China and Russia have workers councils but not Chattanooga

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DETROIT - Workers in the United States know organizing here in the belly of the corporate beast is no easy task. At the United Auto Workers 36th Constitutional Convention being held in Detroit, they got confirmation from an international union leader.

Addressing the convention Frank Patta, General Secretary of the Volkswagen European and Global Works Council, said he knew four years ago when the German Metal Workers Union and the UAW joined forces to organize workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, "it wouldn't be a stroll in the park." The campaign against the union, however, was the likes of which he's never seen in the "twenty five years I've been doing union work."

Employees were hit with a "barrage" of anti-union propaganda: TV ads, billboards, leaflets and much more were involved. They "toyed with the fears of our colleagues," that the plant would be closed, said the German labor leader.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the National Right to Work (for less) Committee, anti-government advocate Grover Norquist and others claimed the UAW had destroyed Detroit.

A change of just 44 votes would have given the union the majority. Had it not been for the extremist fueled tornado, the pro-union forces would have won.

Patta said over 6,000,000 workers at 105 production facilities, "even in China and Russia" have workers councils but to his shock, the opposition to establish an American works council came not from the company but from conservative politicians. He addressed the delegates in German and the UAW provided simultaneous translation piped through the earphones available to all. (story continues after video.)

He said this country was founded on the principle of all being created equal but what is happening in Tennessee and at the Nissan plant in Mississippi shows that working people's interests are "denied."

"Colleagues" in the U.S. need a voice, to be on equal footing with the company. Co-determination has a long history at Volkswagen overseas.

To loud applause Patta declared, "We will continue the fight here and from Germany. Our dream is stronger than the resistance of our enemies."

"Our dream is workers councils will spread throughout the South and the U.S."

As he finished he spoke the lines of a Bruce Springsteen song, "Working on a Dream:"

I'm working on a dream
Though sometimes it feels so far away
I'm working on a dream
And I know it will be mine someday

As he walked off the stage to thunderous applause from the over 1,000 delegates, the Springsteen song was piped through the hall. 

Photo: Frank Patta (right, with thumb up). Jim Lane/PW

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