Volkswagen’s UAW Vote


By now everyone has heard the disappointing news (among the adjectives used to describe it are “devastating” and “disastrous” and “crushing”) out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where workers at a Volkswagen plant voted, by a margin of 712-626, to reject membership in the United Auto Workers (UAW). Volkswagen management remained neutral throughout the organizing campaign.

Granted, because hopes were running so high, no one is going to tell you this wasn’t a bitter defeat. Prior to the vote, Bob King, president of the UAW, had gone on record as saying that the key to the UAW’s continued existence (having once had 1.5 million members, the union is now down to approximately 380,000) was being able to organize the auto plants in the American South, and that this Chattanooga vote was an absolutely essential first step.

King deserved credit for not equivocating or resorting to those weasel words you hear politicians use whenever they receive bad news. I remember, during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, when Christopher Dodd learned that a recent opinion poll had placed him at an unprecedented zero-percent. Instead of weeping, he went on Meet the Press, and said with a big grin, “We’ve got a lot of room to grow.”

But disappointment aside, let’s take an objective look at what happened. First, this occurred in the Heart of Dixie, where only 50 years ago, African-Americans weren’t allowed to attend the same schools, eat at the same restaurants, or drink from the same water fountains as white people, and where anti-union sentiment was and still is a way of life. To southerners, the very word “union” (as in Union vs. Confederacy) dredges up bad memories. Trying to get a UAW plant down there was a monumentally ambitious undertaking.

Second, Tennessee’s governor, Bill Haslam, and its U.S. Senator, Bob Corker played dirty pool. They bombarded workers with histrionic, semi-legal threats, suggesting that if the UAW gained a foothold, Volkswagen would not only move its operations to Mexico, but no carmaker in the world would ever again set up shop in Tennessee. Those threats were both hysterical and deceitful. For one thing, Germany is heavily unionized; for another, every Volkswagen plant except this one is represented by a labor union.

And third, let’s look at the numbers. The vote was 712 to 626, with approximately 170 workers not even bothering to fill out ballots. It failed to pass by a mere 87 votes. If the abstainers had voted, or if only 45 people, out of more than 1,330 had voted the other way, the UAW would’ve won. That’s how close it was. That’s how close this Tennessee plant, right, smack in the Heart of Dixie, came to becoming a UAW facility.

Instead of seeing this as a devastating, disastrous and crushing defeat, the UAW should be encouraged by its remarkable showing against staggering odds. Some years ago I was tangentially involved in a certification vote at a manufacturing plant in Utah. Nearly 70-percent of the workers had filled out cards asking the NLRB to hold a union election. Even with 70-percent signing cards, the workers rejected the union. The final vote was 130 to 14. Now that’s “devastating.”

David Macaray is an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”).  dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving