The Rank-and-File Fight for Direct Democracy at UAW

A conversation with Justin Mayhugh, a worker at General Motors in Kansas City, about a referendum on whether UAW members can directly elect top union officers.

Maximillian Alvarez

Workers represented by UAW picket outside of John Deere Harvester Works facility on October 14, 2021 in East Moline, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images

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A lot of important history is being made right now, and something potentially game-changing is unfolding among the American workforce. At this very moment, 10,000 UAW members at John Deere are on strike in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas; 35,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente have authorized a strike; 1,400 workers at cereal giant Kellogg’s are on strike in Nebraska, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee; 1,100 coal miners in Alabama have been on strike since April; 800 nurses in Massachusetts have been on strike since March; and many other strikes and strike authorizations are also unfolding. On top of that, record numbers of US workers are voluntarily quitting their jobs, in what is being called the Great Resignation.” Something is happening here… At the same time, there are crucial struggles happening within the labor movement that we all need to be paying attention to. One of these struggles is taking place within the United Auto Workers itself, where members are currently voting on an unprecedented referendum that will decide whether or not the 400,000 working members and nearly 600,000 retirees can directly elect their top union officers. Ballots went out on October 19 and are due back at the end of November; if the referendum passes, it could be the beginning of a massive shakeup for the union, which many members say needs more democratic governance and more militant energy coming from the rank-and-file. Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD), a grassroots caucus of UAW members advocating for direct elections, has been leading the charge for this historic referendum. In this episode, we talk with Justin Mayhugh, who has worked at General Motors in Kansas City for over a decade and is an organizer with the UAWD caucus.

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Maximillian Alvarez is a writer and editor based in Baltimore and the host of Working People, a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.” His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.

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