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A Titanic Defeat

[ 191 ] February 15, 2014 |

The United Auto Workers lost its attempt to unionize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga after Tennessee politicians interfered to defeat the vote when VW acquiesced to unionization.

In a defeat for organized labor in the South, employees at the Volkswagen plant here voted 712 to 626 against joining the United Automobile Workers.

The loss is an especially stinging blow for U.A.W. because Volkswagen did not even oppose the unionization drive. The union’s defeat — in what was one of the most closely watched unionization votes in decades — is expected to slow, perhaps stymie, the union’s long-term plans to organize other auto plants in the South.

A retired local judge, Samuel H. Payne, announced the vote results inside VW’s sprawling plant after officials from the National Labor Relations Board had counted the ballots. In the hours before the votes were tallied, after three days of voting at the assembly plant, both sides were predicting victory.

The vote this week came in a region that is traditionally anti-union, and as a result many said the U.A.W. faced an uphill battle. The union saw the campaign as a vital first step toward expanding in the South, while Republicans and many companies in Tennessee feared that a U.A.W. triumph would hurt the state’s welcoming image for business.

It’s hard to overstate what a terrible defeat this is. Here you had the company suggesting the UAW enter their plant so they could create the American version of the German works council that would be illegal without a union election (would violate the company union provisions of the National Labor Relations Act). The UAW will never receive a more favorable opportunity in the American South and just like its failures in the 90s, it came up short. From what I have read so far, it does not seem the UAW messed up the campaign. They did agree with VW to not do home visits, since those went against German union norms. If the UAW had conducted home visits, no doubt they would have more effectively fought back Bob Corker and Grover Norquist and the outside group propaganda. But if they had pushed home visits from the beginning, they wouldn’t have had a campaign because VW wouldn’t have gone along.

So why did it fail? We can’t blame it all on the politicians and scaremongering. Yes, that probably clinched the failure, but it did not turn 712 votes. There were almost certainly several hundred no votes from the beginning. Why? First, the white South has always been very difficult to organize. A combination of ideas of self-reliance, the fact that unions are seen as something northern with Yankee ideas, the impact of evangelical religion, and a culture that united rich whites and poor whites through racial solidarity that also created other ties within communities that cut across class have all made unionization strikingly difficult. For an additional example of the last point, see how the people of West, Texas rallied around the fertilizer plant owner last year after his facility caused an explosion that wiped out half the town. They went to church with him after all. So there are long, historical struggles to unionize white workers here that go back to the textile towns of southern Appalachia in the 20s and the failure of Operation Dixie in 1946. And while I have not seen any demographics on the racial breakdown of workers in Chattanooga, pretty much all I’ve seen in interviews are white; at the very least, it seems to lean pretty heavily white. So outside groups tainting the UAW with Obama no doubt helped, but it doesn’t explain 712 votes.

There’s also the specter of capital mobility looming over the plant. Even though VW said it wasn’t moving the plant, this was a major theme of the outside groups and it does seem to have affected some workers. Despite left-leaning labor activists beating up Big Labor for a lack of union democracy, far and away the top reason for labor’s decline is the jobs disappearing to nonunion states and to foreign nations. Given what capital mobility did to Detroit and the subsequent almost mythological role Detroit has played in American culture, it becomes easy to taint the UAW with the decline of Detroit, which was a central part of the anti-union strategy. On top of that, the UAW having to agree to two-tiered contracts so the Big Three auto makers would keep jobs in Michigan and Ohio, contracts that drastically lowered wages for new workers, did not lend itself to potential new members thinking the UAW was going to make their lives better. That’s a tough spot for the UAW to be in and the blame goes to capital mobility because if the UAW doesn’t agree, those jobs are gone and Lansing and Toledo and other union towns are just dead. So long as corporations can move at a whim, it will be tremendously difficult for labor to win meaningful victories.

But I think another major reason for this loss was that it was never clear to many workers why they were joining a union. Some claim to have been UAW members in the past and had a bad experience, which is the kind of low-level complaining fairly common in all unionized workplaces, often by people who lost a grievance or who screwed up and the union didn’t take on their hopeless case, or they weren’t friends with the shop steward, or whatever. Who knows. But in any case, the usual union victory results from dissatisfied workers organizing with demands. That really wasn’t the case here. To quote a union organizer friend of mine, “If the vote becomes “Can we trust the Union?” instead of “Should we unite to solve our problems?”, the boss wins.” I think this is fundamentally what this vote was about.

The UAW is considering filing to have the election thrown out because of Bob Corker’s intimidation and there is a real chance he crossed the line. But this is probably a dead campaign. And it’s hard to see how the UAW or any union comes into southern factories and wins major victories at this point. Incredibly dispiriting.

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  1. Barry Freed says:

    This is horrible news. One thing I don’t fully follow though, were the home visits that much of a deal breaker for VW? Surely if they wanted the union as it seemed they did and the home visits were the best way to ensure that the UAW would win why wouldn’t they go along with them even if they didn’t follow German union norms?

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Home visits are very anti-German and a real violation of the German sense of privacy. German unions do not use this tactic.

      • Dana Houle says:

        But I think this is damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I can’t speak much about German labor tactics, but I know from electoral campaigns there is nothing more effective than a well-trained canvasser–particularly a neighbor or someone else you know–talking to you about the issues and candidates. And there’s been tons of polling within labor that shows the most effective persuasion for electoral politics–for which they typically don’t have as aggressive and active an opposition in the workplace–is person-to-person either in the workplace or at their home.

        For all the reasons it’s tough to organize in the South, it would have been hard to win against the outright opposition of VW; it probably would have ended like all the attempts to organize Nissan. But with the neutrality of VW, they still probably needed to do everything they could, and not having home visits in an area that’s fairly anti-union (and with a workforce that’s probably nearly all or entirely white) may have made it nearly impossible to win.

        Finally, I bet “Detroit” was used as a synonym for the UAW, and as a social and ideological construct “Detroit” includes a lot of negative meaning about race that was tough to overcome.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Yeah, I don’t disagree on the home visit thing–but I’m not sure how this could have been overcome.

          And certainly on Detroit and the racialized language.

          • Dana Houle says:

            If it couldn’t have been overcome, it would probably have been better to not have the campaign. Kind of like in Michigan in 2012, when it would have been better to not put the collective bargaining question on the ballot, since it’s nearly impossible to get a yes vote on a controversial ballot question in Michigan.

        • Dana Houle says:

          Also, a lot of people find unions as largely inseparable from the Democratic party. The counties around Chattanooga went for Romney by margins of 20 to 50 points. That had to have made it harder for the UAW.

          • Whatever says:

            Also, a lot of people find unions as largely inseparable from the Democratic party.

            That’s because the United Auto Workers **is** inseparable from the Democratic party.

            Forced union dues collection on behalf of Democratic candidates probably doesn’t play well in Republican areas, I suspect.

            • Dana Houle says:

              Forced union dues collection on behalf of Democratic candidates

              Thanks for demonstrating your complete ignorance of labor and campaign finance law.

              • Davis X. Machina says:

                He left out the thugs. How is that even possible?

                Remember when we had real trolls? Me, I think it’s all being done now out of boiler rooms in Chennai.

                • James E. Powell says:

                  What’s more shocking is that he didn’t mention affirmative action. Everyone knows that unions are one of the main reasons your brother-in-law lost his job to a [insert racist epithet] and now all he does is drink.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Here’s the thing, though. Unions are correctly seen as helpful to the Democratic Party. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but it’s totally true.

                  And that probably costs unions votes among Republican workers.

              • Whatever says:

                That fact that you can personally opt-out doesn’t change the fact that the UAW is a huge money conduit to the Democratic Party.

                A union that didn’t do that might have an easier time in areas that vote Republican.

                • Dana Houle says:

                  The fact that you have to opt-in for contributions to the PAC, and the only contributions that go to candidates or parties are from the PAC shows that your vehemence and certitude on this are matched by your complete ignorance of the subject.

                • Donalbain says:

                  The fact that you can opt out doesn’t change the fact that you are forced to do it!

                • Dana Houle says:

                  Opt out and opt in are not like “inflammable.” They have different meanings. You have to opt in for the PAC.

                • Haystack says:

                  And maybe if the Republican Party hadn’t been beating up on unions since the first Gilded Age.

                  And maybe if fair conditions and decent wages were seen as reasonable expectations in right wing circles.

                • Scott S. says:

                  That fact that you can personally opt-out of pancakes doesn’t change the fact that the IHoP is a huge syrup conduit to the Democratic Pancake.

                  A waffle that didn’t do that might have an pancakier time in areas that vote Pancake.

                • kindasorta says:

                  Dues support the organization, and cannot be used to support a political campaign. Political action committee contributions are used to support a political campaign, and cannot be used to support the organization.

                  You owe dues as a member. You do not owe PAC contributions, ever, to belong.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  You guys are relying way too much on technicalities.

                  It’s perfectly clear that unions provide all sorts of support to Democrats, and increased unionization would benefit the Democrats. That is still true even if the mechanism isn’t a direct monetary contribution.

                • jb says:

                  It’s perfectly clear that unions provide all sorts of support to Democrats, and increased unionization would benefit the Democrats. That is still true even if the mechanism isn’t a direct monetary contribution.

                  Look, the main reason they do this is because the Republican Party, and those who fund it absolutely despise unions, and have been working to destroy them for over three decades. While the national Democratic party is not exactly great with regard to unions either, it is at least not openly hostile to them. Why should the unions not work against the Republican party, given that it openly wants them dead?

                  Moreover, there are plenty of local unions who even in spite of this will help Republican candidates. The police and fire unions in my city, for example, almost always endorse the GOP.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Jb:

                  I think unions should support Democrats. I have no problem with that.

                  I’m just saying because that is true, union supporters need to understand that it probably is going to cause some Republican workers to be more skeptical of unions, and it isn’t an answer to that to point to technicalities about how union dues may be spent.

            • DrDick says:

              It is also the case that Management and capital wholly own the Republicans. You can hardly expect the unions to give money to people actively working to destroy them, can you?

            • Elissa J says:

              Unions belong to the left and the Dems in the same way that the GOP and conservatives belong to the 1% and corporate rule. When americans wake up to the fallacy of “right to work” and the destruction of opportunity for the vast majority of americans to good jobs that is when they will shift their vote.

        • Marek says:

          I forgot that the UAW workers in Detroit were public employees whose pensions bankrupted the city. Stupid me.

          • Bill in Section 147 says:

            Surely demanding pensions caused the fall of Babylon or Rome something something. I think the issue is a little more complex than that. There was also a sales tax and Obama was a looming threat to prosperity.

          • Elissa J says:

            Ridiculous- mismanagement is partyless and belongs to all organizations to some extent. This fiscal collapse was brought to us by the GOP and rectified by a democratic president. Lets keep pointing the finger and forget that unions have stood for the American worker, their pay, their benefits, and a balance to corporate control.

          • another Holocene human says:

            Thanks a lot, Lardner. I just about died laughing just now.

          • another Holocene human says:

            Thanks a lot, pardner. I just about died laughing just now.

      • Scott Shuster says:

        Even with a card check neutrality agreements most Unions won’t go forward without clear super majority. One on One conversations are imperative and good ones can’t happen in the workplace. In a joint organizing project in Southern Indiana, (Former HERE,IBT and IUOE) A house call program was essential to overcome fear. It wasn’t going to work to just put up a table in the employee cafeteria and wait for workers to walk over – they were fearful.

        I remember people leaving Union meetings and going to Clan meetings. And workers didn’t gel so well with the college age “progressive activists” that were drop shipped in. I took lot of work to get workers to see that they had interests in common with others…

        But in the end there was a Union, and first contract and the politics of the workers had empowered themselves, gained a decidedly more a working class awareness and were much less racist.

  2. Steve LaBonne says:

    I don’t even know what to say. If an organizing campaign at a union-friendly employer can fail that badly, I just feel like sticking my head in the oven.

    • Aniston says:

      Steve,

      Calm down. Life will still go on if those who work in these factories don’t choose to unionize.

      • Steve LaBonne says:

        Obviously I’m not serious, but this makes me feel even more pessimistic than before about where this country is headed. And I deeply resent that we all get to be serfs because there are still so many racist assholes with the crab-bucket mentality.

    • DrDick says:

      I think that a big part of the problem is that Southern workers are indoctrinated from birth with the idea that unions are corrupt, take all of the workers’ money, and provide no real benefits. All lies, of course, but that is the prevailing narrative.

  3. IM says:

    Perhaps they should turn over the responsibility to IG Metall.

    home visits – data security. They had access at the work-place.

  4. Mister Twister says:

    Go here, scroll down and look at a picture of one of the billboards in the area:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-26203784

    • Anonymous says:

      What the billboard said is factual, is it not? Do you dispute the facts?

      They do, indeed, spend millions to elect liberal Democrats.

      Most workers in the area are Republican.

      They didn’t want the union. They voted it down.

      Elections have consequences, and something tells me the actual auto workers know their own interests better than a history professor at a third-rate public school.

      • JenBob says:

        No, no. NOOOOOOO……

        That’s not the way the liberal mind works. The workers are just rubes who need the guiding hand of Northern elites to make their decisions of life for them.

        • Anonymous says:

          Not “northern” per se, just Socialist. Apparently Loomis believes in the concept of the Vanguard Party since he thinks he knows better than the actual workers.

      • delurking says:

        You didn’t miss the last line in that story, did you?

        “Low wages have long been a selling point to lure big firms like Nissan and Boeing to the US south.”

        Scam the workers, get them to vote against their own interests, and then the company can pay them crap wages — having moved the factory away from areas that are pro-Union, where they have to pay living wages.

        Somehow you think this is good for the country.

        I know it’s good for the 1%. But explain to me how it’s good for the rest of us.

      • Mister Twister says:

        Um, that was the point. This was never going to fly in Tenn. because people there hate liberals. The billboard was a good way to stoke those feelings.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Your post really takes the cake.

    There is not one real reason that fits the progressive meme about why the workers rejected unionization so it’s “white people are stupid” or “they think it’s a yankee thing” or something else you simply make up.

    Bottom line is they just don’t want the fuckin’ union. When the fuck will you honor the will of those who voted?

  6. Whatever says:

    So outside groups tainting the UAW with Obama no doubt helped

    “Outside groups”? Obama publicly endorsed the organizing drive.

    Given the level of Obama’s unpopularity, that was probably a tactical error.

  7. doxastic says:

    Have there been any recent union victories (even small ones) in the south? And if so, did their campaigns differ in any significant way? I know those are two large-ish questions, but they may be worth considering in the coming days.

  8. rm says:

    Crossing ethical and legal boundaries has never been a problem in any sense for Bob Corker. It’s all bidness.

    • LosGatosCA says:

      He’s a politician. Worse, he’s a Republican. I can’t see how this can be a surprise.

      One view on sporting events when two teams are closely matched is who will suffer more severe consequences if they lose and then bet on that team to win.

      I think that view applies here. As demoralizing as this may be to regular folks, the Republican Koch Bros CoC and their lackeys had much, much more to lose here than the UAW. And they pulled out every stop. That’s pretty predictable generally – in today’s climate that’s to be expected times 10.

  9. Dennis Orphen says:

    Given all the reasons for a worker to vote no, getting as many as 626 votes seems almost like a victory for the union.

    • lawguy says:

      “Almost” as the man says only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades (and possibly curling).

      It is a terrible loss and does indicate how easy it is, in this country at least, to derail a union drive. I’ve worked on a couple and I was always amazed at how easy it would have been for the company to have derailed the organizing efforts.

  10. LosGatosCA says:

    it’s the South. These people don’t even know how to help themselves. I feel sorry for the 626 who resisted the peer pressure.

    This is the answer to how any gilded age happens – it’s not an increased intensity of the greedy rapacious corporate overlords – they are always pushing the envelope. No, it’s the mindless acquiescence of the regular folks reaching critical mass.

    What Ben Franklin said about our republic applies to a lot of things. These folks just don’t want to take on the responsibility for making their own decisions, better to be told what to do. Sad for them, really of no consequence for others.

    • Whatever says:

      it’s the South. These people don’t even know how to help themselves.

      They need to be carefully led by their social betters in Los Gatos, CA, obviously, since “these people” are incapable of looking out for their own interests.

      Good luck organizing people with that attitude.

      • LosGatosCA says:

        Honestly, I’m not interested in helping people who think ‘right to work’ and being at the bottom of educational investment and attainment is a good thing.

        There’s a reason why low wages, low educational levels, and high Republican participation go together.

        If the peasants are happy being peasants, there’s not much anyone else can do about it. I don’t see this as a union loss as much as the South being the South. Battered wife syndrome. Sad, but if they refuse help, it’s of no consequence to me.

        • Barry Freed says:

          but if they refuse help, it’s of no consequence to me.

          Of course it is of consequence to you and to all of us. If they remain anti-union then more companies will move there. This will cause a loss of jobs (and tax base) in the north with consequent knock-on effects and result in depressing wages for the rest of the country.

          This problem may appear intractable, it may well prove to be intractable, but we have to do our best to solve it. We’re all in this together.

          • LosGatosCA says:

            The only consequence is the need to be inventive and adapt the strategy to the constraints.

            The South is a cultural problem. Union organizers are not going to change the entire culture. So the consequence of that fact is that unions have to figure out how to work around it. Mainly, by not investing heavily (money or emotion) in Southern organizing activities.

            Easier said than done, I realize. However, the political / union setbacks in Wisconsin and Michigan are enormously more consequential than this vote in Tennessee.

            • Davis X. Machina says:

              the political / union setbacks in Wisconsin and Michigan are enormously more consequential than this vote in Tennessee.

              Only because they illustrate the extent to which we’re all Southerners now.

              The low-tax, low-social provision, low-regulation, anti-union regime based on service industries and resource extraction is now the normative model for the whole country, not just a region, pockets on the coasts notwithstanding, marching north side-by-side with the megachurches.

              And it’s also cultural. Come sit at a cafeteria table in my Maine exurban school (whitest state in the union, and the school district is 96.3% white) bitch about n*ggers and Mexicans.

              The interstate, television, and the Internet make it possible for all of us to hate the same people.

              One nation, indistinguishable, from sea to shining sea.

        • JL says:

          Leftists don’t spring fully formed out of the womb. There was a time that you didn’t know everything that you know now, too. People learn things. People change their minds about issues.

          Battered Woman Syndrome is itself a controversial theory, and its symptoms are increasingly recognized as often being rational rather than psychological. And, you know, there are people who make careers out of working with victims of intimate partner violence who are still with the abusive partner, so your “they refuse help” -> “Fuck ‘em” mentality is your own problem and your analogy is dubious.

      • Whatever says:

        Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, those boots are sweet to like, master.

    • JL says:

      This is pretty douchey. Almost half voted for a union in the face of political pressure, Bob Corker’s lies, and decades of cultural memes that unions are bad, and your takeaway is that they’re just idiots. Furthermore, they’re idiots because they’re from a place that you look down on. And your takeaway from a setback to organized labor around the region and country is that it’s no skin off of anyone else’s nose.

      If you think people in the South don’t understand the issues, organize and educate, or support the people who are doing so.

      • LosGatosCA says:

        In a democracy, there’s a heavy burden on the people to educate themselves and to be responsible for shaping their own destiny. It’s an imperfect world, at best, but when an entire region of a given country continually rejects the cultural norms of the rest there comes a time where the excuses for their collective behavior have to end.

        The people in Boston in the 18th century incited a revolution.

        The people in Tennessee (and Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, etc) continually vote to keep themselves disadvantaged economically, educationally, and safetywise (pollution) in the 21st.

        I think people should stop making excuses for them. This is who they are. This is what they want. Changing them is not going to work. The Civil War and Jim Crow proved what the challenge is.

        • LosGatosCA says:

          “Changing them is not going to work.”

          They have to want to change for themselves.

          And it’s proven that change in the South moves at a glacial pace.

        • JL says:

          Yes, the wonderfully pro-union cultural norms of the rest of the US. Like in Wisconsin or Michigan or Indiana where they elected anti-union governors and reaped the results. Or the 24 states, not all of which are in the South, with right-to-work laws. And how’s getting card check going? I seem to recall that McGovern, of all people, was opposing the EFCA a few years ago. And of course, Reagan was pretty bad for organized labor, and voters in a lot of the most liberal states in the country voted for him.

          The South might be doing worse, but US culture just hasn’t been very labor-friendly in recent years in general.

          Changing people’s views on the issues is not all that politics and social change are, but it’s a significant part of it. If you don’t believe that people can change other people’s views, there’s limited point in most political/activism activity in the US.

          I would also point out here that the South has higher concentrations of black people than the rest of the country, that four of the top ten states for percentage of adults who are LGBTQ are in the South, and that South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama have the fastest growing immigrant populations. You’re willing to throw them under the bus, apparently, in your disdain for Southern white people.

        • Aniston says:

          This is what they want.em>

          BINGO!

          Now you can go away

        • Whatever says:

          I think people should stop making excuses for them. This is who they are. This is what they want. Changing them is not going to work.

          So when are you going to organize all the workers at Apple, Facebook, and all the other big Silicon Valley firms, LosGatosCA, since they are all right by where you live?

          Since they’re not pig-ignorant Southerners, but highly evolved, well-educated Californians, union organizing elections in those companies should be a breeze, right?

          • LosGatosCA says:

            It’ll take some brainpower to apply here, but I’m expecting that you are up to the task.

            You need different institutions in different situations to help improve society’s general welfare.

            As I understand the role of a union it’s primarily to provide a FLOOR for workers in terms of dignity, safety, and wages. Where workers are disrespected, unsafe, or exploited economically there is a definite role for unions.

            That’s generally not the rule here in the Santa Clara Valley for tech workers.

            Consider how Walmart (a Southern company) treats its employees (or for that matter its suppliers and customers as well) and then consider that when Meg Whitman shoved an employee it cost her $200,000 and the employee returned to eBay. Or that an issue in San Francisco is how Google pampers its staff with its own commuter buses, etc.

            Those contrasts may be extreme, but there’s a lot more money, opportunity, and flexibility in how enterprises are structured in the valley. Generally when people sacrifice their dignity and/or quality of life here they are very well compensated for that sacrifice. (think startups or Oracle) That’s the general situation and is not meant to cover each and every circumstance.

            When Chattanooga (or even Tennessee) starts generating enterprises that grow from zero to $50-100B+ in market cap every 10 years or less, like clockwork, they won’t need unions to maintain a FLOOR for workers in terms of dignity, safety, and wages, either.

            • LosGatosCA says:

              This does not excuse employers here in the valley from exploiting workers in other locations, i.e. China, etc.

              So even though an employer like Apple is making its local staff rich through options, bonuses, pay, perks, that doesn’t excuse them from responsibility for mistreated staff at their suppliers, any more than it does for Walmart.

            • Whatever says:

              “Where workers are disrespected, unsafe, or exploited economically there is a definite role for unions.”

              And this is true of Volkswagen in Chattanooga?

              After seeing the comments on the thread about how Southerners refuse to unionize because they are stupid, ignorant, racist, unable to determine their own interests, the Civil War (ignoring that Eastern Tennessee was pro-Union, not pro-Conferderate), it’s interesting that the failure of California tech workers to unionize gets a pass, because California tech companies are so gosh-darn wonderful to their employees.

  11. Rhonda says:

    So sad that this happened. We the people need to start holding our politicians accountable for their statements. It was obvious the statement by those politicians were NOT in the best interest of the people in which they were hired to represent. It has become more and more obvious that our politicians are no longer interested in helping the people of this nation. In fact in many ways they are violating the constitution in the way they have done things. It’s time we the people start filing national suits against these politicians for treason and the like. Either have them removed from office and or jailed or both. As for the lose in the union vote it’s sad that the people voted against the union. I was raised in the union atmosphere when unions were strong. They did a wonderful job for the people in them. I am very proud to support union workers. I also know if a company treats their employees well and with respect and are fair treating then a union is not needed. But in today’s world that is hardly the case. Companies like the south because of their anti union mindset. Companies love that because they can treat them differently down there. Less pay, less benefits, bigger profits for the company and a higher bonus for the CEO. All while making the workers work harder for less. The Republican’s know this and since so many of our politicians are in the pockets of these corporations they don’t want unions organizing either. Which shows they are no longer working for the people of this nation. It’s to bad really that those in the south don’t see this as issues that in the long run affectively hurt them.

    • LeeEsq says:

      As Erik pointed out above, a lot of “we the people” like it when politicians make anti-union statements. I don’t, you don’t, and nearly everybody on this blog doesn’t but we aren’t all of the people. Large swathes of the American working class have always been anti-Union and this is particularly true in the South for a variety of reasons as Erik pointed out. During the late 19th and early 20th century, a lot of Southern workers in the mill towns were also opposed to unionization and legislation that would make their life better. We might not like that but they are the people just as we are.

  12. Will McJunkin says:

    It seems also the very nature of the German works council concept was a source of puzzlement to the workers in Chattanooga. I saw one quote where the gist was basically “why do I need a union to help me resolve issues with my boss when I can already go to him with problems?”

    • Brian says:

      It’s kind of a puzzle to me that so many in the hick South reject the “German works council” approach to labor-management relations. Particularly in light of the history of Germans conducting themselves so rationally, when they act collectively.

  13. Karen says:

    On the home visits: Okay, so if canvassing houses is out, what about churches? Did anyone try to have an information meeting at one of the churches? Those are just about the only social units in the South with any influence, and not all of them are of the Bob Jones University degree of crazy. It would require someone with some ties to the area before starting the drive, but if it’s important, it would be worth it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to play the devil’s advocate, but weren’t you just writing the other day about how poor people should have the right to eat junk food, get fat, and die in middle age if that is what they choose? How is choosing not to unionize any different? You can argue that their decision not to unionize drags down wages for other workers, but their decision to live unhealthy lives also affects others, as it results in increased health care costs which are generally paid by the rest of society.

    I do agree with you that there is something very Southern about this result. The thing that outsiders never seem to comprehend about us white Southerners is our pride. When you ask a man to join a union, you are asking him to self-identify as a member of a socially lower group, the working masses, as opposed to being just a member of his community who happens to work for VW. This is anecdotal, but in my experience, when I ask a blue collar Southern white guy what he does for a living, he will say, I work for XYZ Company. Not, I’m a pipe fitter at the XYZ plant, not I’m an electrician at the XYZ plant. They don’t see themselves as members of the oppressed proletariat, they just see themselves as typical corporate employees, and they would be embarrassed to identify in any other way.

    • JL says:

      Why should typical corporate employees and community members not be unionized? Why does being unionized require anyone to identify as socially lower?

      Also, why would taking pride in your particular craft of pipefitting, electricianry, or whatever, rather than the name of your company, signify that you consider yourself the oppressed proletariat? Most of the techies that I know, if you ask them what they do, describe themselves as a software developer, or a test engineer, or a computer security researcher (sometimes without even “at XYZ company”). I am pretty sure that almost none of them consider them to be lowering themselves, or behaving atypically as corporate employees for that matter, with this identification.

    • LosGatosCA says:

      “Pride”

      I think you are confusing that with the concept of ‘stubborn defensiveness.’

      I don’t think people misunderstand the South or Southerners. They get their values loud and clear.

      What we don’t understand is why self-mutilation is a source of ‘pride.’

      • SteveHinSLC says:

        “Pride”

        I think you are confusing that with the concept of ‘stubborn defensiveness.’

        Is there a difference?

        I guess the only silver lining for this is that the workers don’t feel a union is necessary because they feel they have a good situation already. Even without a union, I would bet that jobs at the VW plant are among the best that a blue-collar worker in that area of Tennessee could get.

        So the workers don’t see themselves as being oppressed, they see themselves as pretty well off.

        Of course, one of the main reasons those jobs are as good as they are is because of the rights working people and unions have won over the past 100+ years. But now that those rights have been “won”, I guess it’s understandable that the workers at the plant don’t see the need to unionize.

        But regardless of the reason why the union vote lost, I don’t think it’s productive to suggest that these workers voted against the union because they don’t know what’s really good for them.

    • Tyro says:

      I do agree with you that there is something very Southern about this result. The thing that outsiders never seem to comprehend about us white Southerners is our pride.

      But that’s why so many of the companies setting up shop are foreign and northern manufacturing concerns– they companies are not too prideful about taking help in the form of various tax and legal incentives. They’re lucky, too, that the employee base is too prideful to accept help to get higher wages and other workplace benefits.

  15. dp says:

    Some days I just think American workers get what they deserve for being morons and buying into this self-defeating bullshit.

    • LosGatosCA says:

      People is people, it’s human nature. Most people want to take the path of least resistance most of the time.

      FUD is a powerful deterrent to change, even when it’s a clear improvement.

      In this particular case, it also takes energy having to explain their Yes votes to the tribe. Easier to vote No and just move on with no immediate negative consequence.

  16. R. Porrofatto says:

    Should they ever be subjected to poor work conditions, wage cuts, or unfair treatment, those now guaranteed-to-be powerless 732 employees will only have to ask for help from Tennessee’s Republican State legislators. No problem.

    • LosGatosCA says:

      I think they fully understand that. And they’re good with it. That’s why they vote Republican every election cycle now.

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        Besides, they don’t need help, they’re too proud to ask for help, and any time they want they can just go into the corporate C-suite and negotiate mano-a-mano

        Like real Americans.

        • LosGatosCA says:

          Sadly, I think they believe they don’t deserve any help.

          Original sin or something.

          In any case, I know they don’t think anyone else (other than corporations) deserves help and if they are deprived in order to deprive others they are masochistically fine with that.

          The “pride” thing mentioned above to me seems to be a problem I once heard a mother describe about her own son when he became distraught –

          ‘he loses focus, starts making a few honest mistakes, gets defensive, makes it much worse by not admitting it to himself, and then he becomes so lost in it emotionally he has no way how to extricate himself from the problem. He can’t even ask for help because he’s too embarrassed.’

  17. bob mcmanus says:

    It is interesting how different the take is between the NYT and Wonkblog at WaPo. Critical to read both.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/02/14/united-auto-workers-lose-historic-election-at-chattanooga-volkswagen-plant/

    • Ralph Malf says:

      It’s called ‘Community Organizing’. You like community organizing, don’t you?

      The worker-to-worker outreach, by contrast, was carried out by a dedicated core of anti-union employees who handed out flyers, voiced their opposition through a website and social media, and held a big meeting one Saturday to make their case. “It just spread,” said Mike Jarvis, in a group gathered outside the press conference in the rain on Friday night, wearing blue T-shirts with a crossed-out UAW. “I told two people who told four people who told eight people, like a pyramid kind of thing.”

  18. jgh says:

    The late Joe Bageant tried to explain in a larger contex why people vote agaist themselves. His essays are still online.

  19. LeeEsq says:

    A lot of whats said about the difficulty of unionizing the South applies to America writ large. The American polity and society has been basically been based around the individual since day one. Anything communal in nature besides maybe churches has always been seen as un-American since the get go. Even some churches are suspect. I suspect that the more communal and highly organized nature of Catholicism compared to the more loose organization of Protestant churches is another reason why Americans had anti-Catholic views besides the normal Protestant prejudices.

    This distrust of communalism includes unions. Its also why unionization did best among immigrants and the children of immigrants from more communal, less individualistic backgrounds.

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      Anything communal in nature besides maybe churches has always been seen as un-American since the get go.

      I know there were once strong (and, I think, widespread) anti-Masonic sentiments. But the Elks, Odd Fellows, Grange, etc.—were they “seen as un-American since the get go”? I’d have said, rather, that they’ve always been as American as apple pie. And then there’s the American Legion and the VFW.

      • LeeEsq says:

        I’m going to argue that there is a difference between a social organization and a communal organization like a union. Its true that things like the Elks, Odd Fellows, and other groups were very popular about the time but they were more about socializing than looking out for other members. Some of the latter might happen incidentally but it wasn’t the point of the organization. They were also more petit bourgeoisie organizations than working class ones. Communal organizations are about looking after collective interests at the heart of their purpose.

        • Lee Rudolph says:

          I had had the impression (most strongly about the Black Elks, but also about the others, IOOO particularly—and now that I think of it, the Woodsmen as well) that they were specifically about “looking out for other members”. However, my impression is not based on deep reading and may well be wrong. Perhaps some professional historian with relevant expertise will chime in.

          • LeeEsq says:

            I suppose its how you define “looking after members.” My impression was that groups like the Odd Fellows, the Elks, and company were basically a bunch of people getting together to socialize in a somewhat outlandish fashion sort of like the Masons without any philosophy. They would provide some support but thats something inherent in most social organizations. It wasn’t the purpose though. They had no ideology so to speak of. Unions do have an ideology and communal purpose behind them in the way that the Elks did not.

            • Lee Rudolph says:

              I don’t know a good operational definition of “ideology” (I’m sure they’re out there), but the “stated purpose” of the Black Elks,

              that the welfare and happiness of its members be promoted and enhanced, that nobleness of soul and goodness of heart be cultivated, that the principles of charity, justice, brotherly & sisterly love, and fidelity be inculcated, that its members and their families be assisted and protected, and that the spirit of patriotism be enlivened and exalted

              (my bolding) seems to me like it might qualify, nu?

    • Anonymous says:

      This distrust of communalism communism includes unions.

      I that’s more accurate…

      • Tyro says:

        You have this in reverse. It was the heavily-unionized NATO countries that defeated the Communist Warsaw pact. Most people against unions, at their core, very much hostile to western civilization. The admiration that the right had for the submissive, lock-step loyalty of Communism is well known.

        • Davis X. Machina says:

          It was the heavily-unionized NATO countries that defeated the Communist Warsaw pact.

          With an assist from the heavily unionized workers of Poland’s Baltic coast shipyards… but workers in free countries don’t need unions, because freedom. Or something.

    • Anonymous says:

      This NE Irish Cath is just shaking his head at the blockheaded prods in KY., avoiding a course of action to improve their situation is in their DNA.

      In the excellent Documentary “Provos Loyalists and Brits” an Ulster unionist looks at the camera and comments on Catholic civil rights marches that took place before the blow up in Derry and says “they’re marching for rights that I don’t have”.
      Instead of joining the Caths he joins the B-Specials.

      Never gonna fix stupid.

    • jim, some guy in iowa says:

      would farm supply cooperatives count as “communal”? they’re all over farm country

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_cooperative

      also, rural electrification was done in large part through cooperative efforts. fact is my REC is also my internet provider

  20. Linnaeus says:

    I keep coming back to Rich Yeselson’s “Fortress Unionism” piece. I’m still not fully convinced by his argument, and some of the responses to him make good points, but given this setback and the setbacks that have happened in more union-friendly states, it might be necessary for organized labor to do a little retrenchment.

  21. Brian says:

    So the vote went against the UAW, in part because of “a culture that united rich whites and poor whites through racial solidarity that also created other ties within communities that cut across class have all made unionization strikingly difficult.”

    Can anyone explains precisely how this works?

    I mean, did any of the workers voting contra the UAW think to themselves “Sure, I might be getting screwed, but I’m getting screwing by my brother – a fellow white guy – and us white folks gotta stick together”? (As against the other white folks in the UAW trying to unionize these workers?)

    If that sounds like a sarcastic take, then can someone better explain exactly how racial solidarity could possible explain this vote?

    Or is is just that you have maybe 2 or 3 tools in your analytical toolbox (at best), and one them is race, so this is the best you got?

    • James E. Powell says:

      Racial solidarity is rather hard to understand unless one can accept that people do behave this way. It is not a tool in anyone’s box, but rather a way of looking at behavior and events in American history. It is rather hard to reach any understanding of American history without accounting for the many ways in which “whiteness” and perceptions of the same are the clearest and best explanations for what occurred or did not occur.

      The alternative is to suppose that people do not want their wages to increase nor their working conditions to improve.

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        The alternative is to suppose that people do not want their wages to increase nor their working conditions to improve.

        Sometimes you have to forgo wage increases. And work in less-than-optimal working conditions.

        Because freedom isn’t free, and this is all about freedom. I mean, it is all about freedom. It can’t be about race…

    • Paula says:

      It’s not just race — religion, too, which was used as in much the same way we use race today when it was large populations of immigrants coming from eastern Europe were populating cities and working in factories.

      People were not necessarily ignorant of the intellectual and social fights surrounding industrialization arising from Europe after 1848. People like Emma Goldman were seen as bringing something profoundly destabilizing and un-American and, yes, associated with unclean, lazy, non-WASP hordes.

      Or you can just read this.

      Or this.

      • LeeEsq says:

        Early anti-union political cartoons were also anti-immigrant, in this case German, political cartoons. You can find a lovely example of this in Gotham: A History of New York till 1898. The cartoon dates from the 1850s.

        Labor activists let alone in late 19th and early 20th century American had their greatest success in immigrant communities, who were already exposed to such arguments in Europe. When dealing with Protestant Americans, not so much. A lot of this was from more than a little cluelessness on the part of the activists. I don’t think they ever really understood that rhetoric that works in very hierarchal European monarchies doesn’t necessarily translate to a republic with a wide if imperfect franchise. Nor did they seem to appreciate the level of patriotism felt by a lot of ordinary Americans.

    • Ralph Malf says:

      If that sounds like a sarcastic take, then can someone better explain exactly how racial solidarity could possible explain this vote?

      I doesn’t. Loomis et al are mystified at why, when the company wasn’t even opposing unionization, that the workers chose not to. He cannot comprehend this because of his limited experience with the culture so he they make up stuff….because they really don’t know.

      • Pottsie says:

        Exactly. I’m as mystified as my sitcom friend here, because like him, I’m too stupid to click links.

      • Paula says:

        There’s no ideological imperative to write labor history from the left, but we can safely assume that there’s a certain amount of determinism there.

        I don’t know whether Loomis is an expert on Southern labor in particular, but certainly he’s within rights to base his ideas on the kinds of things that actually happened in labor history in America, which is a whole lot of laws and codes that he can actually, you know, read. Stuff like informal labor associations not allowing Black members, campaigns directed to Irish workers about the encroaching Asians or freed Blacks coming to take jobs, various court cases where “non-Aryan” persons sued to be considered White in order to gain access to certain rights — this is recorded history. No matter how much it is denied or dismissed as mere “feelings”, structural racism is part of America’s history.

  22. Bruce Vail says:

    As time goes by I suspect more importance will be attached to the role of Grover Norquist in all this.

    Norquist has a great network of Washington DC-based ultra-conservatives, which he apparently brought to bear in this fight.

    • Ralph Malf says:

      Didn’t liberals also bring on their “A” game??

      • Bruce Vail says:

        No, this wasn’t a ‘liberal’ campaign, it was a UAW campaign.

        UAW didn’t want to invite politicians and other third parties into the fight, because that would bring the Corkers and Norquists running. UAW would never be able to argue that Corkers comments spoiled the election, if they had brought other politicians in first.

  23. James E. Powell says:

    What makes it a “Titanic” loss? Will there be several movies made about it?

    Unions have always had a tough time in the south. Norma Rae after all, was not a documentary. A truly Titanic loss was Michigan Proposal 2 – If organized labor ever needed a win, it was that one. Also too, letting Scott Walker stay in office.

    While the Koch brothers and other real-life incarnations of Montgomery Burns play their role, the unions themselves are failing at selling higher wages and improved working conditions to people who certainly understand how both would change their lives.

    I am assuming people who care have studied why that happens. Any guidance on where one might start reading?

  24. Anonymous says:

    “A combination of ideas of self-reliance, the fact that unions are seen as something northern with Yankee ideas, the impact of evangelical religion, and a culture that united rich whites and poor whites through racial solidarity that also created other ties within communities that cut across class have all made unionization strikingly difficult.”

    • favedave says:

      I have to disagree with that characterization of the white culture in the south.
      Seems to me that culture is characterized by Cowardice and Stupidity.
      They were both very evident in the vote. Those that voted against the union were frightened by believing the crap spewed out by Republicans, talk radio and lower level salaried employees.
      They were told a pack of lies and, like frightened stupid children, they believed them.
      You see this time and time again – particularly in the south.
      They screw themselves because they’re afraid – of dark skinned people, of non-christian religions, of strange looking light bulbs.

      • another Holocene human says:

        They’re basically suck ups. Goes hand in hand with being lazy and slagging coworkers. When every one else is undeserving clearly one is justified in fucking off for fifteen and dumping work on others.

        The racism is just a self feeding cycle of rationalization, ass kissing, and lacking pride or work ethic.

  25. ProgressiveLiberal says:

    If this is how they want to be treated, better them than someone else.

    Hell, if they all wanted to sell themselves into slavery, I say let em. At least they made the choice on their own.

  26. Bert Gold says:

    Eric Loomis, I read your comment on Portside. I think you are very honest. You are much more honest than the head of UAW is. I have an honorable withdrawal card from both UAW and AFT AFL-CIO. I do something else for a living now… much more academic and impossible to unionize. But, the point is that, I grew up in a Union household and went to Unity House (ILGWU) for summer vacations and my parents lived until they died in Manhattan Union Sponsored housing. Unions cannot make it unless governments defend them. The days of huge walk-outs and goon squads are over. So, the term you use, dispiriting, is exactly right on, unfortunately. Read today’s NYTimes: The article about small business exporting it’s labor needs to developing countries at a fraction of the cost of American labor, through brokers… dispiriting is the word. Truly, either the end of unions (for my lifetime: I am 60 this year); or their marginalization for the foreseeable future. Yes, dispiriting is the word.

  27. Jake says:

    To be a young or middle-aged white man in a state like Tennessee, is, I think, to be heavily predisposed to vote Republican. That will never change. If the tastes of young, middle-aged white men in states like Tennessee change, so to will the Republican party.

    This was a vote dictated by emotional and/or ideological concerns, rather than the economic interests of the workers.

    The canary in the coal mind for me was the apparent fact that everyone from the management on down viewed the vote as a precursor to a “Work Council” form of governance, but even the workers who favored the Work Council voted against joining the Democratic Party, err, joining the union.

  28. [...] By Erik Loomis   Lawyers, Guns & Money [...]

  29. TW Andrews says:

    To what extent would it be possible for VW to get an exemption from the NLBR to have a German-style work council in the absence of a dedicated union?

  30. Nathan of Perth says:

    “Some claim to have been UAW members in the past and had a bad experience, which is the kind of low-level complaining fairly common in all unionized workplaces, often by people who lost a grievance or who screwed up and the union didn’t take on their hopeless case, or they weren’t friends with the shop steward, or whatever.”

    Well it’s not like Unions don’t commit actual real screw-ups as well, not all workers who claim to have had bad experiences can be dismissed this way. A local union rep is a human being after all, and there are few things as likely to give a person a bad experience as a human being!

  31. [...] Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns, and Money does a great job analysing several aspects of this story. The issues surrounding capital mobility he raises are crucial to understanding why VW and other foreign automakers have opened factories in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi. He also calls a measure of bullshit on the argument that has been made by union leadership that “outside groups” were responsible for the defeat of the UAW, noting that the conservatism of white Southerners (who dominated the voter pool in the election) is hardly a new development. As such, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Grover Norquist should not be handed a victory trophy for what amounts to the UAW shooting themselves in the leg. [...]

  32. Derek Voorhees says:

    OK, I’m going to display my naievete. I don’t have much firsthand experience with unions and their attendant politics, but as a car guy who’s always been interested in the process, I have to ask a question I haven’t seen posed here:

    What if the working environment and benefits at VW aren’t bad enough to inspire union participation?

  33. [...] Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns, and Money does a great job analysing several aspects of this story. The issues surrounding capital mobility he raises are crucial to understanding why VW and other foreign automakers have opened factories in Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi. He also calls a measure of bullshit on the argument that has been made by union leadership that “outside groups” were responsible for the defeat of the UAW, noting that the conservatism of white Southerners (who dominated the voter pool in the election) is hardly a new development. As such, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Grover Norquist should not be handed a victory trophy for what amounts to the UAW shooting themselves in the leg. [...]

  34. [...] if workers had voted to unionize. There were, of course, other factors in the loss. As Erik Loomis points out ”There were almost certainly several hundred no votes from the beginning” in a [...]

  35. [...] * After Historic UAW Defeat at Tennessee Volkswagen Plant, Theories Abound. A Titanic Defeat. [...]

  36. [...] work with community groups, the cultural divide with the South was too wide to bridge, there was no real oppressor to organize [...]

  37. [...] to work with community groups, the cultural divide with the South was too wide to bridge, there was no real oppressor to organize [...]

  38. [...] to two percent of their income in dues payments. As the very shrewd labor historian Erik Loomis wrote, in a sharp campaign post-mortem, “the usual union victory results from dissatisfied workers [...]

  39. Car Guy says:

    As a TN native, who is crazy about cars, I can’t say this suprises me. Does anyone think the UAW has been at the forefront of defending American jobs the last 20 years? Their support for highly skewed seniority-based wages and benefits ensured that a Mexican auto industry was born and grew. When forced with bankruptcy, they could have sung a union line about being in it together – instead, the senior guys got to keep most of what they had, and now low tier employees get to pay the price for keeping some jobs in america.

    No, I firmly believe german unions wanted the UAW in to drive up the costs / lower the quality of the US plants to make further domestic job losses in Germany less likely … call be a conspiracy believer …

  40. [...] work with community groups, the cultural divide with the South was too wide to bridge, there was no real oppressor to organize [...]

  41. [...] 1930s Central Park, New York City, on winter night, by Paul Woolf Economics is Applied Morality A Titanic Defeat Was It Really ‘Human Error’ That Had a Malaysian Doctoral Student Put on the No Fly List? 10 [...]

  42. [...] A Titanic Defeat by Eric Loomis for Lawyers, Guns and Money. [added [...]

  43. CarolinaReader says:

    I just found this site through a National Review link, so yes I would qualify as a right-winger, no bones about it. What I find intellectually fascinating regarding the UAW vote in TN is the vitriol and sincere disgust/hate towards ‘Southern white Christian men’ openly shared by regular posters, if not simply towards the concept of ‘The South’ as a cultural entity.

    I have seen this theme elucidated by guests on the Maddow show, other MSNBC forums and in the NY times to a lesser degree. Is this a common feeling among the left? Would you like to see the South burned to the ground again and white men put in chains? An exaggeration I am sure, but just how bad is it?

    I would love to hear more about this, even if it is hateful toward me a white guy who lives in Carolina. I just am surprised that I am such a target of hate and fear and loathing based upon my geographical location and pigmentation. Ready to listen….

    • J B Harshaw says:

      I just found this site through a National Review link, so yes I would qualify as a right-winger, no bones about it. What I find intellectually fascinating regarding the UAW vote in TN is the vitriol and sincere disgust/hate towards ‘Southern white Christian men’ openly shared by regular posters, if not simply towards the concept of ‘The South’ as a cultural entity.

      Indeed.

      And the thing is — since the UAW is likely to persist and try again — perhaps this post and the entire thread ought to be printed and handed out to all of those Tennessee VW workers…

      That way they can see (for reals) what the attitude of UAW supporters think of them.

  44. [...] A Titanic Defeat  von Erik Loomis am 15. Februar 2014 bei Lawyers, Guns and Money, worin, wie der Titel besagt, vor allem die Bedeutung der Niderlage der UAW Thema ist [...]

  45. David desJardins says:

    I feel like you’re missing the point—the workers didn’t decline to join a union, they declined to join *this* union. It’s very reasonable for them to think that their own interests are generally in opposition to, more than aligned with, those of most current UAW members.

  46. [...] if workers had voted to unionize. There were, of course, other factors in the loss. As Erik Loomis points out “There were almost certainly several hundred no votes from the beginning” in a [...]

  47. [...] Repost from Lawyer, Guns, and Money [...]

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