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.

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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.

UAW's Crucial Role in The Struggle Against Apartheid

The UAW played an integral role over decades in helping to bring attention to and ultimately end the scourge of apartheid in South Africa, providing support to South Africa’s black unions and Nelson Mandela. (pictured: UAW President Owen Bieber and Vice President Ernie Lofton were arrested at the embassy of South Africa in April 1985 during an anti-apartheid protest. Photo by Rick Reinhard.)

Chapter 1

'Don't Let South Africa Hang This Labor Leader'

Moses Mayekiso, the leader of the Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU) in South Africa, was an important voice in the independent black union movement against the system of racial segregation known as apartheid. Arrested in 1986, Mayekiso was charged with treason, sedition, and subversion–charges carrying a potential death sentence. Global solidarity on behalf of the UAW and labor unions around the world ultimately led to Moses winning his freedom three years later at a time when someone was hanged in South Africa every three days.

Chapter 2

UAW Campaign Helps Free Unionist in Burma

UAW members were front and center in the fight to have labor leaders in Burma released after the military government cracked down and jailed trade-unionists, helping to reunite one such leader, Myo Aung Thant, with his family in the United States after 16 years apart.

Chapter 3

Close Ties to German Union Bring Victory

Close coordination and international solidarity from IG Metall and the Daimler-Benz Works Council in Stuttgart helped put pressure on Freightliner to come back to the table and reach an agreement with striking UAW members at Freightliner in North Carolina.

Chapter 4

Woman Organizer in Indonesia Wins Freedom

In 1975, the military dictatorship of Indonesia outlawed independent unions–but that didn’t stop organizers like Dita Sari from leading a strike of over 20,000 workers demanding better working conditions and a living wage. For her activism, she was jailed in 1996. The UAW raised her plight and helped secure her release three years later.

Chapter 5

Brazil's President Backs UAW Organizing Efforts

When workers at Nissan in Canton, Mississippi decided to start organizing their union with the UAW, they never expected that they’d have a foreign leader on their side–but they had one in the former president of Brazil.

Chapter 6

Solidarity Union in Poland Toppled Regime

“Polish workers were reading UAW Solidarity magazine, and their leaders the UAW Washington Report. We sent every available publication we’ve published, giving them our history of struggle of over 45 years and sharing with them some of our growing pains they [also] are experiencing with the enormous tasks their union was undertaking.” The UAW’s support in the form of money, equipment and international solidarity helped the Solidarity movement in Poland remain a force for positive change even during a military crackdown.

Chapter 7

Kuwait: Recognize Labor, Human Rights

Directly after Operation Desert Storm, UAW members pressed the newly-liberated government of Kuwait to recognize workers’ rights. When the UAW began its efforts, strikes seldom occurred. In May 2013 went on strike and won concessions from the state-owned Oil Sector Services Company (OSCC). There’s still a long way to go, but progress is being made.

Chapter 8

Immigrants Organized and Built the UAW: Union Now Demands Immigration Reform

“Our current [immigration] system destroys families, rewards unscrupulous employers, and hurts our economy,” said UAW President Dennis Williams. Immigration reform has been at the top of the UAW’s national legislative agenda in recent years.

Chapter 9

UAW Stood With Central American Workers

When the Salvadoran government systematically used death squads, torture, kidnapping and assassination targeted at union activists, religious leaders, and civilian opponents of the military regime there, U.S. President Ronald Reagan routed millions of dollars of American military aid to the country. UAW and other progressive unions in the United States vigorously opposed this aid and stood with workers while thousands were killed by death squads.

Chapter 10

UAW: Close School of the Americas

In a restaurant in Columbus, a young girl summed it all up by saying that labor folks in Latin America were being killed for exactly the same sorts of activities her dad was doing here in the U.S. The UAW has stood up against the SOA.

Chapter 11

Nigeria: The Struggle Against Labor Represion

International solidarity helped restore some democracy in Nigeria and to free jailed labor leaders Frank Kokori and Milton Dabibi who had been kept in inhuman conditions, without medical attention, and in complete solitude.

Chapter 12

Solidarity Helps Mexico's Workers Fight Back

NAFTA didn’t just affect workers in the U.S. The real legacy of the trade agreement has been job losses and wage stagnation on both sides of the border. That’s why the UAW has fought tirelessly to help Mexican workers build strong unions and fight back.

Chapter 13

'Meat For The Crocodiles'

When Chakufwa Chihana became secretary-general of the South Africa Trade Union Coordination Council, he didn’t stop speaking out for reform in Malawi. That landed him in jail, where the Malawi’s dictator said he would be “meat for the crocodiles.” The UAW’s global solidarity helped put pressure on the government to release him.

Chapter 14

UAW Waged Both War and Peace

Perhaps best put by UAW Secretary-Treasurer Ray Majerus: “True national security for the people in the breadlines and unemployment lines of this nation will not be found by looking down the barrel of a gun, no matter how big it is, how fancy it is, or how fast it flies. This has never been the answer for the workers and the poor in the U.S. or around the world.”

Chapter 15

UAW Fights Labor Abuses In China

From the 1990s to today, the UAW has been active in fighting with China’s labor activists to end government repression and allow independent unions and labor activists to work freely. While progress has been made, many workers are still targeted by China’s government for their labor activism and wages remain too low.

Chapter 16