Volkswagen has a plant in Chattanooga. It is used to its company unionism of Germany and wants to recreate that in the United States, in part because labor representatives in Germany see the company’s expansion into non-union plants in the U.S. as a threat. But company unions are illegal in the U.S. So Volkswagen has invited the United Auto Workers in to organize the workers into a union that the two parties have agreed will be run on the German company union lines.
I have pretty mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, company unions are rife with problems and those very deep problems are why they are illegal. On the other hand, any UAW representation is going to be better for workers than what they now have and future adjustments to the arrangement are always possible that could result from the militancy of empowered workers. Plus this is an example of unions adjusting to the new reality of organized labor’s demise and thinking in new ways about how they can represent workers.
What’s more remarkable is the anger and outrage from Tennessee Republican leaders, especially Bob Corker and Bill Haslam. They can’t believe Volkswagen would invite Satan into their plants? Are they crazy? Evidently! After all, these guys built their careers on demonizing organized labor and inviting companies to their states because exploitation of labor was possible. Reading what Corker and Haslam are saying, one feels that they would rather lose the factory entirely than accede to the devilish union, even if that union is severely limited in what it can do.
And this gets at why I constantly talk about the Gilded Age as the template for the modern Republican Party. It’s not 1927 and Calvin Coolidge because that was the era of company unionism. At that time, business leaders and conservative politicians saw company unions as a benefit that would buy off just enough of the worker anger that had led to the radicalism of the 1880-1920 period to keep production running and real unions out. It was the cost of doing business.
Today’s Republicans have no interest in this. They see the complete crushing of organized labor and the full power of corporation to exploit workers as the goal. They actively want to recreate the conditions of the Gilded Age, whether in the U.S. or abroad, and keep the money flowing to the
vampire plutocrats living off the blood of workers job creators. Recreating the 1920s is an outrage because Corker and Haslam are so committed to the 1890s as a model.