In his first speech as President of the UAW, Bob King promises to bring back excitement to the UAW. King promised to bring new breath to the organizing department. What can we expect from the UAW in the next coming years?
As the new leader of the UAW, Bob King will prove to be a different type of President. King comes from a far more radical leftist background, based on a hard core belief that the end justifies the means. King also knows he desperately needs to break the union’s dependence on the automobile industry and branch out into other industries.
King was first elected as the UAW Vice President in 1998 and assigned to lead the union's National Organizing Department. King’s goal was to shift automotive based organizing campaigns like first tier suppliers to partnership agreements with employers, giving workers the right to join the UAW through card check where there was no election vote. I met King in 1996 when he was the Region 1A Director and I was a strike coordinator in Detroit. King had a large action committee called RADD (Radical Action Team). He agreed to let me use RADD for quick action attacks against the Detroit Newspapers in my strike actions. We also agreed to put strikers and hundreds of supporters through intense training, teaching supporters how to get masses of people to act together as one, to act quickly and get out while confusing the company and security forces.
I remember getting inside information at the newspaper strike in Detroit that key corporate and local newspaper heads were taking a business cruise on the Detroit River into Canada. On our growing effort to put pressure on the newspaper corporations we decided to divert the boat (photo below) away from Canada and force them to return to dock where we had people waiting to harass them onshore as well.
Another good example of the hit and run tactics and our partnership with the Region 1A RADD team was a massive campaign to disrupt newspaper product delivery with a sustained combination of actions aimed to confuse, frustrate, anger and put financial strain on management.
We mounted an attack on all news bureaus and took them over. We took control of roads, highways, printing plants and office facilities simultaneously over a three day period. We stopped crucial delivery of services by crashing junk cars (photo below – me in the purple shirt) into key service garage doors, entrance and exit doors. We threw away the keys, leaving the vehicles to block the damaged doors to cause panic and confusion.
Region 1A has lead the country in taking workers out on strike to force companies to recognize the union in organizing campaigns. They have also joined with nurse associations across the country and put much needed resources in health care organizing.
King has also at odds with the international UAW. He has been passed over a few times for the President post. King has reportedly felt he should of been chosen instead of Ron Gettelfinger two terms ago. King felt that Gettelfinger didn’t have organizing experience and he raised Hell because he thought that was the guidelines for the President. The truth was that King didn’t play well with the UAW executive board, King was forced to tow the line and give the impression he was “politically correct”. Sources close to King say this was the hardest game he ever played, he was more comfortable having a beer with hard core left wingers like Richard Bensinger who was the National AFL/CIO Organizing Director and shares the same world view as King. In fact, I spoke with Richard Bensinger in 2001 in Chattanooga TN, where I used him as a union campaign consultant, about Kings desire to be UAW President and the hurdles he had to jump over to place himself in the lineup for that position. Bensinger, who is a good friend of King’s, told me how he was wanted to move the union away from a centralized union system. This meant that he wanted to give regions more decision making power over their own affairs. The organizing goal was to unleash thousands of casual organizers (union paid for lost wages by contract) to back local and regional directed campaigns supported by Solidarity House. This would make the response time for organizing much shorter. King has since reconfirmed this strategy in his first speech as UAW President, stating that he intends to loosen up on rules for local and regions to attack smaller organizing targets of 300 employees and less while the International will take control of any organizing targets of 300 and more employees. King is determined to wean the UAW from auto related organizing targets, he stated to our sources that he feels he is directed by spiritual forces to organize foreign car companies, “a battle between good and bad”.
In 1995, the UAW, IAM AND USWA started a five year plan to merge into the largest USA based union. The merger fell apart under an intense power struggle between the unions which King never supported. It is now reported that the UAW and USWA are in private back room discussions again. I am told the UAW wants to increase its organizing numbers in order to strengthen its negotiating position if these talks move into the 2nd phase. This means we can expect more organizing activity from them in non core industries like warehousing, trucking, retail and health care.