Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail