Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., March 3, 4 or 5
Unionizing, of course, offers workers group strength that can mean labor contracts, due process, and a vote on their leaders. Rejecting the choice means keeping “employment at will” (of management) and a system as feudal as the antebellum South. The South for centuries maintained its system of race slavery and wage slavery through threats and fear, and those were used again last month, when VW workers lost their attempt to unionize.
The election certainly seemed to pit people who live and work in Chattanooga and want to affiliate with the UAW vs. out-of-state billionaires, political opportunists and anti-union forces. Wealthy outside interests conducted a campaign of lies and threats to influence the outcome, the UAW says. They mention State Sen. Bo Watson, the Republican legislative leader, threatening that if workers unionized his bloc would withhold “any additional incentives” for VW expansion. The state previously granted Volkswagen $577 million in incentives, but he said future consideration would “have a very tough time” in the Senate, which is controlled by the GOP. The union also noted that U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R- Tenn.) said, “I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that, should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here.” (VW denied that.)
The coordinated media attack on unions – funded by or involving the notorious Koch brothers, Right-winger Grover Norquist, and the National Right To Work Committee – included 13 billboards and many radio commercials exaggerating or lying (going so far as to claim that the UAW would take away people’s guns).
Without such unprecedented tactics, workers would have won union recognition, according to Professor Harley Shaiken of the University of California at Berkeley, who told the Associated Press, “You’ve got family members [who] hear these threats and they say, ‘This is a risk’.”
For decades, federal law has stated that it’s government policy to “encourage the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and to protect the exercise by workers of full freedom of association.” Therefore, union-representation elections are supposed to be fair and democratic, conducted under conditions that let workers make a free choice, and it’s illegal to intimidate or interfere with a vote (although some employers do since there’s little enforcement punishment for breaking the law). Here, VW stayed neutral but outsiders were aligned against locals.
VW supports forming works councils, which in the United States requires a collective bargaining agreement. Works councils exist, by law, at all German VW plants (which pay more than what Volkswagen’s American workers earn). The works councils in Germany facilitate collaboration that leads to better production and more profits.
U.S. corporations work collectively in trade groups and other associations, from the National Manufacturers Association to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but when it comes to such collaboration, much less everyday people working together, Big Business and its elected mouthpieces oppose it.
“The clear message of the campaign was that voting for the union would result in stagnation for the Chattanooga plant, with no new product, no job security, and withholding of state support for its expansion,” the UAW’s appeal says.
Criticizing elected officials and anti-union bankrolls, the AFL-CIO added, “We do not yet know the full scope of their misconduct. Working people are determined that the facts will come out and that there will be complete accountability for their attack on Volkswagen workers’ rights. This was not an example of politicians expressing their opinions. These were … threats by the powerful designed to interfere with the free exercise of workers’ right to vote.”
The results could have far-reaching consequences. Bernd Osterloh, head of Volkswagen’s main works council in Germany, told journalist Rana Foroohar, “Another VW factory in the United States – provided that one more should still be set up there – does not necessarily have to be assigned to the South.”
Further, if such outside meddling is pronounced permissible, it could usher in a new tactic for anti-union forces with millions to spend to defeat workers trying to organize.
After investigating, the NLRB could determine a new election for VW workers is needed.
[PICTURED: graphic from portside.org]