Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Already It Was Impossible to Say Which Was Which

(Updated below.)
I was listening to Democracy Now! this morning when something grabbed my attention.  They were doing a story on the failure of the United Auto Workers to unionize a Volkwagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennesee.  As one would expect, the Right, including Republican politicians in Tennessee, waged a strenuous campaign against the drive, resulting in a very narrow loss (by 86 votes) when the workers voted.  DN! talked to Steven Greenhouse, a New York Times reporter who works the labor beat.  He said: 
Some Republican lawmakers in the state Legislature said that if the union comes in, they’re not going to approve incentives to help bring, to help woo Volkswagen to bring a second production line to make SUVs at the plant. And then Bob Corker, Republican senator from Tennessee, former mayor of Chattanooga, said that he had heard from people at Volkswagen that if the union loses, then Volkswagen will bring in this second auto line.
Wait a minute.  Republicans want to vote for government "incentives to ... help woo Volkswagen to bring a second production line"?  That is socialism, if not communism, just like in Communist China: 
When an Apple team visited, the Chinese plant’s owners were already constructing a new wing. “This is in case you give us the contract,” the manager said, according to a former Apple executive. The Chinese government had agreed to underwrite costs for numerous industries, and those subsidies had trickled down to the glass-cutting factory. It had a warehouse filled with glass samples available to Apple, free of charge. The owners made engineers available at almost no cost. They had built on-site dormitories so employees would be available 24 hours a day.
(Boldface added.)  Of course I'm being sarcastic here, but it's always good to remember that "economic freedom" means massive government subsidies for big corporations.  Even for foreign corporations like Volkswagen.  Times have changed from the days when foreign auto makers were destroying domestic industry.  What "economic freedom" really means, of course, is freedom from unruly workers who might organize for their own interests.

Greenhouse also had some interesting comments on the UAW's response to the Republican campaign.
And Bob King very much indicated, "We are a new UAW. We are going to be more cooperative," and he signed this neutrality agreement with Volkswagen where he actually pledged to help keep Volkswagen’s wages competitive vis-à-vis some of the other automakers. So, he’s like bending over backwards to say, "We’re not the old confrontational UAW of old." So, on one hand, many workers kind of were uncomfortable with the UAW because they thought it would be too confrontational and hurt business image, hurt Chattanooga’s efforts to bring jobs. On the other hand, you know, some workers voted against the union because they thought it was being too accommodating and like bending over backwards and saying, "Well, we will restrain wages to help assure that the factory would be competitive."
This is nothing new -- as David F. Noble showed in Forces of Production (Knopf, 1984), unions have often appeased management in its drive to impose automation production lines. And once again, the left was caught flat-footed by a right-wing propaganda campaign.  No one could possibly have foreseen that business interests would react to a unionization drive in an anti-union region by fighting dirty!  The really depressing thing is that despite the union's failure to anticipate such a move by its opponents, the vote was still very close.  It could have turned out differently.

P.S. I was imprecise when I wrote of "business interests" opposing a unionization drive.  While the Republican politicians and others who mounted a propaganda campaign against the UAW drive to unionize Chattanooga's Volkwagen plant certainly represent US business interests, they don't represent Volkwagen.  The company also has workers' councils for most of its plants around the world, and is used to dealing with unions; so much so that VW expected unionization to succeed in Chattanooga.  Ironically, the failure of the union drive may mean that, contrary to the Republican anti-union line, Volkswagen will be less likely to build new plants in the US, at least in especially anti-union regions like the South.  I didn't know this until I read Richard Seymour's latest post at Lenin's Tomb, and then a friend sent me the links I included in this postscript.  Thanks to Seymour, and especially to CHH for filling me in.