After a raucous debate that went to the heart of the bitter controversy between union leaders and dissidents, the United Auto Workers on Tuesday rejected a dissident proposal to curtail the union's new spirit of cooperation with auto industry management.
The proposal from the "New Directions" dissident group within the union called on the UAW's top officers to "stop using competitiveness as an excuse for caving in to management demands."
Introduced as a resolution during the third day of the union's national convention at the Anaheim Convention Center, the proposal also called on the union to oppose Japanese-style "team concept" labor agreements and other joint labor-management programs spreading throughout the industry.
The resolution embraced much of the agenda of the grass-roots dissident movement within the UAW, which has gathered strength over the last few months as more and more American auto workers have become frustrated with the new labor-management programs.
Critics argue that such programs have been manipulated by industry management to subvert the power of the union and to force union members to work harder on the shop floor. They also charge that such programs have failed to provide workers the job security promised by management, and instead have given companies an opportunity to lay off more workers.
"The team concept is a system they in management have used to pit one worker against another," said Don Douglas, president of UAW Local 594 in Pontiac, Mich., and a leader of the New Directions movement.
But the majority of the convention agreed with the UAW's leadership that the union must not return to an old-style, adversarial relationship with management. To compete with imports in an international economy, the leadership insists that increasing cooperation with management is the only way to keep auto jobs in the United States.
At the same time, the leaders say they have not forced team concept labor agreements on any local unions that oppose them, and that they remain committed to fighting management attempts to manipulate employee involvement programs.
"If some of these programs are bad, then we should fix them," said UAW Vice President Don Ephlin.
The 2,000-delegate convention, dominated by supporters of UAW President Owen Bieber, voted overwhelmingly against the resolution.
But not before the dissidents, given ample time during the debate by Bieber, who is chairing the six-day convention ending Friday, closed out Tuesday's session by getting the last word in on the issue.
"The team concept is a ploy to disarm our union," complained Lew Moye, a dissident who presented the resolution. "What does the Japanese team concept mean? It means smaller work forces . . . and a smaller membership for our union."