How GOP Sabotaged a Union Vote

The defeated unionization vote at a VW plant in Tennessee marked a new right-wing tactic, with state Republicans weighing in with threats of retaliation if the workers joined the UAW, a shocking strategy that drew little criticism from the mainstream U.S. press, notes Stephen Crockett.

By Stephen Crockett

Last week’s Volkswagen worker unionization vote in Tennessee was the dirtiest union election of the 21st Century with all the dirty tactics coming from outside anti-union political forces.

Without the intimidation and lies of elected Tennessee Republicans along with billionaire financed national right-wing groups, the union would almost surely have won the union representation vote. (A slim majority of 53 percent of plant workers opposed unionization.)

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who intervened with warnings about the consequences of a successful union election at a Tennessee VW plant.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who intervened with warnings about the consequences of a successful union election at a Tennessee VW plant.

Outside groups financed by extremist right-wing billionaires put up emotionally charged smear campaign billboards blaming the United Auto Workers (UAW) for the decline of the automobile industry in Detroit. These are false charges. Labor costs in total are a tiny portion of the cost of cars and trucks.

The truth is that global trade policy and poor management decisions concerning the types of vehicles built are mostly responsible for the long-term problems and the decline of Detroit.

The most recent crisis that required the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler was the direct result of the collapse of Wall Street and the biggest banks. Auto sales collapsed because the financing of new car purchases collapsed. Unions certainly played no role in the creation of this crisis. Unions did play a huge role in saving both companies.

If either company had failed, it would have taken Ford down too since the auto parts suppliers to all companies would have gone out of business. The entire American economy would have gone into another Great Depression.

The Wall Street/banking crisis was caused by poor regulation of that industry and abuses by Wall Street/banking insiders. Who pushed through the deregulation of Wall Street and the banking industry? The answer is mostly Republican politicians and right-wing-billionaire-financed organizations like those putting up the anti-union, smear billboards in Chattanooga to defeat the VW unionization vote.

The same right-wing billionaire groups and Republican politicians (along with some corporatist elected Democrats) largely pushed through the bad trade policy that created the serious decline of Detroit and the relative decline of the Big Three American automakers.

The irony that those forces whose ideas and actions undermined the American auto industry were blaming the industry’s unionized workers was completely lost on the Tennessee and national media. Nobody seemed to be covering this situation at all. They still are not discussing it.

Another barely covered aspect of the situation is that Republican officeholders used the power of their offices to interfere in this election. The only parties who should have been involved were the workers and the company.

VW actually seemed to want the workers to join the UAW. VW has very good relationships with its workers all over the world. VW managers wanted to bring their Worker Council model to the United States to help all American companies and workers establish better cooperation in all workplaces. The UAW was very supportive. The Worker Council model is a huge success and has helped VW become the international success story that it is.

The Worker Council models, like traditional unions, bring an element of democracy into the workplace. Those forces opposing it are the same forces behind voter-suppression laws and actions all over America to manipulate our elections to government offices. Their efforts and tactics mirror their actions in these other arenas. They are not friends of democracy in America in government or the economy.

Elected Republicans in Tennessee wanted this model defeated because they profit in terms of campaign donations by the bad worker-employer labor relations situation in the United States. These Republican politicians saw that good labor relations might be good for the nation but would be very bad for them. They went to war with both VW and the UAW just to retain their political power in Tennessee and nationally.

These Republicans threatened to pull tax breaks to the manufacturing plant if the workers voted in the union. The Tennessee politicians and the state government had no business getting involved in this unionization vote. Their actions were completely corrupt and should have been illegal. Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker would be facing jail time in a more just society.

Their highhanded actions are certainly abuses of power not unlike those of Gov. Chris Christie’s machine in New Jersey, using strong-arm tactics to achieve political ends. Of course, we are not seeing the media make this kind of comparison. Threatening tax breaks already granted for blatantly politically partisan reasons certainly seems to need federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Statements by Sen. Corker about the future product lines from VW seem to be outright lies. He claimed that a vote for the union would result in new models going to other plants and suggested that his information came from top VW management sources, though he didn’t identify his sources. Corker’s claims were denied by company spokespersons.

It appears these lies and threats worked on just enough workers to defeat the unionization vote. However, if the media had fully explored the situation and explained the tactics, the outcome might have been very different.

Stephen Crockett is a business owner (College Marketing.com, talk show host at Democratic Talk Radio, and a union activist. He can be reached by email at demlabor@aol.com.

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5 comments on “How GOP Sabotaged a Union Vote

  1. Joe Tedesky on said:

    Growing up in Pittsburgh, and once living in Mississippi back in the early seventies, I warned my Pittsburgh union friends about the nonunion south. Back then they were advertising steel worker jobs at a much lower level of living than their Pittsburgh union workers were getting up north. My Pittsburgh union friends thought then there was nothing to worry about. They believed that steel worker jobs would be around for another 200 years. After all many of those then Pittsburgh steel workers had roots in the steel industry going back a couple of generations, so what was the worry?

    I have worked in the auto parts industry since 1972. Over my years in the industry I saw manufacturers relocate in masses to the “right to work” states of the south. What I am getting at is Senator Corker and his type are determined to keep the south free of unions. This antiunion stance is their baby.

    I just wish union or no union that America’s middle class could return to it’s once proud self. I do believe that between trade agreements and right to work states that this has been a war against unions. I never belonged to a union, although many of my friends and relatives have, but I do know this, that when there was strong unions the country did well.

    Apparently VW and it’s German union can act like adults, but this is America and we play by a different set of rules.

    • Kevin Schmidt on said:

      The southern states did not take Pittsburgh steel mill jobs. It was China, and then NAFTA and other Free Trade Treaties took the entire US manufacturing base over seas.

  2. Couple of things: Joe, I was living in Arlington, TX when GM was going to eliminate one of its plants, either in Yipsulanti, MI or Arlington. The Yipsulanti union, being a true brotherhood was willing to let the chips fall where they may and not compete for the plant. Not Arlington. They went after it hammer and thong and kept the plant. Yipsulanti found out about what Arlington did too late to fight back.

    Second, Halberstam’s, The Reckoning, put the finger on the problem. The American car designers were still putting out gas guzzling clunkers with shoddy designs. The Europeans knew what we wanted better than our own companies. The union did not design those losers. Lamar Alexander, Sen. TN., cited Halberstam’s book as a lesson that the non-union South was getting the jobs. He missed the whole point of the book. American hubris.

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      Bob, apparently you and I lived through these most interesting times. I am not blaming southern labor, they were just pawns in the game. You are so right pointing out the lack of good marketing when it came to Detroit, back then. I remember those crappy cars…Vega comes to mine! Take care Bob, tks for your comment.

  3. Dr. Frans B. Roos, Ph.D. on said:

    As an Old-timer with 90 coming up the real Unions of the thirties and forties are a gone item by 2014 and in automotive nomenclature are well past jus being a flat tire and the handwriting on the wall says that, like the internal combustion engine of the 19th Century, unions themselves are obsolete.
    They were never built as political organizations for the emancipation of the working class. They are everywhere worldwide organizations for the suppression of the working class.
    No, it’s not just a tire that’s blown; it’s the vehicle that’s the problem, held together with Gaffer Tape and lies. These rusted out hulks are nothing but death traps for the working class.
    The vote in Tennessee of; 712 against vs. 626 in favor is an indicator that oh so slowly the working class, is searching for a new vehicle to drive down the revolutionary road of emancipation, not class collaboration. The only one in position to perform this is: ICFI. Will it be able to maintain it for ever, as Buddha said, “Nothing is for Ever even Mother Earth keeps constantly changing”. And when there is money involved the smell of it will attract the ones with that special nose (for money) and before long corruption – same as today’s UAW – will enter and everything gained – as the case is now 2014 – will be stolen back by the Elite now a.k.a fascist capitalists as History is proof of as far back as BC.