The National Writers Union Landslide


striking election victory by the opposition slate has pulled the
National Writers Union (NWU) back from the brink. After the trauma
of a painfully divisive NWU Delegates Assembly in September (


, December 2003), veteran activists resigned their volunteer
posts in locals across the country, membership plunged, and many
felt the NWU was about to implode. Strangely, the national leadership
team of President Marybeth Menaker insisted that things had never
been rosier. 

of frustration, the dissidents decided to run a slate. There had
been contested elections before, says Sue Davis, incoming 2nd Vice
President, but never a united slate. Called Working4Writers (W4W),
they won by 2 to 1 in every post they sought. 

Mende, a Boston activist on the winning ticket, describes the victory:
“From the comments I’ve heard, we were saying what people
wanted to hear—that they’d have a voice in how the union
was run. I was delightfully surprised that so many people cared
so much. Many of our candidates had recognition because we worked
directly with members on grievances and contracts.” 

new 3rd Vice-President, Pamela Vossenas, feels that W4W won friends
with their promises of “open respectful debate,” in contrast
to the menacing environment the incumbents fostered in the face
of opposing ideas, including “intimidating threats of libel.”
In addition, the publication on the dissident website (www.yourunion of  a piece by Jeff Perry revealing the betrayal
of the National Writers Union by past President Tasini and his UAW
allies shocked the membership. 

campaign relied on “celebrity” endorsements and personal
attacks by allies on the W4W candidates. In contrast, W4W candidates,
all of whom are working writers, wrote their own statements. Vossenas
explains: “We ran a clean campaign, taking a stand on issues
reflecting the members’ concerns. Many of us have held multiple
volunteer leadership roles over the years and have a proven track

president-elect, Jerry Col- by, is looking forward to meeting with
UAW officials in mid-January. “I’ll be focusing on the
issue of member-ratification of the bylaws and dues increase. It’s
not going to work without member support.” The imposition of
changes in these two areas was a point of great contention at the
Delegates Assembly and Colby is particularly concerned about the
dues leap for low-income writers. Colby also wants the UAW to hear
from more than just the NWU president, as has been the case for
years. “Our job right now is to end this [Presidential] choke-hold
on dialogue. We’re going to be opening the channels between
all the elected officers in our union and the UAW.” 

Davis lists the new Administration’s priorities: “Health
care, long-term financial planning, member benefits, and member
education around contracts and grievances. We also want to organize
book authors in major publishing houses in the interest of collective

incoming financial secretary-treasurer Tom Gradel knows this won’t
be easy. “Our diverse membership is spread out geographically
and by genre. For example, if you have an event that attracts fiction
writers, you won’t get the medical writers. It’s hard
for leaders to get a feel for what the members think.” 

Rick O’Keefe, is committed to a raised level of transparent
monitoring to ensure that “the books are in order, that the
union is put on a business-like functioning, and that officers perform
their required duties.” 

the country, local chapters are reeling from the fluctuating realities.
So many activists resigned before the elections that some locals
have been severely weakened. The Boston Steering Committee, for
example, went from 12 members to only 3 right now. However, Colby
reports, “We’re getting messages from around the country
of absolute relief. People are rescinding their resignations and
stepping forward to volunteer to revitalize the union.” 

Sue Katz is a
writer and an activist. She has published in three continents.