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The Volkswagen Agreement

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As I stated earlier, I don’t necessarily see the UAW-Volkswagen agreement as a major victory. It’s certainly a positive thing for the workers involved, but as something to celebrate, I’m less than sure. Others however disagree (as they did in comments to the original post). Joe Atkins:

The UAW knew that withdrawing its objections to February’s tainted election, in consensus with Volkswagen, would expedite the company’s decision on the new product line,” Casteel said in a formal statement. “The fact that the new line is being announced four days after the rollout of UAW Local 42 in Chattanooga reinforces the consensus that the UAW has reached with the company.”

Casteel said “a cornerstone of Volkswagen’s business model” is the Global Groups Works Council that provides employee representation on work-related issues at Volkswagen plants around the world.

In fact, Global Works Council chairman Bernd Osterloh, a strong supporter of union representation at the Chattanooga plant, was recently appointed to the board of directors of Volkswagen’s American operations. At one point, Osterloh said he would work to prevent the new SUV line from coming to Chattanooga if workers there didn’t get union representation.

Local 42 will not collect dues for the time being, and participation is voluntary. However, the UAW hopes membership will grow to a size that gives it weight in representing workers’ concerns at the plant. No formal agreement exists with Volkswagen regarding the local, but a “consensus” exists that allows the local to work with the company in the future, Casteel said.

This non-traditional approach to worker representation is somewhat similar to other efforts across the South to help those who have no collective voice vis-à-vis management. Examples include the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in North Carolina and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, both of which have won agreements with major corporations despite the fact that farm workers aren’t covered in the National Labor Relations Act.

The victories by FLOC and CIW are significant not only because of region but because of the type of laborers and industry involved (migrant immigrants in a heavily exploitative industry existing far from the view of most Americans). Comparing the UAW deal to those unions actually depresses me because these are workers with more power, with a long-standing powerful union backing them, with the extremely unusual arrangement of international labor unions and the company supporting them, and on a big shop floor, traditionally a relatively easy place to organize, at least compared to the fields or small shops. The innovation is definitely something I support, but I still have trouble seeing it as a big win.

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