The UAW's Anti-Democratic Principles

The United Auto Workers is about to embark on a $60 million campaign to unionize employees of international automobile manufacturers in the United States.

As a part of its campaign, the UAW has issued "UAW Principles for Fair Union Elections," which it proposes should be accepted by the global car companies. These principles contain fleeting references to fairness and democracy, but at their core are neither democratic nor fair.

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The UAW Principles were not adopted through cooperative discussions with the global car companies, but were rather presented confrontationally as irrevocable demands. New UAW President Bob King said that “... any company that does not agree to the UAW Principles is essentially declaring war on freedom of speech and assembly, and it is our duty and mission to enforce that right.”

At their very heart, the UAW Principles are anti-democratic. For example, they characterize secret ballot elections as "acceptable" for determining union representation if a company has complied with the principles. Acceptable? The secret ballot is a fundamental principle of democracy. Millions of lives have been sacrificed in wars to preserve such democratic institutions.

What would the UAW substitute for the secret ballot? Perhaps their preferred approach would be "card-check," something that not even a pro-labor Democratic Congress could bring itself to enact when it had the chance.

Even free speech itself is not acceptable under the UAW Principles, which would severely restrict the freedom of speech of employers and their managers during union organizing campaigns. Already, the nation's labor laws place severe limitations on what employers and managers can say during such campaigns. The UAW Principles would provide further restrictions and create a duty on the part of the company "to explicitly disavow, reject and discourage messages from corporate and community groups that send the message that a union would jeopardize jobs."

In fact, information on the probable effects of unionization is crucial to workers as they decide whether to vote for union representation. It is far better that workers understand the potential consequences before they vote, rather than find out about them in layoff notices as production is reduced or plants are close because the company has become less competitive.

Moreover, the unfortunate fact is that the UAW has been associated not just with jeopardizing jobs, but also with destroying them. The UAW watched as 1 million of its jobs and 70 percent of its membership was lost.  Over the same period, the manufacturing plants of the global companies have demonstrated that American workers can produce cars of high quality, at competitive cost that are the equal of anywhere else in the world. Some are even exporting cars to foreign nations. All of this was accomplished without any "UAW Principles."

The UAW Principles are anti-democratic in permitting secret ballot elections to be bypassed and by abridging the very free speech that is required to provide workers with full information on which to make informed decisions.


Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm in St. Louis, and an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.

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