Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lessons From Chattanooga

As I watched the situation at the Volkswagon plant unfold last night, I was in a state of not so utter disbelief.  I am from Texas, and have a lifetime of experience watching people vote against their own self interest.  While last night was a tough one to swallow for the labor movement, I believe their are some valuable lessons from this defeat that can be applied to future attempts at southern organizing.

I believe that labor organizations have a complete fundamental lack of understanding of southern culture that has been a major obstacle in attempts to organize there.  Often, labor does not understand that the only experience that many southerners have with unions are the hyperbolic, cartoonish mob influenced figures seen in movies.  This is exacerbated when unions have out of state staff run organizing campaigns.  I've previously proposed the salting approach at Wal-Mart, but every time I see a failed organizing drive in the south I am more convinced that salting might be the only approach outside of the Employee Free Choice Act(EFCA) that will work.

Speaking of EFCA, the loss at VW might be the best example you'll ever see on why labor must focus its attention on passing EFCA.  In Chattanooga, you had a situation in which the employer was fairly neutral.  And by neutral, I mean that they did not run a viscous anti-union campaign.  Although they did not recognize the union via card-check, they were much more friendly than you usually see, especially in the south.  Even with somewhat friendly management, without card-check, politicians and outside groups were able to influence the election. 

We are allowed to enter into legal contracts by signing our names on everything from gym memberships, to buying a house.  Why are we as workers not allowed to do the same when it comes to joining a union?  This system of double jeopardy when it comes to forcing unions to organize twice, while allowing corporations and politicians several months to scare people into voting against their own self interest has to stop, and EFCA could do just that.    I just don't see a logical path forward for the American labor movement without substantial labor reform.  The system is that broken.

I spoke to my stepfather, Scott Noon, who worked at the GM plant in Spring Hill, TN that is represented by UAW.  He was saddened by the loss in Chattanooga, and thought that the heavy-handed anti-union stance taken by local and state politicians played a big part in the result of the election.  He also believed that Senator Bob Corker was likely pressured by Grover Norquist and other top GOP donors into taking a public stance against the union. "Nobody looks out for the little guy anymore," he added.  "It's all about the big money and corporations." 

Can unions win in the south?  I still believe they can, but it will take combined legislative and social change to make it happen, and it could take a little while.  Don't give up on us yet.

In Solidarity,

Joseph Riedel

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