There's nothing like politics, and nobody does it better than the United Rubber Workers. Or should I make that the Rubber & Plastic Conference of the United Steelworkers of America.
Attending the URW's final convention was a fascinating lesson in how decisions are made.
The URW always has prided itself on being the most democratic union in the U.S. And the special session which ended with the URW merging into the Steelworkers was no different. For a sample, consider these tidbits.
URW Vice President J. Michael Stanley, a big merger supporter, hails from Local 878 at the Goodyear tire plant in Union City, Tenn. Local 878 was among the contingent that vocally opposed marriage to the USWA. Local 878's president is Sam Odom Jr., who happens to be Stanley's uncle. The two once ran for the same Local 878 office (they say they didn't oppose each other, they just ran in the same race).
One of the floor fights concerned whether to vote by secret ballot, or by voice vote. Those favoring a voice vote wanted delegates held accountable. Those wanting secret ballots, which won out, wanted people to vote their conscience, instead of bowing to peer pressure.
Before the convention even began, Stanley got cornered in his hotel lobby for a debate on whether the merger should require a simple majority, or a two-thirds vote. Stanley didn't back away from the argument, but he did change his stance on the issue the next day. His supporters called him a man of honor, his detractors said he was an opportunist. Coss also got cornered by opponents of the merger, and then he and Stanley offered to put their higher-paying jobs in the Steelworkers' structure up for election within two months. Their supporters called them men of honor, their detractors insisted they were opportunists.
The most intriguing aspect of URW politics concerned the amount of time spent actually debating the merger on the convention floor. After spending two hours going over the nuts and bolts of the merger document, the delegates spent little more than 30 minutes debating the pros and cons of the merger. Delegates nearly halted the debate after five minutes. The Rubber Workers were discussing one of the most important issues in the union's history, and delegates spent more time at the 1990 convention deciding whether to rip out non-union-made paneling at URW headquarters.
But the best part of URW conventions is when it's over, it's over. Delegates sing ``Solidarity Forever'' and most is forgiven. But that's politics.
Meyer is managing editor of Rubber & Plastics News.