Auto union ready to 'circle the wagons' and rejoin AFL-CIO

The United Automobile Workers (UAW) probably will decide in two weeks to reaffiliate with AFL-CIO after 22 years outside the labor federation. Douglas Fraser, president of the 1.2 million member UAW, says that broad conservative victories in the November election have convinced "an overwhelming majority" of the union's executive board that it is imperative to tighten up the US labor movement.

"The election, I think, will cause some people who might have had reservations about reaffiliation to say, 'We'd better circle the wagons' . . . a unified labor movement would be far more effective in the years just ahead when labor is going to be attacked by right-wing forces," says Mr. Fraser.

The UAW dropped out of the AFL-CIO in 1958, shortly after the merger of the AFL and CIO, largely because of sharp personal differences in philosophy between conservative George Meany and Walter Reuther and other UAW leaders who shared a much more liberal, internationally active, and social-reform oriented form of trade unionism.

Fraser personally has favored a reaffiliation for several years, and for a year or more a majority of the UAW board has leaned toward a return to AFL-CIO. However, Emil Mazey, who retired as secretary-treasurer of the union earlier this year, and several other UAW board members who also have retired, opposed reaffiliation. Because of the controversial nature of a reaffiliation proposal while they held office, the issue was not brought up at the union's convention last June.

With the most influential opponents of reaffiliation now gone, the board is expected to call a special UAW convention early in 1981 to vote on the recommendation to return to AFL-CIO. The UAW board has the power to approve reaffiliation without convention action, but, according to Fraser, "We're operating under the theory that we should reverse a decision in the way we made it." The withdrawal from AFL-CIO was by a convention vote.

Ideally, the convention would be held in January so that Fraser could be seated on the AFL-CIO Executive Council during the federation's midwinter meetings in Florida beginning Feb. 16. Setting up even a one-day, one-issue convention involves logistical problems, so reaffiliation could be delayed beyond mid-February. But the UAW is expected back in the federation in time to be a major influence at the AFL-CIO's biannual convention in the fall of 1981.

The federation's door is wide open to UAW's return at any time. Should it reaffiliate, AFL-CIO would have in its ranks unions with more than 15 million of the approximately 18 million trade union members in the US. Most of the others are in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which claims nearly 2.5 million members.

The board meeting in mid-December is also expected to consider proposals to merge the UAW and the AFL-CIO's International Association of Machinists (IAM), unions with largely overlapping jurisdictions in aerospace and other fields. The IAM reports 950,000 members, meaning such a merger would create a new union with more than 2.1 million members, second in size only to the Teamsters in this country.

Fraser and Peter Bommarito, president of the United Rubber Workers (URW) have discussed "briefly" possibilities of merging the UAW and the URW, which has half or more of its members in auto-related plants.

The UAW board is expected to be briefed on the talks, which are expected to turn into serious negotiations once the UAW affiliates with AFL-CIO.

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