Power, intimidation and jobs at play in VW union vote

The recently concluded vote at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn., is difficult to write about. But before too many observers and commentators blame the “backward or racist southerners” for voting no in the environment of true employer neutrality, it is useful to look at this narrow vote in the context of power and intimidation.

President Bob King and the UAW had done the necessary spadework with the German metalworkers union, which has a seat by law on Volkswagen’s board of directors. IG Mettall and the UAW secured a neutral position by the company.

They even jointly asked third parties to stay out of the workers’ decision. The labor movement heeded that request absolutely.

Not so Tennessee’s junior senator and local congressman. They both threatened to wreak vengeance on Volkswagen if the workers voted for the union.

The radical right wing politicians threatened to claw back the subsidies and other enticements local governments had given Volkswagen to locate in southeast Tennessee. With Georgia, Alabama and North and South Carolina just a few miles away–they say you can see seven states from Lookout Mountain–it would be very easy to infer that Chattanooga could lose that plant and those jobs to a lower bidding community and state.

Here’s the kicker those very public statements by Sen. Corker and Congressman Wamp and others were not aimed at Volkswagen–but at the workers. The radical right wing knew they had a chance to intimidate the workers by threatening those jobs.

So that is what they did. They threatened the jobs. It is absolutely abhorrent and unconscionable that public officials would knowingly and with energy deny their constituents a better way of life and standard of living and a voice on the job.

But us Tennesseans know Corker. We well remember the racist campaign he ran against Harold Ford Jr. in the 2006 Senate race. We remember the white young woman he put on TV saying, “Call me Harold,” right at the end of the campaign. We remember the whisper campaign Corker ran about Ford as an African American.

All of us trade unionists and progressives are very frustrated, but don’t lame the workers. Blame the radical right wing which is steadily destroying our democracy and our labor movement and taking still more and more from all of us while they also destroy our home, the Earth.

This article originally appeared in Stewart Acuff’s blog, stewartacuff.com.

Photo: Sign at Lover’s Leap at Rock City, a roadside attraction near Chattanooga, Tenn., on Lookout Mountain in Lookout Mountain, Ga. (Brent Moore/Wikimedia/CC)



Stewart Acuff
Stewart Acuff

Stewart Acuff is Organizing Director of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees 1199 in Philadelphia.