DETROIT -- When UAW President Bob King launches the union's organizing drive of Asian and German automakers next month, he is counting on help from his friends.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said last week that he was eager to hear from King on how his Rainbow PUSH coalition can serve the cause. The organization has thousands of members and supporters in 50 major U.S. markets.
The Detroit chapter of the NAACP is ready to help. Even small unions such as the Farm Labor Organizing Committee for migrant farm workers will turn out volunteers to leaflet, make phone calls or demonstrate if King asks, said Baldemar Velasquez, president of the union, which is based in Toledo, Ohio.
"Bob's got the troops," said Velasquez, who enlisted King's help this year to pressure R.J. Reynolds & Co. to recognize the right of 20,000 tobacco workers to be represented by the farm workers' union.
No, King is not trying to relive the 1960s. He said the best way to rebuild the American middle class is to rebuild the union movement and the best way to do that is for progressive groups to work together.
"It's morally and socially the right thing to do to support other people's struggles for justice and fairness," King said, "but it's also the most pragmatic thing in the world."
At the same time, he is recasting the UAW's pitch. Gone is confrontation with management. Now he's touting the UAW's effective partnership with rebounding Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group.
Transplant workers in the South will want to be part of this "winning team," King said.
King, a lifelong activist in social causes inside and outside the auto industry, could use soldiers in his upcoming fight.
The UAW's 400,000 active members and nearly 900,000 Detroit 3 retirees are located predominantly in the Midwest or sunny retirement states.
Meanwhile, the union's organizing targets -- the U.S. factories of Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen -- are concentrated in right-to-work states in the South.
In an exclusive interview last week, King, a bespectacled, 64-year-old law school graduate who once thought about being a priest, said the union intends to take "the high road" in the drive.
He said the UAW will accept the results of the organizing campaigns as long as plant workers get a free and fair election opportunity without intimidation by the automakers.