Open letter from an outraged member of UAW and AWDU supporter.

1 May

May 1, 2011

This message goes out to everyone on the USEJ slate, everyone on the Elections Committee, and everyone who voted in the UAW election.

I am hugely appalled by the incumbent caucus’ decision to prevent the counting of votes at UCLA and UC Berkeley. I have just read the official UAW email claiming that the election has been “partially certified.” AWDU members present at the Los Angeles UAW office have informed our caucus that “At 8 pm after a break begun at 5pm in which election committee chair Travis Knowles was absent with opposition candidate Jorge Cabrera for 3 hours, the election committee returned and certified the election without counting Berkeley or UCLA ballots.” What, I wonder, could “partial certification” mean, and according to what definition of democracy? To be clear about what’s happened: imagine a U.S. Presidential election in which, in the eleventh hour of vote counting, the incumbent party—lets make them Republicans, for the sake of argument—decided not to count the remaining votes from, say, California, New York, Ohio and Tennessee. Let’s say that the incumbent party’s spokesperson went on air with the message, “Because there were challenges from both sides, and because things have been contentious, and because we’ve been counting for so long—48 hours!—we decided to call it a day.” What would you think? Would you believe the principles of democracy were being upheld?

I am even more appalled because today is May 1st, the one day of the year devoted to working men and women, not only in American, but in all nations. This is not the day to trample on the democratic rights of workers, but that is what the power-holders in USEJ have chosen to do. This is not the day to communicate to the honest workers of our local that their votes were not even counted for fear of the results. This is not the day to pretend that the “contentiousness” of an election is grounds for the nullification of the democratic process. On any other day, this behavior would be shameful and intolerable. But today, it is a gross insult and a travesty of the values of “social and economic justice” for which the incumbent caucus claims to stand. It is an insult to all of us, on both sides of the election campaign. This is not the day to defile the honor of public-sector workers; this is a day to stand together, and to cherish one of the few rights afforded us as workers in this country: the right to participate in collective bargaining. Recent events in Michigan, Wisconsin, and elsewhere have shown that this right is under serious threat from the political Right. For too many American workers, May Day has already been tarred by political defeats and betrayals. Still, I did not expect I would be spending my May Day contemplating my own union’s betrayal of my rights as a worker.

Let me pose a question to the supporters of USEJ. When you cast your vote in the election, what image of democracy did you have in mind? Would you have felt comfortable voting for the incumbent caucus knowing that they would try to tilt the election in their favor by whatever means necessary? Are you aware, for instance, that the photograph touted in a recent USEJ email as evidence of voter fraud at Berkeley–it shows a man reaching into the ballot box–was taken prior to voting, while the polling station was still being set up? (Which is precisely what the photograph depicts: a volunteer, not an AWDU member, preparing the polling station for voting.) If you had known to what lengths the incumbents were willing to go to ensure victory, would you have voted for USEJ or for AWDU? As for candidates on the USEJ slate, I cannot understand what you mean by the phrase “social and economic justice.” Is it socially and economically just to shut out voters at UCLA and Berkeley? What should we call justice that exempts itself from judgment? What would you propose? Or are you as appalled as I am? If so, I strongly urge you to condemn your caucus’ leadership for making a mockery of the election, a mockery of union democracy, and a mockery of justice. Moreover, I urge you to join AWDU. The stakes of our caucus are real: union democracy urgently needs defenders. We want to fight with you, not against you, to build a stronger union for all of us.

Make no mistake: infamy is at work in the union. It has draped itself in the costume of “partial certification” and the legitimacy of the Joint Council of the Union, but it is infamy nonetheless. We have all been stained by this insult, and we ought all to fight it—today, tomorrow, and every day until our union is again worthy of that title. Otherwise there will be no union, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar and a fraud.

Daniel Marcus
UC Berkeley

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8 Responses to “Open letter from an outraged member of UAW and AWDU supporter.”

  1. Brooks May 1, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    I started my career as a volunteer coordinator for non-profit organizations, namely the Red Cross in West Virginia and City Year AmeriCorps in Philadelphia. I would like to say that the volunteer Elections Committee faced a heroic situation this weekend and in this election, and instead of earning our sympathy which they deserve for work they have done out of the goodness of their hearts, they are of course being accused of terrible things by irresponsible people.

    I was proud to be able to participate in vote counting this weekend as a challenger for USEJ, and to work shoulder-to-shoulder with AWDU challengers to help facilitate the process. Unfortunately the vote counting was slowed to a standstill by the political morass that surrounded us. Even if Elections Committee was too ambitious in thinking that it could be done in a day, two days was certainly enough, but both AWDU and USEJ share responsibility for preventing this from happening, not that their rhetoric or the political stakes would allow them to admit this. Of course I am with USEJ, but in all honesty AWDU ought to accept its share of responsibility for choking the tiny working space with supporters, who of course were told by people they for some reason trust that they were their to represent “the voters” and save the union from corrupt people, even if this often meant doing their homework in the corner of a room packed dangerously with people. I feel especially bad for the AWDU supporter who had her open-toed shoe painfully pinched amid the commotion.

    Elections Committee, instead of asserting their right to prioritize efficiency and getting the job done, heard and recorded all of the allegations, often legitimate but as often indeed nothing more than tit-for-tat political obstructionism, with professionalism and poise. If they are to be faulted it is because they were too generous, too democratic, and too patient with the inevitable nonsense of a trumped up, emotional campaign. At the end of the weekend, facing a third day of staying in a city distant from home surrounded by many hostile and ungrateful people, some committee members felt that they had done their duty and reached their capacity, that it was fair to pass the baton to the next phase of the process. Whether what they did was right, making outlandish accusations against them without any sense of the situation is juvenile.

    I am responding to this letter because it is nothing but rhetoric, any facts it represents are so violently distorted through a political amplifier that the whining feedback is a painful caricature of the truth. I am ashamed and frightened by people who want to be academics, teachers or educators, who are able to play so fast and loose with the truth, whatever side they are on. Behavior like this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that our union will become one in which no good deed will go unpunished. Woe to us if we will ever be able to rely on the good faith efforts of volunteers to facilitate our union’s mechanisms again.

    • LP May 2, 2011 at 8:25 am #

      Brooks,

      Why are you ignoring the fact that the “passing of the baton” was rammed through by the chair with the complicity of two committee members, while ignoring the three other members who were utterly confused (as far as I know, 3 out of 6 is not a majority vote).

      The biggest fault that Travis committed that night was not towards USEJ or AWDU but rather half of his own committee.

    • Megan May 2, 2011 at 8:39 am #

      A brief response –

      As someone who was in L.A. for the ballot count from 9pm Friday to 7:30pm Saturday, I was actually quite impressed with how calm, upbeat, and civil both groups were during the vote counting period on Saturday immediately preceding the decision to halt the count. Although folks were exhausted and obviously hoping for two very different results, a spirit of relatively good-natured cooperation prevailed under the supervision of the elections committee. Per Travis’s instructions, the only people who remained in the vote counting room were those actually involved in the vote count. (And – though this may seem silly to report – I [an AWDU challenger] brought Mr. Knowles a cup of coffee out of sympathy for his obvious exhaustion.)

      Volunteer or no, those members of the election committee who illegitimately abandoned the count and the boxes were invested with important responsibilities from the union as a whole – a body that represents 12,000 individuals. While I can appreciate the difficulties and pressures they faced, a decision made without consideration and without any attempt to secure the ballot boxes remains inexcusable inasmuch as they had the authority and would have had support to seek a solution that did not so egregiously disenfranchise so many people.

      (Unlike, say, an attempt to smear a volunteer pollworker by sending a picture of him undertaking his assigned tasks misrepresented as evidence of fraud – an accusation with potential legal repercussions. That’s pretty gross.)

  2. josh May 2, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Brooks’ concern that volunteers be treated kindly makes lots of sense. But to have members observe (even while grading papers) is simply transparent good policy and to ask that all challenges be treated seriously is basic common sense.

    I want folks to volunteer to help with this union – but if they agree to run an election for 12,000 people and one that determines the trajectory of a 2 million dollar budget (my dues money here) then they need to be prepared to finish the counting, not abandon the ballots when it appears that the other side is winning — no matter how tired they are. Or find someone to finish for them.
    Josh Brahinsky, UCSC

  3. DM May 2, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    I’ll let those others who were present at the vote-count speak to the particular climate of the room. I don’t doubt that the atmosphere was challenging. But if you’ve devoted any time to the union recently, you must be aware that this contentiousness does not come from out of the blue. It’s the result of many months of struggle against opponents who have routinely wielded every available bureaucratic apparatus against us, and against any iota of democratic reform. Since you’ve done your time in the bureaucratic sector, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the stakes of this election. We’re not talking about a frivolous popularity contest; the outcome of this election is dead serious. If this campaign appears “trumped up” to you, maybe that’s because elections in our local have almost always gone unchallenged; business simply rolls on as usual. AWDU is about breaking with the UAW’s tradition of one-party, top-down management. That’s why we formed, that’s what we’re here to do. USEJ is about maintaining a one-party, top-down managerial system by any means necessary. That’s what they’ve done before, and that’s what they’ll do if reelected. Of course this confrontation was destined to be explosive. Take your complaints about the “political morass” to USEJ, though. I’m completely fed up with the incumbent caucus’ boilerplate about AWDU’s bad manners, its anger, etc. Yes, we’re angry, and rightfully so! We’ve been open about our frustrations, our disappointments, also our vision for a better union. We’ve also learned that strength in numbers protects is often the best protection against being smashed outright by the incumbent cabal. But we would never stoop to disseminating false information about our opponents; we would never reproduce misleading photographs to our supporters to trick them into believing that the other side has played dirty. We would never summarily abandon a vote count because it appeared that our side might lose. Let’s not pretend that the decision to pass on the “partially certified” vote count had anything to do with fatigue. It was a political ploy aimed at stalling the electoral process, and it came at exactly the moment when it appeared that AWDU might actually win. That’s where our outrage comes from, plain and simple. I’m sorry if you feel caught in the political crossfire. I don’t believe the elections committee had a *right* to work efficiently, though; I believe it had a *duty* to work efficiently, and a duty to finish the vote count that it started. I believe it shirked that duty by walking away from the ballot boxes.

    Since you’ve posted here, though, I have to ask: why do you still support USEJ? You’ve seen them fabricate evidence in an attempt to disqualify ALL the Berkeley votes. What’s so appealing about that? What is it about their position that reads as anything other than a desperate attempt to cling to power? Why, after 10 years of stranglehold on the union, is democratic reform completely out of the question? As we at AWDU see it, the only answer is that the incumbents are terrified of ceding power. Probably the top brass has put the fire to them as well. And there are salaries that stand to be lost as well. All of that seems clear enough. So again, why continue to support USEJ? Why did you decide to volunteer as their challenger?

  4. DM May 2, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    One more thing: Brooks, I wished you’d have identified yourself not merely as a volunteer challenger, but as a USEJ candidate for Trustee at UCLA.

  5. Megan May 2, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    Brooks,

    I am writing in response to your claim that “in all honesty AWDU ought to accept its share of responsibility for choking the tiny working space with supporters, who of course were told by people they for some reason trust that they were their to represent “the voters” and save the union from corrupt people, even if this often meant doing their homework in the corner of a room packed dangerously with people.”

    I was one such “supporter,” but I was not some mindless partisan, sitting and staying upon the command of “people [I] for some reason trust.” While not actively involved with union politics, I have followed the debates raised in the wake of the emergence of the AWDU, and followed them with some great interest. I have worked as a TA at UCLA over the past five years and have a vested interest in the union’s ability to represent my and my fellow grad students’ interests. I also have a general interest in ensuring that democratic processes are followed in union decision making practices. Such was the reason for my, albeit brief, presence at the vote count: I wanted to see what was happening. Given all of the unseemliness surrounding the election, that hardly seems out of line. Democratic practices are, by definition, transparent.

    So, why scare quotes around “the voters”? We were, indeed, voting. (Is this a bad time to request that all votes be counted?) Why write a reply to a post accusing its author of rhetorical flourish and then dream up a room “packed dangerously with people”? (It was the foot of a friend that was stepped on. I saw her today -miracle of miracles – sans crutches.) Who said I and my fellow observers were there to save the union? (Did Batman come by after I left?) I had no such lofty goals. I just wanted to see if the people who, regardless of the outcome of the election, will need to work on behalf of all grad students, were engaged in a fair and open process of vote counting. From what I could see, despite being tired and hot, and pulling for various camps, all parties present were working to ensure that a fair count was happening.

    Then again, I left before the elections committee bailed.

    regards,
    Megan Gallagher
    UCLA Political Science

  6. Brooks May 3, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    @DM: Uhm, I’m a steward elect, because there were more positions than candidates. Not sure why you think I’m still a candidate. We should all know by know what assumptions make. Notwithstanding the fact that the stewardship position, just below head steward, is the most democratic position in the “bueracracy”, the position closest to the “rank-and-file” and the strongest mechanism for grassroots organizing, AWDU didn’t put up a single steward at UCLA. I think if they had I would have tried to organize a moderate “Stewards for Sanity” caucus that reached across the isle.

    @LP: I don’t think you need my help to make your argument, but I do think the motion to adjourn was unconscionable and agree with you that Travis put EC in a bad position. However, it is equally unconscionable to count the votes before the challenge portion of the meeting. The “count the votes” rhetoric is very simple minded, do you want a due process election or don’t you?

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