So the representation election at VW didn’t go as I’d hoped. Oh well, live to fight another day and all that other crap we tell ourselves when we lose.
It sucks, sure. But maybe the U.S. labor movement isn’t as agonal as some are intimating. I’m a week behind, but I just read Steven Greenhouse’s NY Times article about the election in Chattanooga (Feb. 16, Section A-19). He paints a pretty bleak picture of a decidedly anti-union Tennessee and greater South. And maybe he’s right. I’m sure he’s studied the problem more than me.
But he left out the part about a certain, rather contentious clause that was allegedly in the neutrality agreement between the UAW and Volkswagen. It was the clause where the UAW and VW committed to “maintaining and where possible enhancing the cost advantages and other competitive advantages that [Volkswagen] enjoys relative to its competitors in the United States and North America.”
DISCLAIMER: The previous quote is from film maker Michael Moore’s website. The links to the source material for the quoted text are not working. Nor are any of the links I recently followed to the neutrality agreement. In the days right before the election, those links had led to what was presented as a legitimate copy of that document. All I get now is a “404 error” page. Read into that what you will.
But the legitimacy of the “sell-out” clause is ultimately irrelevant because the plant floor anti-union group, No2UAW, seems to have used it to successfully make the case that the Chattanooga VW workers would have been signing on to a permanent two-tier wage situation if they voted yes. They convinced enough of their fellow workers that “maintaining and where possible enhancing cost advantages” meant keeping VW’s wages lower than the Big Three’s. It’s not like there isn’t historical precedent. The UAW negotiated two tier wage structures for their members years ago.
By itself, the controversial neutrality agreement clause might not be bad enough. But when I place it in the context of the multiple intimidation and propaganda campaigns those Chattanooga folks were enduring, I can start to understand why some who might be undecided would vote no. It’s sad to think about how little effort it takes to convince people unions suck, or at least shouldn’t be fully trusted.
I suppose you’re wondering why I put the word hope in the title of this post.
It’s this: even with all of the millions spent by the likes of Carl Rove and the Koch brothers, even with the threats from the state and local governments, even with the alleged prearranged semi-sellout by the UAW, the election in Chattanooga was decided by less than a hundred votes, 712 to 626. Mr. Greenhouse of the Times buried a hopeful little nugget under his pile of pessimism that I think bears highlighting: if just forty-four people had voted yes instead of no, that plant would be a union shop.
The people of Tennessee aren’t all anti-union. Quite the contrary; they’re organizing themselves. Private sector union density is actually increasing there, as well as in Georgia. And North Carolinians are mobilizing, too.
So, let’s not give up quite yet.