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“Travesty In Chattanooga”: Republicans Making Sure Their Own People Are Kept In As Submissive A Position As Possible

I wish I could say I’ve never seen the likes of the campaign of intimidation that led to the vote against UAW representation at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Friday. But I did, as a child growing up in a Georgia textile company town in the early 1960s, where public schools began the year on Labor Day, the word “union” was not said out loud, and people still graphically remembered National Guardsmen being called out to break a strike at Callaway Mills back in 1935—the same year Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act.

I’m a little rusty on my labor law, but I’m reasonably sure that any employer who issued the sorts of threats made by Republican politicians in Tennessee (including Sen. Bob Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam, and a variety of state legislators, backed by national conservative figures like Grove Norquist) against a unionization effort would have been in blatant violation of the NLRA. But that’s what makes the incident such a travesty: it wasn’t the employer fighting the union (VW by all accounts was neutral-to-positive towards unionization, which would have facilitated establishment of the kind of “work council” the company had set up at other international plants to help maintain good employer-employee relations). As Brent Snavely of the Detroit Free Press reported (probably incredulously):

The crusade by anti-union forces in Tennessee, including the state’s governor and senior senator, is as much a fight with Volkswagen management as with the UAW.

Not only are Republican legislators accusing Volkswagen of backing the UAW, some of their leaders on Monday threatened to withhold tax incentives for future expansion of the three-year-old assembly plant in Chattanooga if workers vote this week to join the UAW.

So addicted are Tennessee Republicans to the “race to the bottom” approach to economic development that they are willing to risk the good will of an existing employer in their zeal to make sure their own people are kept in as submissive a position as possible. President Obama’s reported comment during a Democratic retreat last week that the pols involved in this union-busting effort are “more concerned about German shareholders than American workers” is one way to put it; I’d say they’ve internalized the ancient despicable tendency of the southern aristocracy to favor the abasement of working people as an end in itself.

This incident is also a pretty good symptom of the radicalization of the Republican Party. It’s one thing to oppose collective bargaining rights for public employees, or to defend “right-to-work” laws that interfere with the contracting rights of employers and employees and create “freeriders” who benefit from union collective bargaining without paying dues. But now the very existence of private-sector unions, a familiar part of the American landscape for most of the last century, is under attack from Republican politicians.

I thought it was bizarre when SC Governor Nikki Haley said in her 2012 State of the State address: “We don’t have unions in South Carolina because we don’t need unions in South Carolina.” Turns out she was ahead of the curve.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 17, 2014

February 18, 2014 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Unions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Preserving The Race To The Bottom”: Just How Much Do Republicans Hate Unions?

If you ask Republicans about their antipathy toward unions, they’ll say that letting workers bargain collectively reduces a company’s ability to act efficiently in the marketplace. If you knew anything about business, the market advocates will patiently explain, you’d understand that unions, with all their rules and conditions and strike threats, only make it harder for the company to make its products. Let management make decisions about things like wages and working conditions, and the result will be higher profits and more jobs, which will benefit everyone. In almost all cases, the corporation agrees; after all, union workers always earn better wages than their non-union counterparts, and they give power to the employees, which no CEO wants.

What most people probably don’t realize is that this inherently hostile relationship between management and unions isn’t something that’s inherent in capitalism. In fact, in many places where there are capitalists making lots of money, corporations work—now hold on here while I blow your mind—cooperatively with unions. One of those places is Germany, and one of the biggest German companies, Volkswagen, is right now embroiled in a union election in Tennessee that has turned into a bizarre spectacle that is showing the true colors of American conservatism. If you thought conservative were just laissez faire capitalists, seeking freedom for businesses to create prosperity, you’re dead wrong. What they actually want is something much uglier.

On Monday, our own Harold Meyerson explained the context and history driving this election, but the short version is that in its Chattanooga plant, Volkswagen wants to create a “works council” of the kind that companies in Germany use, which is a system where management and workers come together to set policies, plan strategy, and solve problems. The details of U.S. labor law require a union if such a council is going to be created, which is one reason VW has seemed supportive of the United Auto Workers organizing the plant. Although VW hasn’t come out and said they support the union, the signals they’ve sent strongly suggest that they do. “Our works councils are key to our success and productivity,” said the VW executive who runs the Chattanooga plant.

So faced with a union-friendly corporation, what have Republicans in the state done? One might expect them to say, “Every company should have the freedom to decide how to deal with its own workers; we may not be big fans of unions, but that freedom is what capitalism is all about,” or something like that. But no. The Republican governor and state legislators have begun issuing threats that there won’t be any future tax incentives for the company if the union wins the election. In other words, tax incentives are vital to bring jobs to the state—but if they’re union jobs, we don’t want them. We’d rather see our constituents unemployed than see them get jobs with union representation. So what you now have is Republicans fighting against a corporation to try to impose their vision of management-labor relations, one the corporation doesn’t want.

Then yesterday, Republican Sen. Bob Corker claimed, “I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.” There are two things to understand about Corker’s statement. First, it doesn’t pass the smell test: the Chattanooga plant is the only Volkswagen factory in the world that doesn’t have a union, and the company has already made its good relationship with unions in general, and its desire for a works council there in particular, quite clear. And second, that kind of blatant attempt to intimidate workers into voting against the union when the election is going on is probably illegal, and could result in the election being halted and rescheduled.

What this issue has revealed is that while one might have thought that as far as conservatives are concerned, the creation of workplaces in which employees are given low wages and few benefits, and generally treated like crap, was merely a means to an end, the end being corporate profits and maximum freedom for business owners. But what we’re now seeing is that a powerless and beaten-down workforce isn’t a means to a larger end, and it isn’t a byproduct. It is the end in itself. It’s the goal. Here you have a highly profitable company that wants to have a more cooperative relationship with its workers, and obviously sees a union as a path to that relationship, because they know that they can work that way with unions, since they do it already all over the world. But the Republican politicians don’t care about what the corporation wants. They are so venomously opposed to collective bargaining that they’ll toss aside all their supposed ideals about economic liberty in a heartbeat.

One of the absurd arguments they’ve made is that other companies, like suppliers, won’t want to come to Tennessee if there’s a unionized auto plant there, as though it were some kind of infection others would fear they might catch. That’s ridiculous, of course—if you have a company that makes car parts, and VW wants to buy thousands and thousands of your parts, you’re damn sure going to set up shop next to their factory if that’s the best way to make money. What Republicans are really afraid of is that the union will come in to the Chattanooga plant and things will work well. If that happened, the rationale for the race to the bottom would be severely undermined. And the idea that corporations can do well by treating their employees like partners and not like enemies might indeed spread.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 13, 2014

February 14, 2014 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Unions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Those Dreaded Unions”: Republicans Who Meddle With Profit-Making Business

It’s no secret that many Republican lawmakers dislike labor unions, which are big supporters of Democrats. But it’s unusual to see a politician willing to castigate an employer in his state just for talking to union officials about setting up a union at its factory.

Consider the case of Bob Corker, the Republican senator from Tennessee, and Volkswagen, the German automaker that employs 2,000 workers at a plant in Chattanooga. As my colleague Steven Greenhouse reported last week, the company is working with the United Auto Workers on a plan to unionize its factory so it can establish what is known as a “works council” in Germany. These councils are essentially committees of workers that meet with management to discuss how to improve conditions and productivity. Some studies have found that plants with such committees have higher productivity and wages than factories without them, which is why both workers and management might want them.

But Mr. Corker appears to have never seen a union he liked. In an interview with the Associated Press, he called Volkswagen’s decision to engage in these talks “incomprehensible” and said the company would become a “laughingstock in the business world” if it went ahead with the plan. His criticism is particularly strange because he is reported to have played a big role in bringing Volkswagen to Chattanooga, where he was once mayor. To be fair, Mr. Corker is not alone; the governor of his state, the Republican Bill Haslam, is also opposed to the Volkswagen-U.A.W. plan.

The lawmakers say they are worried that a unionized Volkswagen plant would somehow ruin the investment climate in the state and compel other companies not to invest there. A more realistic explanation for why the lawmakers oppose the U.A.W.’s foray into their state is that they fear it will support the state’s Democratic party.

The strangest thing about Mr. Corker’s and Mr. Haslam’s criticism of Volkswagen is that Republicans are usually on the ones telling everybody else in government not to meddle in the affairs of profit-making businesses. After all, it’s their mantra that businesses, not lawmakers, create jobs. But I guess none of that matters in this case because even a company as successful and profitable as Volkswagen, which is competing with Toyota and General Motors to be the world’s largest automaker, must be deluded if it’s entertaining the possibility of working with a dreaded union.

 

By: Vikas Bajaj, Editors Blog, The New York Times, September 12, 2013

September 13, 2013 Posted by | Businesses, Unions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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