We Don’t Quit!
Stories of UAW Global Solidarity
We celebrate the recently published book by Don Stillman that outlines a history of UAW global solidarity and international activism with the timeline below. Each entry gives a brief on a chapter of the book and the story it tells about the way that UAW members have shown moral courage in the face of danger and oppression to help our brothers and sisters around the world who are fighting for rights we sometimes take for granted in the United States. Take some time to read through the timeline and be sure to purchase your copy of We Don’t Quit! Stories of UAW Global Solidarity today.
Check out the foreword to We Don’t Quit! Below
On October 14, 2013, in the early morning hours at the gates of the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, shop stewards from Nissan’s South African factories and leaders of the powerful National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) leafleted workers changing shifts. They also danced and sang in the South African union tradition of struggle.
The South Africans’ message was simple: Nissan workers everywhere must be treated equally and fairly, whether in Japan, Mexico, South Africa, or the United States. Those workers all have a right to organize.
NUMSA’s support for the UAW should not be surprising. It is a strong and militant union with a record of solidarity on behalf of workers throughout the world.
More than two decades ago, too, the UAW launched its own global campaign against the racist apartheid system. Our union also fought to win freedom for Moses Mayekiso, the first general secretary of NUMSA, who faced trial on treason, sedition, and subversion charges that could have ended with the hangman’s noose.
You can read about the UAW’s fight against apartheid and for South Africa’s black trade unions in the first two chapters of Don Stillman’s excellent book, We Don’t Quit!: Stories of UAW Global Solidarity. The book describes the courage of workers in South Africa and the commitment of UAW members to fight to support them.
NUMSA activists who came to Mississippi to return our support years later said this in announcing their trip: “This visit is very symbolic given the immense contribution made by the American anti-apartheid movement to our own struggle for national liberation, freedom, and people’s power.”
As UAW leaders, we are proud to urge every member and retiree and their families and friends to read this book.
It contains stories of UAW global solidarity that now have been preserved for history. But those stories also provide inspiration for our union’s future struggles.
The book comes at a time when we live in a global economy in which so many decisions that impact workers’ lives are made by companies and governments beyond our borders. Only the power of workers standing together across those borders can preserve and strengthen the gains we have won over the years at the bargaining table and through the ballot box.
We Don’t Quit! describes how the UAW stood up for trade unionists and worker activists who suffered in jails and prisons across the world. When a ruthless dictator in Indonesia imprisoned a woman organizer, the UAW fought for her. When Nigeria’s ruling general jailed the leaders of the oil and gas unions, our union demanded their release. When Burma’s military regime tortured a top labor leader, the UAW helped win his freedom.
You will be moved by their stories in the chapters ahead. You will also be inspired by the accounts of how unions in other countries have backed the UAW as we organize and bargain.
In Brazil, for example, our union fought on behalf of autoworkers and other unionists and stood up for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who faced trial and a long prison sentence during military rule there. Each day, the UAW attended Lula’s trial in 1981 to show that the whole world was watching.
Years later, in a democratic Brazil, the people elected Lula as president of their country. In 2013 Lula attended the UAW Community Action Program (CAP) conference and pledged his support for the workers at Nissan in Mississippi who are seeking to join the UAW. Today, the major Brazilian union federations have embraced the campaign for a fair election at Nissan. Demonstrations demanding freedom from intimidation in Mississippi have occurred in Brazil from the front gates of Renault-Nissan assembly plants to Nissan dealerships in the country’s major cities.
The support of Lula and the Brazilian unions, like that of the South African unions, serves as a powerful example that global solidarity is a two-way street—one that shows that those we support regularly use their power on behalf of the UAW when we need their help.
This book tells of our union’s successful and hard-fought struggle to organize Freightliner, the German-owned heavy truck manufacturer, in the early 1990s. The UAW worked closely with the German metalworkers’ union, IG Metall, and the works’ council there. With their solidarity assistance, we organized Freightliner in Mt. Holly, North Carolina, and won a good first contract there. That success led to more workers at Freightliner and related companies joining the UAW.
Our union had the strong support once again of IG Metall and the German works council at Volkswagen as workers at VW’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, sought to organize in February 2014. We witnessed an unprecedented attack by outside right-wing political groups and certain Tennessee politicians desperate to deny VW workers a fair chance to make their decision. Those workers instead faced threats from state and national Republicans that voting for the UAW meant the loss of new product lines and taxpayer incentives to locate work at the Chattanooga plant.
A mere shift of 44 votes would have meant victory for the VW workers. Their struggle is not over. As this book’s title suggests, we don’t quit!
The Volkswagen battle shows how important global solidarity is today. We face a harsh climate in which workers too often are denied the right to join a union. Vicious anti-labor groups spend millions of dollars to unfairly influence outcomes and their GOP allies use taxpayer funds as anti-union leverage.
As you read this book, you will see that workers here and abroad faced many dark moments in the past, but fought on and ultimate won the victories they sought. The chapter on the fight by the Polish Solidarity union, for example, details the widespread repression workers there confronted. But in the end they won the right to an independent union and, ultimately, to democratic elections that toppled the communist government there.
Today, UAW members and their families fully intend to fight on.
We don’t have time to be passive or feel hopeless. We need optimism and boldness and energy. We need to be smart, and efficient, and focused. And we need to fight for economic, political, and social justice both at home and abroad.
We have a great tradition and history of global solidarity, as the following pages describe. We didn’t back down then.
And we won’t back down now.