US auto-unions use international solidarity to recruit in southern states
The Financial Times today has a long article (sadly, behind its paywall) about the strategy that the United Auto Workers’ union (UAW) is using to recruit in car plants (often foreign-owned) in the southern states of the USA. The heartlands of US automotive manufacture in the northern mid-west are home to the big three US car firms, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. Looser labour laws in southern states have been exploited by European and Asian car manufacturers to set up lower cost car plants in places like Alabama, Kentucky and Louisiana. Workers’ rights are worse, sickness benefits less generous, and unionisation low to non-existent.
But many of these foreign car manufacturers are more union friendly back home. Indeed the German and Japanese companies are often very strongly unionised, especially through the Works Council system. So the UAW is working with the unions in the home countries to build the case for unionising the US plants.
I’ve already written about the work that the UAW and IG Metall are doing to unionise and set up a Works Council at the Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the possibility of spreading rules on workers’ voice through the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to cover the US workers of European transnationals and US transnationals operating in Europe, where European works councils are much more common than their US origin would suggest.
But the FT article suggests this work is widespread, involving Japanese unions in Nissan, Toyota and Honda, as well as BMW and Mercedes Benz/Daimler. And there are signs that this work is paying off. As well as the campaign at VW in Chattanooga, the UAW has just secured union recognition (by signing up a majority of the workforce and then holding a vote) at the Faurecia automotive supplier set up in 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky, which produces automotive interiors for vehicles manufactured at Ford’s Louisville Assembly Plant and the General Motors Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City.
Of course, this being the USA, there is opposition. The Republican Governor in Tennessee has very publicly opposed what VW are doing, and there has been a rash of ‘independent’ anti-union workers’ groups in the plants targeted by the UAW, often operating through law firms known for union busting. But the UAW is engaged in a crucial struggle to make global solidarity effective.