Spotlight on Committees: Political Involvement Critical for Workers
CAP Committees Educate Members About the Issues
There’s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls.
-Walter P. Reuther
A new year brings hope that the year ahead will be better than the last. When it’s an election year like 2018, there’s also hope that winning candidates will support workers and their hard-won rights from collective bargaining. That’s why UAW members will be out in force this year to help elect pro-worker public officials in the November election. The backbone of those efforts will be Citizenship and Legislative committees, better known as CAP (Community Action Program) committees, at UAW locals. CAP committees are the political-legislative branch of locals and key to voter mobilization and education. CAP committees know that legislators impact working families when it comes to their rights, fair trade, health and safety and many other issues.
“CAP committees are an important source of political discussion, education and engagement with our members,” said UAW President Dennis Williams. “They make sure members know which candidates support workers and have face-to-face conversations on the plant floor with workers about issues important to working families.”
UAW Local 3000’s CAP committee works hard engaging year ‘round with the local’s 5,000 members, many of whom who work at the Ford Motor Co.’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. The goal of the 16 committee members is educating members about politics, including candidates and proposals so they can make educated choices during elections. They also do community service work such as adopting and helping a local school. At the helm of the group for the past four years is Montina Tillman, also co-chair and recording secretary of UAW Region 1A’s CAP Council, and Region 1A peer activist leader. “Local and national politics affect us in every area of lives,” said Tillman. “To those who say the UAW shouldn’t be dealing with politics, I tell them politics is everywhere whether you like it or not. It’s there when you turn the lights on, when you drive, when you breathe the air, where your children go to school. The UAW needs to be involved because everything affects UAW members. Look at right to work. That affected us and that was politics.” Tillman says driving that message home has helped change the minds of some members who now see that voting for candidates who support the working class benefits them.
This year is big and Local 3000’s committee is already in full swing for the November election, getting information to members on the floor to help them vote in the midterm election. All elections are important, especially midterms when turnout is generally lower and Congressional control is at stake. The committee is also focused on state, municipal and school elections where community life is heavily impacted by the winners.
In addition to conversations, the committee uses a host of digital communication tools. “We use social media, especially our committee’s Facebook page. We cross post on our local’s page, share UAW-Ford’s Facebook content and use Twitter,” said Tillman. They shoot for a Facebook post a week, sometimes more, and talk with those who post comments. Most content is geared toward being informational. “We post a lot of news articles after checking to make sure they’re not fake news. We post news stories to get people thinking about the issues, such as NAFTA and organizing legislation, and about community work like the UAW’s disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida,” said Tillman. Sometimes choosing content is challenging because of the varied political views of Local 3000 members. But the goal is always education.
If the 2016 election is an indication, Tillman says the committee has its work cut out for it this year. “2016 was difficult because our members had different viewpoints on the candidates. We did our best mainly with one-on-one conversations on the shop floor. We went out and talked to every single member by walking through the plant,” she said.
CAP committee members also work hard correcting the perception that UAW member dues, not voluntary V-CAP contributions, pay for political lobbying. Dues cannot be spent on political activities. That’s why every contribution counts. Corporations generally spend a lot more money than the UAW in elections. V-CAP contributions are the UAW’s only source to try to match their impact. Tillman says if the UAW doesn’t have election work funding, we can’t fight for workers.
UAW Region 1A Director Rory Gamble says Region 1A members know the value of V-CAP and support it. “Every dollar our members contribute to political activism gets more workers closer to the decent wages and life they deserve,” said Gamble. “V-CAP needs resources to lobby for public officials who support working families. That’s why local CAP committee work is so important.”
Keeping workers interested in politics and making financial contributions takes skill. Local 3000 President Steve Gonzalez says Tillman and the local’s CAP committee have what it takes. Tillman, he says, is a true leader at inspiring people. The committee’s expertise is so respected other locals have sent members to Local 3000 for CAP training. The key to having an impact with workers, he says, is not getting discouraged. “Asking for money is hard,” said Gonzalez. “And with social media you set yourself up for public criticism, so you have to be tough. But they get back in the ring every time because they know their stuff. Ask them about any candidate and they can tell you exactly where that candidate stands on issues,” he said. Gonzalez says we have to regain control of Congress and stay focused on worker issues rather than be divided by social issues. “That can be challenging to explain to some of our members who are Republican, but our committee knows how to have a conversation about the labor movement’s role in creating good jobs and a decent lifestyle.”
It’s a hard job talking politics these days. But because the committee members have each other’s backs they stay strong. Tillman keeps going by remembering the faces of those she’s fighting for. “I’m fighting for my father who’s a retiree. I’m fighting for my son who needs proper resources in the classroom. I’m fighting for my neighbor across the street who, I know, has to choose between buying food or medicine.”
When UAW members contribute to V-CAP they’re fighting for all workers. That’s always a good investment.