Labor’s “Movement Moment”

With new leadership and a new direction, the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers (UAW) are winning for workers with bold contract campaigns and organizing drives. Rank-and-file power and union democracy are key ingredients in labor’s “movement moment.”

Source: Jim West

Teamsters and UAW members organized to win new leadership and a new direction in our unions.

Now, members in these and other unions are using rank-and-file power and grassroots action to win, from the UPS contract campaign, to the UAW Stand Up strike against the big three, to the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes in the entertainment industry.

Democracy Is Power

These successful contract campaigns and strikes show that democracy is power.

The contract victories by nearly 650,000 workers, and the majority of strikes in 2023, were led by unions where members have the right to vote their national leaders in one-member, one-vote elections.

This isn’t as common as you might think. Of the top twenty unions—representing approximately 13.3 million members and 83 percent of all US union workers—only six have direct elections.

Only 20 percent of all union members, or 2.7 million, have the right to directly elect their top officers. By comparison, 80 percent of members, or 10.6 million workers, have no such right.

Rank-and-File Reform

In the Teamsters, TDU led the fight to win the right to vote for our International Union officers, and we used it in 2021 to elect Sean O’Brien, Fred Zuckerman and Teamsters United.

Inspired by our example, UAW members formed a grassroots movement—Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD)—to win the right to vote for their top officers and to elect Shawn Fain and the new Members United leadership.

The new UAW leadership used tactics from the UPS contract campaign to prepare for the Stand Up Strike.

“Without TDU, there is no Stand Up Strike,” UAW President Shawn Fain told the TDU Convention.

Coordinated Strikes & Smart Strategies

Innovative tactics and smart strategies are also taking center stage in labor’s movement moment, from practice picketing to picket-line extensions.

Tens of thousands of Teamsters work under local contracts for national or multinational companies, including DHL, US Foods, Sysco, Coke and PepsiCo.

Extending picket lines has emerged as a powerful tool to put national leverage behind local contract fights. The tactic has helped clinch union victories at DHL, US Foods, and Sysco.

Just the threat of extending picket lines won 6,500 specialists at UPS the right to join the Teamsters under a card-check neutrality agreement.

The UAW used a novel strategy in its winning strike against the big three automakers.

The Stand Up Strike  selectively targeted specific plants for strike action while members at other plants continued to work. The strategy kept management guessing, and required constant communication with UAW members to keep them united. In the end, it paid off with a contract that delivered record pay increases, closed tiers, and shorter progressions to the top of the pay scale.

Cross-union solidarity is growing, too. Motion Picture Teamsters refused to cross WGA and SAG-AFTRA picket lines during last summer’s entertainment strikes and just
announced that they’ll be jointly negotiating pension and health benefits with fellow Hollywood unions.

New Organizing

The Teamsters, UAW and other unions are building off of successful contract campaigns to organize the unorganized.

The Teamsters are winning organizing drives in our core industries, and we are taking aim at Amazon with a growing network of volunteer organizing committees.

Coming out of their Stand Up Strike win, the UAW is launching major new organizing drives at nonunion plants in the South, including Volkswagen in Chattanooga and Mercedes in Alabama.

In all, unions gained 139,000 new members in 2023.

Organizing for Change

Unions are winning important victories but we have a long way to go.

Employers and corporate politicians have spent decades rigging the system against workers. We are nowhere near leveling the playing field.

It is sobering but true that most of the ingredients of unions’ recent victories were opposed by many officials in the labor establishment, from electing new leaders to mobilizing members in contract campaigns.

If the doors of your local union are open to member participation, you should step up, step in, and get involved in building power for working people.

If your local union officials aren’t involving the members or you’re not sure how to get started, contact TDU. We are a grassroots movement of Teamsters helping Teamsters build union power.

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