FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Strong Life of Dave Yettaw

by LEE SUSTAR

THE LABOR movement suffered an irreplaceable loss April 14 when Dave Yettaw passed away at the untimely age of 58.

As a longtime rank-and-file activist and later local president in the United Auto Workers (UAW) at General Motors’ Buick City complex in Flint, Mich., Dave was a key leader of the New Directions Movement that challenged the contract givebacks and pro-corporate policies of the UAW in the 1980s. As president of UAW Local 599, he put his perspectives to the test, leading an important strike in 1994 that showed the union’s power by winning hundreds of new jobs after years of devastating cuts.

That victory rattled both GM execs and top UAW leaders, who conspired to oust Dave and the New Directions slate in the next local union election. “Vote for Yettaw and New Directions, and GM will close the plant,” Yettaw’s opponents said. Dave and his team lost–and GM closed the plant anyway.

As a retiree, Dave ran with a New Directions slate as delegates to the 1998 UAW convention and won, elected by workers who felt betrayed by the UAW. The convention took place amid a long strike at two Flint parts plants that had virtually shut down GM’s entire North American production system.

I’ll never forget how the late Steve Yokich, then UAW president, sweated and stammered whenever Dave took to the convention floor to call for a more militant approach to the struggle. Yokich, with his big salary and gold-plated benefits, was far more comfortable golfing with Ford executives than leading strikes. Dave, by contrast, was the real thing: a lifelong militant who personified the best traditions of the UAW. And Yokich knew it.

Even in his retirement years, Dave kept fighting to challenge the direction of the UAW. He was always willing to put his encyclopedic knowledge of the UAW’s contracts, constitution and appeals process at the disposal of activists across the country. He helped people overturn stolen elections, win back their jobs, strategize how to vote down lousy contracts, and bring issues to the UAW convention floor.

As an authority on the real history of the UAW–including the central role of radicals, socialists and communists in the union’s early years–Dave was a one-man school of what the old-timers called class-struggle unionism. “The [UAW leadership] is taking this union back to where we were in 1933, when we had company unions,” he told me in an interview for Socialist Worker about the 20003 contract.

I got to know Dave through UAW conventions and reform meetings in the last seven years. He was an invaluable resource to those of us in the reform wing of the National Writers Union–a local of the UAW–as we ousted incumbents backed by the union hierarchy.

Like scores of other UAW members, I corresponded regularly with Dave. We also spent many long hours on the phone, discussing not only the UAW and the labor movement, but the rightward turn in U.S. politics. Dave once told me that he was getting more radical as he got older. A Vietnam veteran, he spoke out against the impending war in Iraq at a grassroots meeting of UAW retirees in late 2002.

Sadly, we’ve lost Dave just as he was warming to a new fight against cuts in the Big Three health care plans and retirement benefits. Just three days before he passed away, he was in his element, meeting with other activists to strategize.

My favorite memory of Dave is from the 1998 union convention. By patiently asking a series of pointed questions, Dave had prodded Yokich into making a militant speech about the GM strike. “When he’s on that road,” Dave said afterward, with a twinkle in his eye, “you push him down it as far as you can.”

With Dave gone, it’s up to us to keep pushing. The job is will be much harder without him. But we can keep learning from his example.

LEE SUSTAR is a regular contributor to CounterPunch and the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: lsustar@ameritech.net

 

LEE SUSTAR is the labor editor of Socialist Worker

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail