Bargaining to disorganize? SocialistWorker org — Volkswagen Worker

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Volkswagen Worker

Bargaining to disorganize?

February 21,

Labor journalist Steve author of Save Our Unions: from a Movement in Distress and The Wars in U.S. Labor: of a New Workers’ Movement or Death of the Old ?. looks at the implications of the UAW’s at a Tennessee transplant—and how labor stress on partnership put the union at a

The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga

PROGRESSIVE media commentary on the Auto Workers’ (UAW) last week in a key Volkswagen plant election has focused, on the role of outside union-bashers, the culture of the South or the unfavorable composition of the company’s Chattanooga, workforce. (See, for example, Workers of America President Cohen’s article about Sen. Bob Corker or the American ‘s Harold Meyerson on the UAW and the .)

Pursuant to negotiations with the UAW and its union ally, IG Metall, agreed not to campaign against in a blue-collar unit of 1,500. UAW got highly unusual access to the to make their case at hour-long shift meetings and in any conversations that VW employees to initiate in a specially designated or other non-work areas prior to the vote. The only on UAW communication was a legal pledge not to employees, uninvited, at home, and to any written comments about the positive and non-adversarial.

So the usual task of going negative—to workers into voting undertaken with typical gusto by influential state the governor of Tennessee, Sen. and other well-funded GOP helpers out-of-state. Their compelling was that a pro-union vote deprive the plant of new work continued public subsidies. Obama weighed in tepidly and on the union side; his intervention, per was too little, too late.

Right-wing fearmongering became a surrogate for the coercive propaganda war waged by U.S. employers when their employees for a Labor Board election. By a of 712 to 626, a three-year UAW drive to Chattanooga workers win bargaining (and a German-style works was defeated. The outcome will union recruitment harder at strategic Southern auto operated by foreign manufacturers Daimler and Nissan, where UAW drives are underway.

IN LESS fashion, the VW election results have daunting implications for broader strategy of bargaining to In Chattanooga, this once-promising but now troubled approach was backed by a big abroad—in a crucial expression of solidarity aimed at protecting rights via private agreement organizing ground-rules in the U.S.

In industry settings—auto, telecom, health care and hospitality— to organize has enabled tens of of American workers to join without management harassment, intimidation or job discrimination. Workers get to their support for bargaining in one of two ways, and sometimes both. union card-signing majority can be by a neutral third party or, preferably, confirmed in a secret vote engineered, per labor-management to be free and fair.

The key element way is a negotiated pledge of employer This, of course, is not binding on parties in Tennessee or anywhere. rights deals can also when companies that them—like Verizon Wireless or New Haven Hospital—later flout terms by engaging in anti-union or failing to rein in lower-level who do.

In Chattanooga, IG Metall pressured VW to workers’ rights in the same required back home. In the 2.4-million-member IGM has heavy representation on supervisory board and dominates its works councils at every of the company; plus, there is worker representation in more 100 VW locations worldwide. IGM and other VW have a major stake in that some mix of collective and German-style works council with employees occurs even in benighted nations the U.S. and China.

As I recount in my new Save Our Unions . Germany’s service-sector union, ver.di, has 10 years trying to achieve favorable organizing conditions for workers at T-Mobile in the U.S. German-owned wireless phone is deeply hostile to the Communications of America and almost entirely here.

To its credit, IG Metall succeeded in leveling the playing for the UAW in Chattanooga, via its greater clout VW. But the resulting organizing rights had problematic features, some of drew attention to questionable practices of the petitioning union. critically, the VW-UAW agreement did not the company to recognize the union as as it achieved a verifiable card last fall, giving forces, inside and outside the ample time to turn majority support into a vote by mid-February.

IN CONCERT with IGM’s outside leverage, the UAW conducted its own charm offensive aimed at over VW management. While the UAW did an in-plant committee and sign up in traditional union fashion, UAW tried to assure Volkswagen their organization was a different of American union.

To demonstrate it be a suitably pacific, the UAW disclaimed, in any intention to strike or picket for a contract in Chattanooga. As In These correspondent Mike Elk reported. the also committed itself to and where possible enhancing the advantages and other competitive that [Volkswagen] enjoys to its competitors in the United States—a to the UAW-represented legacy automobile in Detroit, who have been beneficiaries of many controversial givebacks.

As an additional friendly the UAW explicitly agreed to curtail would be the normal scope of bargaining by a newly recognized If certified, the UAW pledged to support of an elected works council of both union-represented hourly and non-union salaried workers of whom campaigned vigorously unionization). Under this model of labor relations, the UAW to delegate functions and responsibilities belonging to a union to the council so the could engage in codetermination the employer.

Initially, the Works would be expected to focus on. organization, especially agreements on calendars and scheduling of overtime; issues,’ such as health and and participation in the implementation of a grievance that would have, as its objective, the avoidance of filing and formal grievances. (For details of this thwarted engagement pact, see the agreement as posted by the UAW and Elk’s related at In These Times .)

Volkswagen Worker

The sad ending to labor’s latest with being non-adversarial brought to mind the famous strip, penned in the early by Fred Wright, longtime for UE News .

In humorous fashion, warned UE members about the of labor-management partnering. He depicted an worker busily engaged in with his employer. But after management in speeding up production, corners on safety and ignoring the this shop-floor ally is off. In the last frame of the we see a smiling factory owner adieu to his now discarded and despondent The boss holds a sign So Long Partner!

WRIGHT’S parable about the manipulation of individually and organizationally, made to many left-leaning trade 30 years ago. But a growing of influential and otherwise progressive union leaders, including UAW president Bob King, rejected its message, as outdated and outmoded, the tiny UE itself.

In their union opposition to cooperative relations is counter-productive and self-defeating. Any antique notions—rooted in class unionism, as former SEIU Andy Stern called be abandoned, in order for unions to much less revive, in a 21st century environment.

One of this creative new thinking was the road to union growth by Stern and Boston-based academics Tom Kochan and Barry Bluestone. latter is the son of Irving Bluestone, the UAW vice president who pioneered of work-life programs with Motors in the 1970s.)

Under Stern, SEIU to pursue a health care growth strategy based on cooperative rather than relationships with hospital like Kaiser and nursing operators in need of union help for higher Medicaid rates. If unions could demonstrate their value to more private and public management resistance to collective would melt away, argued.

Meanwhile, the result SEIU was a huge membership in California against contract offered in return for organizing negotiated after little or no with negatively affected Intra-union tension over quid pro quos, and their threat to existing contract soon morphed into conflict with former allies like UNITE In the manufacturing sector, no union has this non-adversarial playbook closely than Bob King’s even when it led to undercutting of industry labor standards by other unions like the (See my article on Bargain to at In These Times .)

U.S. today really are caught a rock and hard place—damned if do, damned if they don’t. If market themselves as a de facto for management, they lose rank-and-file votes doing If union members dare to contract concessions and going on workplace militancy risks other non-union workers, not to supplying management with an rap about the downside of union

The results in Chattanooga are not much of a to the lapdog approach. Among the provisions of the ill-fated UAW deal VW is a promise by the union to discontinue all activities at the Chattanooga plant in the of an election loss, and not engage in or any organizing there for a period of one from the date of its defeat.


No consultant could have up with more damaging painting the union as a third external to the workplace and divorced the interests and needs of those there. Let’s hope the UAW back from its near-miss Friday by ignoring this withdrawal of organizational support for VW workers brave enough to the Bob Corker crowd, now and in the future.

Volkswagen Worker
Volkswagen Worker
Volkswagen Worker

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