues.”

Mark Meinster
Director of Organization Mark Meinster.

He reviewed how UE was originally built by independent worker committees in the big plants of the electrical manufacturing industry, workers who kept alive “the flame of militant, class conscious industrial unionism” until the 1930s, when their moment came. “Then in the mid-30s, their moment came. Workers were in motion all over the country in plant after plant, industry after industry. That flame that was kept alight all those years became a firestorm that organized the industry.”

Just like those early UE pioneers, the close to 25,000 workers who have joined UE in the past two years have organized in a rank-and-file, worker-led way, Meinster reported. They are joining UE because of UE’s principles of rank-and-file control, aggressive struggle and uniting all workers, principles written into the preamble of the UE constitution by those pioneers, who were themselves young workers.

Meinster then introduced rank-and-file leaders from over a dozen different workplaces. Terry Green from UE Local 111 in Virginia Beach and Willie Brown from UE Local 150 in Durham, North Carolina described their efforts to organize municipal workers in the South. Abby Schultz, Maddie Cupak and Marina Smoske of newly-chartered UE Local 666 described how they “organized against the devil” and the “abject failure of labor law” to protect their rights from their union-busting employer, Hudson Legal. Anthony Sanchez of UE Local 115 told delegates about how workers at the Refresco bottling plant in Wharton, New Jersey won not one but two NLRB elections and finally secured a first contract this past summer.

The stage then filled with over 50 graduate workers from nine campuses, whose nine locals represent over 24,000 workers, all new to UE in the past two years. Anjali Dvorak of UGW-UE Local 1466 at the University of New Mexico and Hannah Melick of UE Local 1498-GWU at New Mexico State University narrated their struggles for recognition and their successes in achieving first contracts. June Stenzel from UE Local 256 (MIT-GSU) told how MIT graduate workers won a first contract just last week based on a successful strike threat. Summer Pappachen, Adrian Ray-Avalani, Kavi Chintam, and Mounica Sreesai of UE Local 1122-NUGW explained their commitment to organize Northwestern University graduate workers “for a just and equitable system of higher education.”

Wisam Awadallah of UE Local 197-TRU condemned Johns Hopkins University’s dismissal of their union as “small group of students,” and declared that with “the power of a credible strike threat … we will win the contract our members deserve.” David Černý and Morgan Kincade of UE Local 1103-GSU at the University of Chicago said that they affiliated with UE because of UE’s commitment to rank-and-file control and respect for autonomy, and shared that in negotiations for a first UE contract, they have already won a historic commitment to expand disability accommodations for graduate workers.

Rendi Rogers of UE Local 261-GOLD at Dartmouth College described her employer as a “tax-exempt hedge fund trying to disguise itself as an institution of higher education,” and told delegates, “We’re deeply honored by the way we’ve been welcomed into this meeting.” Rachel Bergman of UE Local 1105-GLU at the University of Minnesota noted that their win in April was the sixth union election for graduate workers at that university in 30 years; they won by an astonishing margin of 2487 to 70. And Chris Guston of UE Local 1043-SGWU at Stanford University described graduate workers “being forced to work 70 hour work weeks for 20 hours of pay” but then learning that “the key to a dignified workplace lies not in asking the administration for [improvements], but in taking action to demand them.”

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to the UE convention by Zoom
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to the UE convention by Zoom.

“We refuse to live in an oligarchic form of society”

In the morning, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addressed the convention over Zoom. Sanders declared that across the political spectrum, “what people want is an economy that works for all of us, not just the one percent.”

He pointed out that “weekly wages for the average American worker are actually $50 lower than they were 50 years ago after adjusting for inflation. … This is an extraordinary. extraordinarily important point that very few people are talking about.

“Despite record-breaking corporate profits, despite corporate America spending hundreds of billions of dollars on stock buybacks and dividends, the average American worker is worse off today than he or she was 50 years ago. That’s the issue.”

“What the UE understands, and what I understand, is that we refuse to live in an oligarchic form of society. We refuse to accept a society in which so few have so much and so many have so little. Enough is enough.

“That’s what our struggle is today, and I’m so proud to be working with the UE, who has been front and center in that fight for the working class of this country.”

“A moment of incredible potential for the working class”

Carl Rosen
General President Carl Rosen.

“This is a moment of incredible potential for the working class and for the labor movement,” General President Carl Rosen told the convention in his address, delivered Monday morning, “and no union has done more to take advantage of this moment than your union, UE.”

“Every generation of UE has faced challenges, from the enormous task of organizing the electrical manufacturing industry in the first place, to the red-baiting attacks of the 1940s and 50s, to the deindustrialization of the last four decades. Each generation has met their obligation to preserve UE as a fighting union, a beacon of hope for workers not only in our own country, but across the world.

“Now it is our turn. Because of the hard work that each and every one of you has put in every day to build and sustain our union, we now have a clear path forward to UE gaining the capacity and resources needed to help lead the struggle on behalf of the entire working class.”

Following Rosen’s remarks, delegates considered the resolutions “Collective Bargaining,” “Restore the Right to Strike,” “Independent Political Action,” and “Collective Bargaining Rights for Public-Sector Workers.” The discussion included several members of Local 506 speaking on the floor about their ten-week strike against Wabtec this past summer, and many members of UE Locals 111 and 150 speaking on the struggle for collective bargaining rights in North Carolina and Virginia.

Man singing and playing guitar accompanied by a guitarist, bass player, and keyboard player.
Mike Stout sings “We are the UE Rank and File.”

To start the day, former steelworker and USW leader Mike Stout performed his original song “We are the UE Rank and File.” The song about UE history was originally written for UE’s 1996 convention. For this convention, Stout updated the lyrics to describe the historic 2008 occupation of Republic Windows and Doors, UE’s remarkable growth among graduate workers in the past two years, and the ten-week strike against Wabtec by UE Locals 506 and 618 this past summer.


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