by Paul Garver
Attributing its narrow loss at the Chattanooga VW plant to outrageous outside interference by anti-union special interest groups and right-wing politicians, on 21st February the UAW formally filed objections to the election with the NLRB. This is new legal terrain, since the electoral misconduct stemmed not as customary from management but from misleading and coercive statements by right-wing politicians and wealthy anti-union organizations.
The success of the UAW’s novel legal appeal is far from certain, despite its evident justification. It is also uncertain, even if a new election is granted, whether the union would prevail in an unchanged hostile external political environment and continuing opposition to the union by some workers. However a new combination of political mobilization in the community and renewed organizing efforts by pro-union VW workers and their families can succeed.
I went away from a workshop with renewed hope at the recent Labor Notes conference in Chicago addressed by Volkswagon workers and by Chris Brooks, of Chattanooga Organized for Action. The workers and Chris explained with passion and clear analytical thinking how the union came close to victory, only to be blindsided by a massive anti-union campaign fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars from shadowy outside special interests.
Although Volkswagon as a corporate entity largely respected the neutrality agreement it had made with the UAW (under pressure from its Works Council), the pro-union workers and the UAW were taken by surprise by this unprecedented outside interference. Union organizers have learned by harsh experience that the all too often successful objective of last minute massive anti-union propaganda is not to persuade the workers, but to paralyze their wills by sowing confusion and dissension. A significant number of workers who have signed union cards lose their courage to vote for change, and vote NO in the hope that the strident noise and turmoil will just go away. Normally the source of this progaganda is company management itself and its hired consultants, and so it was not naive for the UAW to believe that it would win an honest vote if the company remained neutral.
With perfect 20-20 hindsight, it is logical to argue that the union should have mobilized its community supporters and used house visits and other methods to win deeper support from workers and their families in order to resist an anti-union onslaught. However who could have foreseen that, even as VW itself remained neutral, other more sinister forces would openly take up the cudgel against the union, leading to its narrow defeat?
The active worker core represented on their plant Leadership Council were stunned and dismayed by their unexpected loss. But they have learned the lessons for the future. Whether or not the NLRB challenge overturns the union’s defeat (and there appears to be no legal precedent), in a new election the pro-union will have to directly confront the likelihood of another savage external onslaught. This means that there will have to be much deeper support among the workers and much more community mobilization outside the factory itself. Just as it took over a decade of up and down struggle for the UFCW to organize the giant Smithfield pig slaughtering plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, it may take decades for the union to unionize the Chattanooga VW plant. But if the courage and determination of the UAW activists and Chris Brooks persevere and continue to typify the struggle, and provided that the UAW continues to provide sufficient resources, they will ultimately prevail.
While an electoral victory at the VW Chattanooga plant would have greatly encouraged the prospects of union victories at the Vance, Alabama, Mercedes plant and the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, the UAW is continuing its drive to organize auto assembly and auto parts plants in the South. The union is currently in the midst of an NLRB hearing charging that Mercedes management in Alabama is not abiding by the neutrality agreement reached between parent company Daimler-Benz and the UAW, brokered by its German Works Council. Members of the German auto workers union IGMetall from the Daimler Works Council have visited Alabama to encourage and support the workers. The UAW has managed to win union representation rights at two Alabama auto parts plants that supply the Mercedes plant in Vance, though the union recently lost a third election. The German union IGMetall, and the global union federation responsible for the auto sector, IndustriALL have been providing invaluable support for the UAW’s Southern organizing drive.
Filed under: Busting the union busters, Conferences and Events, Global organizing, Organizing, Politics, Solidarity, The enemy, Uncategorized Tagged: | Alabama, Chattanooga, IGMetall, IndustriALL, Labor Notes Conference, Mercedes, Nissan, NLRB, UAW, United Auto Workers, VW