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.)
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 [email protected].