Feb 17, 2014
When votes were tallied in the UAW election at the Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Friday, February 14th, 712 workers had voted against union representation while 626 had supported going union. Approximately 89 per cent of the around 1500 workers voted.
When the election was lost, the press celebrated what they labeled “a disaster.” Headlines read, “crushing defeat” and “crippling blow” to the UAW and its efforts to organize what are commonly known as the “transplants.” For their part, the right wing politicians and capitalism’s spokesmen in Tennessee were outright gleeful.
Even those sympathetic to the Union said that the failure of this drive means that workers in these Southern plants will never be organized. As one professor put it, “If the union can’t win (in Chattanooga), it can’t win anywhere.”
All of this high drama and all of these sweeping conclusions over one organizing drive in one plant! To say the least, the politicians, the press, the commentators have their opinions and agendas.
But what matters is what workers take out of it. What matters is how unorganized and organized workers alike view the question of organizing themselves and others and making a fight to defend their interests.
From the remarks of some of the workers interviewed, it became clear that at least some VW workers feared that the policy of the UAW would lead to a worse, not better, situation for them in the plant. The UAW had already agreed to support VW’s model of workers’ councils and to represent the workers over benefits and wages only. It was clear that some workers didn’t see an advantage to having the UAW as a third wheel in light of that arrangement. The question would be, “If management would cooperate with the workers, who needed the union in the equation?” In addition, many of the workers interviewed referenced two-tier and plant closings and said, “Why run the risk to end up with an even worse wage arrangement?”
The UAW leadership blamed the defeat on “outside special interest groups,” on the governor and the politicians, and said that those attacking the organizing drive were attacking “labor-management cooperation.” But it is precisely their policy of cooperation that has led workers in factories, organized and not organized alike, to distrust the results this type of leadership brings.
Today, the UAW brags about leading the struggle for the rise of a new auto industry from the ruins of an economic recession. After billions of dollars transferred into the pockets of the auto aristocracy, after concession after concession from the workers, resulting in the lowering of wage and benefit levels, the UAW points to the profitability of the companies as proof that cooperation works.
Is it any surprise that unorganized workers don’t see the win in that? And those who say, “until the transplants are organized, it will be impossible to defend wages in the organized plants” are wrong.
Workers need a fighting policy in the UAW and all the unions; a policy that makes no pretense at cooperating and calls for a fight to regain the wages and benefits all workers have lost. A policy for a fight that attacks and tears up two-tier and flexible shifts and shortened breaks and all the other insults and indignities that have been forced upon us and called “cooperation” by union leadership. A fighting policy to shorten the workweek and share available work out among all workers.
When a fighting strategy results in the power to push the bosses back, unorganized workers will rise to fight for their share as well. They will want to be organized. It will feel good and powerful and right. They won’t be asking for permission; they will organize and join workers in the organized factories in the fight for a better life.