Will Lehman holds meeting with academics: ‘We need to advance our own interests, not the interests of the capitalist class’

The WSWS has endorsed Will Lehman for the position of UAW President. For more information, visit WillForUAWPresident.org.

Will Lehman [Photo: WSWS]

On Saturday, Will Lehman, socialist candidate for president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), hosted an online meeting to pitch his campaign to graduate students and other UAW university employees. The meeting brought together graduate students and tenured faculty, as well as Lehman campaign workers and supporters from across the United States.

The meeting came amid ongoing struggles by university workers in California and New York. As of September 30, 48,000 UAW members across the University of California (UC) system – including graduate students, academic researchers, tutors, postdoctoral researchers (postdocs), and other academic employees – work either without a contract or under a contract that had been extended. There is also an assistant strike authorization vote pending at New York University (NYU), where the UAW extended the previous contract by two months, with the new expiration set for October 30.

At the start of the meeting, Lehman – who is a second-tier worker at Mack Trucks in Macungie, Pennsylvania, and the only socialist candidate in the UAW elections – summed up his campaign’s call to abolish the corrupt apparatus. of the UAW and to empower the government. hands of workers.

The UAW is made up of two distinct layers, he explained: rank-and-file workers in factories and other workplaces who pay dues, as opposed to a bureaucracy sitting on assets of $1.1 billion. which enforces sellout contracts and keeps workers divided. The UAW bureaucracy accepts capitalism and is deeply tied to the companies it claims to fight against. Two of the last four UAW presidents have been jailed in connection with a high-profile corruption scandal, in which large sections of the union’s leadership have taken bribes or embezzled dues.

Bureaucrats, Lehman said, “operate within the framework of capitalism and believe they can win that way. They are absolutely wrong. That’s why we have to force our own way, and that comes with matchmaking, and that might not be a traditional way.

As part of the fight to unify and empower workers, Lehman advocated the formation of rank-and-file committees as a way to stay informed and coordinate actions with other workers, whether UAW members or not. Workers need a way to share information and unify their struggles, he said, and break out of the isolation imposed by the UAW apparatus.

“I’ll give the example of the HarperCollins workers earlier this year,” Lehman said. “Their CEO is billionaire Rupert Murdoch. No one was told about the HarperCollins One Day Strike by the UAW, and they should have been, we all should have been. They should have been on strike until their needs were met. They earn $30 an hour, but live in New York. And I’m sure workers at the University of California could relate to that, with one of the highest living costs in the country.

Pickets outside the HarperCollins headquarters in New York on July 21, 2022 [Photo: WSWS]

Responding to a comment from a UC student that UAW Local 5810 (which includes post-docs and university researchers) has again extended its previous contract with the university for a month additional until Oct. 31, Lehman said, “They are suspended under contract extensions. And it’s a typical UAW game. When a contract expires, they keep workers on the job, while appealing to the Democratic Party, which has absolutely no interest in advancing anything for the working class. The Democratic and Republican parties are not representative of the working class.

He added: “The way forward will not be in a call to a politician from the Democratic Party or a politician from either of the two ruling class parties. It will be through struggle.

Graduate student at New York University (NYU), Karsten, spoke at the meeting about the UAW’s betrayal of the 2021 NYU graduate strike.

“Last year we went on strike for three weeks,” Karsten said. “And we were not only fighting against the university, but also against the UAW, which isolated the strike and imposed a completely rotten contract, which was widely touted as this ‘historic deal.’ But really, it was an agreement that did not meet any of the demands of the graduate student workers. It’s a six-year deal with a no-strike clause.

“There’s been a big bang around the fact that wage increases for hourly workers have gone from $20 to $26 an hour for the year 2020 to 2021. But it’s $20 or more below what is a living wage in New York, one of the most expensive cities in the world, and a pay cut essentially, with inflation over 8%.

“Most importantly, the union dropped the ‘unit erosion’ demand, which would have essentially prevented the university from cutting positions. So any salary increase made by the university will not have an impact on the coffers of the university, because it can cut positions. And the same was true at Columbia University, where graduate students struck at the same time, but our struggles were isolated from each other by the UAW.

NYU graduates on strike in 2021 [Photo: WSWS]

A New School professor, who is also in New York, expressed solidarity with his university’s part-time professors, who are UAW members and have been working under a contract that has expired for three years, as well as with students with student problems. loan debt. Pointing out that 87% of instructors are part-time at his university, he asked, “How can we bring together the full-time, non-union faculty and the part-time faculty at my school in New York? How to completely get rid of the auxiliary status? »

Lehman replied, “That’s the point of creating rank-and-file committees everywhere. when you look at it [adjunct status], it’s a kind of inequality, it’s a plateau. And the only way to eliminate this stuff is through struggle.

“If you recognize inequities, and you have other colleagues who recognize those inequities and want to do something about it, I would say that’s the basis of a grassroots committee. When we are organized and united on things, that is where our power will be able to be exercised.

The UAW and other unions have continually promoted the Democratic Party, Lehman said. But the reality is that the Democrats represent the interests of the capitalist class and pursue policies hostile to the interests of the working class.

“When Biden was running for president, he made all kinds of promises, including student debt relief. Then he went down to a $10,000 pardon, and now he’s paid that amount back. He said he would stop COVID, which he didn’t. Now they are sending money to the Ukrainian government and advancing the war with Russia and China.

He continued, “We must advance our own interests, not the interests of the capitalist class.”

Lehman also pointed out that the UAW’s nationalist strategy is fundamentally playing into the hands of transnational corporations. In opposition to this, rank-and-file committees should be part of an international workers’ movement, the International Rank-and-Committee Workers’ Alliance (IWA-RFC), which his campaign supports.

In summary, he said the UAW apparatus has enabled “countless worker deaths and countless injuries” under his watch. These conditions are the result of the “system we are in, capitalism, where there is human exploitation just for the wealth of the few. I am talking about the workers who recognize that it is the enemy. And we have to fight against that and whatever form it takes.

In its efforts to keep workers divided and to develop a unified mass movement, the capitalist class and its representatives are using racial and gender politics, Lehman said. He urged students and university employees to reject such identity politics, relentlessly promoted on university campuses and concluded with a powerful call for international unity of the working class of all races, genders and nationalities.

Workers must oppose “any way they try to divide us on the floor, whether it’s gender or the color of our skin, even country,” he said. “None of that matters. The parts we have for cars come from all over the world. And we must recognize that we are part of a world class and that we have the power to bring about change on a global scale.

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