Volkswagen built at the Chattanooga plant. Photo Larry Miller
Tennessee Republicans reject management’s right to manage at VW
Yes indeed, Tennessee Republicans have insisted that it’s up to them whether workers the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant are represented by a union. Not the VW management, who have stayed studiously neutral (and tried to persuade outsiders to do the same) nor the workers themselves, who began voting on Wednesday about whether to establish the first German-style Works Council in the USA.
State Senator Bo Watson basically threatened VW that if the UAW union wins the vote, the company won’t get further tax incentives, even if that means no further expansion or, indeed, even if it means VW is driven out of the ‘right to work (for less)’ state. As one auto-industry news website put it “Tennessee Republicans Will Kill VW Jobs To… Save VW Jobs?“, a variant of the Vietnam-era insanity of ‘we had to destroy the village in order to save it.’
This is, indeed, a historic week in Tennessee, and not just because of some ill-judged Republican rhetoric redolent of the Civil War about defending southern traditions against northern influence (you might remember that the Confederate south fought the Union north. They might remember that the Confederacy lost!)
The US has voted on how much influence German culture should have before, when in 1796, Congress voted not to require the translation of laws into German (often inaccurately described as a vote on whether to adopt German as the official language.) But VW workers in Chattanooga seem keener to ‘go German’, which is why right-wing activists and Tennessee Republicans have ratcheted their arguments up from warnings to threats.
The voting started the day after another historic day for the US labour movement, the 11 February, when, 77 years ago in 1937, the UAW won the Flint sit-in that was a watershed in respect for working people, and has been commemorated since 1948 as ‘white collar day’ – a mark of equality between the well-dressed managers and their blue collar colleagues. A German-style Works Council at the Chattanooga plant would of course treat managers and workers equally, unlike most US labour law and industrial relations practice.
Republican mouthpiece Fox News claims that it is German VW union IG Metall calling the shots, and helping the UAW break in first to VW in Tennessee, then Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Honda in Alabama; BMW in South Carolina; Kia in Georgia; Nissan in Tennessee and Mississippi; and Toyota in Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas