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UAW Leaders Hold Control in Anaheim Debate : Attempt by Dissidents to Alter Constitution of Union Beaten Back

June 20, 1989|JAMES RISEN | Times Staff Writer

The leadership of the United Auto Workers asserted its authority on the second day of the union's convention in Anaheim on Monday and quashed the efforts of a growing dissident faction to alter the union's constitution.

Top union officers said their hard-line approach toward the dissidents in the first two days of the UAW convention at the Anaheim Convention Center shows that they have no plans to compromise with the fledgling opposition group.

"They have done damage to this union, and that is an unforgivable sin," said UAW Vice President Don Ephlin, director of the union's huge General Motors Department. "Why should we throw a bone to them?"

Reflect Union's Leadership

A spokesman for the international union later said Ephlin's comments reflect the position of UAW President Owen Bieber and the rest of the union leadership.

The group of internal dissidents, called New Directions, has sharp philosophical differences with the union's leadership.

The dissidents oppose the UAW's new willingness to cooperate more closely with management in the auto industry through Japanese-style "team-concept" labor agreements and other joint programs. They argue that such programs have led to speed-ups on assembly lines and heavier workloads, but have not provided the job security originally promised by management. They charge that the UAW's present leaders--unlike the union's legendary architect, Walter Reuther--have accepted the corporations' views on international competition, to the detriment of the membership.

"Walter Reuther organized the membership of this union around its own agenda, but today the union is being organized around the corporations' agenda," said Jerry Tucker, a UAW regional director and leader of New Directions.

But Bieber and other union leaders argue that labor-management programs are needed to remain competitive in the global marketplace, and they criticize the dissidents for failing to understand the harsh new competitive realities.

Chance to Launch Opposition

The dissident movement had hoped to use the six-day convention as a launching pad for a more organized opposition to the UAW leadership. The dissident leaders planned to challenge election results in several recent races for top union positions and to force a debate on a range of collective bargaining and fundamental political issues facing the union.

But so far, the New Directions group has been soundly defeated at every turn. On Sunday, most of their appeals of election results were rejected by the convention, ensuring the defeat of Tucker and another dissident, both of whom ran for top union positions this spring. In both cases, the dissident group is likely to challenge the election results in court.

On Monday, the dissidents were defeated in their bid to change the UAW's constitution to call for the direct election of top union officers by the union's rank and file.

The rank and file now elects delegates to the convention, who then elect the UAW's president and other officers.

The dissidents argue that a direct election would spur debate on the basic issues facing the union. But the leadership responds that a direct election would open up the process to outside interests and would lead to expensive campaigns.

In the end, the direct election resolution was soundly defeated, and the dissidents had to acknowledge that they did not have enough power to win any of their convention-floor battles with the leadership.

"This is a one-party union, there is no doubt about that," complained Pete Kelly, president of UAW Local 160 and a leader of New Directions. "But I don't think we came here thinking we could win. We came here to organize our group, to organize local union leaders into a group that can win in the future."

Kelly added that New Directions still expects to announce this week that it will create a more formal opposition organization, with a staff, to carry on the dissident movement's work after the convention.

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